On America Recycles Day, we’re lucky enough to catch up with Pete Keller, Vice President, Recycling and Sustainability, to ask a few questions about recycling. We talk about the importance of recycling, some misconceptions and how we can all make a difference in the world with recycling.
Q. What are your suggestions to people who are trying to be better recyclers?
A. We know recycling can be confusing. Marketing campaigns, unclear labeling, and inconsistent local programs all contribute to some of the challenge. The best advice I have for people is to keep it simple. Focus on the things that you absolutely know are recyclable and do more of that. The most common household recyclables are paper and cardboard, steel and aluminum cans, and rigid plastic packaging, such as bottles and jugs. Remember, items should be empty, clean, and dry.
Q. What do you think is the next big thing in recycling?
A. I think there are two areas that are very exciting. The first is plastics. While plastics are often maligned, the fact is they are strong and light; exceptional at protecting products, including food; and have lower lifecycle impacts than most substitute materials. That said, plastics are only recycled 9% of the time in the U.S. – a clear opportunity to do better. The second is food and yard waste. We are seeing increasing regulation that is requiring recycling of organic material, either through compost or anaerobic digestion, and it’s been a fast-growing part of our business in certain markets.
Q. What are some of the ways Republic Services is committing to sustainability?
A. Republic Services is a recognized leader in sustainability. Investment in recycling technology and innovation, addition of organics solutions infrastructure, expansion of renewable energy projects, use of renewable natural gas in our fleets, and early adoption of fleet electrification are all a testament to some of the good work we do every day.
Q. At dinner parties and such, what is the question about recycling you get asked the most?
A. Funny. It’s usually something about plastic bags or paper coffee cups (both are not recyclable in curbside programs). I also get “everything’s just going to the landfill anyway, isn’t it?”, which of course, it is not.
Q. And finally, what would happen if everyone recycled?
A. Wow. As a society, we’d cut down fewer trees, extract less resources from the ground, consume less energy and water, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Essentially, a more sustainable world.