Two thousand twenty-one marks 27 years of celebrating America Recycles Day. Since the very first America Recycles Day in 1994, recycling and composting rates have grown from 28% in 1990 to 32.1% in 2018 (the most recent year of available data). But Americans are also producing more waste than ever before – from 4.74 to 4.9 pounds of waste per person per day over the same period.
Taking Action: The time is now.
Over the same time period, we’ve also seen climate change come to the forefront as the most critical environmental issue – and with the recent closure of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, the need to take urgent action to reduce emissions and limit global warming is top of mind, with 63% of Americans saying they are already seeing the results of climate change in their local communities.
“Achieving the goal of limiting global warming to below 1.5°C will require unprecedented action. But the role of recycling and the circular economy as ways to cut emissions has been overlooked until recently,” says Sims Limited’s Director of Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility, Blaise Porter.
But what can we do to take action? Well, there’s a lot we can do.
“Renewable energy can get us about half of the way to the UN climate goals,” says Porter. “But to tackle the other half, it is essential to address emissions which come from manufacturing everyday products, such as cars, clothing and food. Our business means we tackle three of the five streams that the Ellen McArthur Foundation has identified as critical to go circular – steel and aluminum through our metals business, and plastics through our municipal recycling operation, which provides curbside recycling to some of America’s largest urban communities.”
“Keeping materials in circulation and extending their useful life not only reduces waste, but it can also reduce emissions at each stage of their life cycle – from design and production through to recycling at end of life,” continues Porter. “It can also minimize other negative outcomes from raw material extraction and production like damage to habitats. The circular economy has a lot of positives for society and businesses – from innovation in products and services like reusable steel packaging or increasing resilience and flexibility in business models, which is something that we’ve seen Sims Lifecycle Services customers benefit from recently. With the ongoing semiconductor chip shortage, our ability to reclaim these gives our customers different options to meet business needs, as well as reduce their environmental impact.”
At Sims Limited, our purpose – create a world without waste, to preserve our planet – guides our thinking and our strategies. We’re enablers of the circular economy, supporting individuals and communities globally to decarbonize and reduce waste. In FY21, we repurposed more than two million cloud storage units, recycled more than 650,000 tonnes of municipal recycling and in excess of 8.6 million tonnes of metal. You can read more about our approach and our results in our 2021 Sustainability Report.
“Enabling the circular economy means we need to rethink our approach and our strategies,” says Porter. “For instance, automotive shredder residue (ASR), the non-metal material remaining after shredding, is comprised of things like foam and plastic from car bodies, and it is currently sent to landfill. But we’ve redefined that product; ASR is going from waste to opportunity – this is what circular economy thinking is all about.” Sims Resource Renewal, our newest business venture, will allow us to close the loop on our own waste by using advanced plasma gasification technology to create valuable products, such as hydrogen fuel, from materials that previously would have gone to landfill.
The Significance of America Recycles Day
“There are tremendously exciting opportunities presented by the transition to a low-carbon, circular economy,” enthuses Porter. “But while these solutions are developed and scaled, we can’t afford to take our eyes off recycling. America Recycles Day is a great opportunity to learn more about the recycling process.” (Blaise’s Top Tip: Take a virtual tour of the Sims Municipal Recycling material recovery facility).
“It’s also an opportunity to consider our habits,” says Porter. “Ultimately, we should try to consume thoughtfully so we can avoid waste; reduce what we buy, and increase what we borrow, repair or reuse. If we do have to buy something, try to look for items that contain recycled materials. Creating a market for recycled goods is important in encouraging these options to scale.”
“Realizing these benefits will take collaboration, as well as innovation,” concludes Porter. “But the results are worth it – emissions reductions through extending the life of products and materials; reducing waste and pollution; and reducing biodiversity loss. It’s a triple treat for the planet!”
Learn more about global sustainability at Sims Limited.