Inbound Ambassador

Lessons of Success in Recycling at RECOLOGY

Many of us don’t think much about what happens to our waste once we get it into the right bin, but there is so much more that has to happen to manage waste in our communities. This is such an important issue that needs to be sorted out!

I’ve long been interested in uncovering the mysteries of recycling. In Japan, I have made the trek over to the mountains of Tokushima where the small village with a huge Zero-Waste target is hidden. Kamikatsu is a traditional town well-known for its hillside rice terraces and decorative leaf industry. This town only has a population of 1500, but without a garbage collection system, landfill or incinerators, all residents must make their way to a centralized recycling sorting facility to sort their garbage into a whopping 45 categories. Kamikatsu is the reigning recycling champion. The town created its target for Zero-Waste in 2003 and is at a current rate of 80% (only 20% goes to landfills or incinerators).

For this video, I had the opportunity to visit the recycling facility run by RECOLOGY in San Francisco. Recology sorts recyclables, landfill and compost waste for over 1.5 million people each day and is also at an 80% rate of diversion from landfill. There are many similarities and overlaps between Recology’s efforts and Kamikatsu’s.

As made clear in the video, a key lesson at both #Kamikatsu and #SanFrancisco is the necessity to set 100% composting of kitchen and garden waste rules for all residents and businesses. Composting is a quick and easy method to reduce waste at your home, business or community by 30% or more!

Kamikatsu asks all residents to deal with their own compost and subsidizes a home (electronic) composting machine. Once I started using one (bought a 2nd hand model on Amazon), our “burnable” waste reduced by 50%!

Robert Reed of Recology argues that compost separation in the curbside pickup is a necessity to maintain pure recyclable materials. While Kamikatsu relies on individual residents to bring their garbage to a central location for sorting, San Francisco’s Recology relies more on the convenience of waste management infrastructure. Curbside recycling, landfill and compost pick up is done for all residents and businesses in San Francisco and brought to the facility.

Recology converts the compost into cover crops (helping keep moisture in dry California) enrichening soil on farms, vineyards, school gardens, and community plots. In turn, this creates higher quality vegetables, fruit, and wine as well as serves the community by capturing a significant amount of carbon from the atmosphere. Thanks to the compost and cover crops, San Francisco’s compost has been able to capture more than 4 tons of carbon per acre of vineyards, community and school gardens and organic farms in the area.

Another key takeaway from this Recology tour is how recycling programs like this can create jobs. In the interview, Robert Reed states that if all cities in the US had similar recycling initiatives, it would create 1.5 million new jobs.

Due to the appeal of job creation, Recology is toured by 6,000 people each year and has been visited by 50 city managers and representatives from 140 countries in 6 years. Like Kamikatsu, being a leader in waste management has created destination appeal and sustainable tourism products.

Additionally, there are further benefits to recycling communities as there is less tax burden to fill landfills and ship waste abroad. There are added benefits of creating rich soil (via compost) which improves the amount of carbon captured from the atmosphere while making agricultural products of a higher standard. There are also benefits in education as students get more involved in waste management and growing their own food with soil from composting.

I really appreciate the opportunity to learn about Recology’s initiatives and I hope it can inspire other areas in Japan and across the world to adopt similar waste management initiatives that have a focus on greater sustainability and long-term success.

Recology serves not only San Francisco, but is also in areas across the West Coast of the US:

In the video, RR talked of a school cafeteria in #Ohio which has started using their San Francisco style separation of recyclables, compost and landfill in order to keep recyclables more pristine since China has stopped taking the Western world’s recycling and US companies will only take recycling that has less than 1% impurities.

The BBC has had specials on developing countries which are still taking plastic “recycling” from western countries but burning in open fires because they lack the infrastructure to deal with it in other ways. Yet the toxins are creating huge health issues for local residents, especially children.

It is clear that our responsibilities do not end at getting garbage in the right bin, we need to think carefully about what products we buy and how we can choose the best products which can be recycled in our local areas.

As RR said, glass is often locally recycled as well as aluminum and steel or other metals, but few areas are able to recycle any plastics, so avoid buying it whenever possible.

#Japan burns most of its waste, recycling less than 20% of all plastic. Incineration, even with filters, still creates atmospheric pollution problems and an accumulation of toxic ash in landfills.

In Japan, similar to many western countries, there are high rates of recycling and reuse of materials for cardboard, paper, glass, metal, and aluminum. So it’s always best to choose these materials whenever possible.

Recycling in Japan is unfortunately of an inferior standard to international regulations and has had scandals and misinformation. As consumers, we need to demand more transparency in recycling from companies and the government. But until then, choose products made with non-plastic, recyclable materials (metal, glass, paper) whenever possible.

Big thanks to Robert Reed, Public Relations Manager at San Francisco’s RECOLOGY facility.
Recology’s official website

#sustainability #wastemanagement #recycling