#20for20: New Year Sustainability Resolutions for Your Business

Happy New Year from Rubicon! The beginning of a new year is a time for reflection, and with this in mind, I’m excited to kick off Rubicon’s #20for20 campaign to help you fulfill your business’s sustainability New Year’s resolutions.

Wondering what to do with the food waste in your office kitchen? Questioning if you can recycle that old lightbulb? We’ve got you covered.

At Rubicon we’ve previously written about what makes something recyclable, as well as a number of detailed guides on how your business can recycle a broad range of materials. In this blog post, we’re going to focus on individual items, instead of materials, as often items are made of multiple or hard-to-recycle materials, making it confusing to know how to best divert them from a landfill once you’re done with them.

Over each of the next twenty business days, I’m going to share a common sustainability or recycling question in this blog post and across Rubicon’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts at 9:30am EST. We invite our social media community to share their knowledge and answer the question for their chance to win a reusable cleaning kit from fellow B Corp Grove Collaborative. The first person to correctly answer the question each day will win! At 5:00pm EST we will reveal the answer in this blog post, featuring insights from our team of sustainability experts, as well as revealing the day’s winner. Please note that winners of the daily prize must be at least 18 years old and permanently reside in the United States. (Find our full terms and conditions here.)

Keep in mind that different cities and municipalities have different recycling rules in place, and what can be recycled curbside is different from what can be recycled if it’s brought into a specialized recycling facility. While there’s a high likelihood that the advice we offer below is true where you are, be sure to check in with your local recycling provider if you’re unsure, so to avoid recycling contamination through aspirational recycling.

Without further ado, let’s kick off Rubicon’s #20for20 campaign to help make 2020 your business’s most sustainable year yet. From tried-and-true methods to cutting-edge recycling innovations, these are the solutions to watch out for this year.


  Electronics

Some of us have become so attached to our electronic devices that they have essentially become an extension of us. While many of our electronics have become smaller over time, our addiction to annual phone upgrades and new shiny objects has created a glut of electronic waste of which to be disposed. How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of electronics?

Answer

Electronic waste (e-waste) cannot be recycled curbside under almost any circumstances—this is true of both residential and commercial locations. If you drop e-waste recycling into your curbside recycling container it will almost certainly be thrown into the garbage; potentially exposing any data remaining on your electronic devices to the risk of being stolen, while contaminating the rest of the otherwise recyclable materials sitting around it.

So, where should you recycle your commercial e-waste? Search online for “e-waste recycling” and your city name to find a local e-waste drop off location. If you’d prefer to speak to someone on the phone, call your local recycling provider or 311.

If you need to recycle residential e-waste, you can follow the instructions for businesses above, or you can take your e-waste to your local Best Buy location, which recently expanded its e-waste recycling program and will properly recycle your electronics and appliances for free, even if you purchased them elsewhere.

Today’s question was a tough one, and unfortunately we received no correct answers. Better luck tomorrow, everyone!


  Packing Peanuts

While a box filled with packing peanuts may be more exciting to a young child than the items they are bound to protect, businesses are frequently asking us how to recycle this nut (well, legume) shaped cushioning material. How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of packing peanuts?

Answer

Similar to yesterday’s item (disposable utensils), most packing peanuts are made from polystyrene—in this case, expanded polystyrene (EPS), otherwise known as styrofoam. As I’ve noted previously in this series, while polystyrene can be recycled at scale in certain cases, it can rarely be recycled curbside.

Even if your business does receive a large enough quantity of packing peanuts to make recycling them a worthwhile activity, the best way to maximize the lifestyle of this packaging material is to call your local FedEx, UPS, or other packing supply company and ask if they take used packing peanuts. If they do, ask if you can drop off your peanuts when you’re next in the area.

If you receive biodegradable packing peanuts that are made from natural sources such as starch or wheat, and you have no use for them in your own packaging needs, you can add these to your compost pile or dissolve them in water to dispose of them.

Congratulations to Kari D. for being the first person to answer this question correctly on Instagram.


  Disposable Utensils

Disposable cutlery and other utensils compromise those flimsy plastic forks, knives, and spoons that are often thrown in with your takeout order or that you can purchase in large quantities for a company picnic or other outdoor event. How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of disposable utensils?

Answer

The word “disposable” in disposable utensils is an unfortunate clue here. While there has been progress in this area—Uber Eats, for example, recently made changes to their delivery menus so users need to “opt in” to receive disposable utensils and other single-use items with their food delivery instead of receiving them by default—this is currently not the norm.

Most disposable cutlery and other utensils are made from plastic; most often either polypropylene or polystyrene. These are both low-value plastics; as my Rubicon colleague Meredith Leahy notes in her article on how to recycle different plastics, and while some curbside recycling programs accept polystyrene and similar low-value plastic products, many do not, so you should check with your recycling provider before throwing disposable utensils in with your plastic recycling. If you cannot recycle polystyrene curbside, your best bet is to take them to a local drop-off facility, such as the aforementioned Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHaRM) in Atlanta, Georgia.

While compostable utensils are a great alternative to their disposable counterparts (and are a great option for takeout restaurants to utilize), using reusable utensils is your best bet to ensure that your utensils have the longest possible life.

Today’s question was a tough one, and unfortunately we received no correct answers. Better luck tomorrow, everyone!


  Takeout Containers

Takeout containers, whether made from polystyrene (styrofoam), plastic, or film-coated cardboard, are a mainstay of offices and residences up and down the country. How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of takeout containers?

Answer

The answer to this question depends entirely on what your takeout container is made of. If your container is made of polystyrene (styrofoam) then it can be recycled at scale in certain cases, as my Rubicon colleague Meredith Leahy has written about in depth in the past, but it can rarely be recycled curbside. Plastic food containers, such as plastic clamshells, are generally accepted curbside, though there is a debate surrounding how often these are able to be recycled at the materials recovery facility (MRF). Film-coated cardboard containers can rarely be recycled curbside.

While cardboard takeout containers without a film-coating generally cannot be recycled if they have excess oil and grease stains from food on them, they can often be composted either in your building if you have an on-site composting solution, or at a local organics drop-off location. Needless to say at this point, this is a category where checking your recycling provider’s website or giving them a call is essential to ensuring you’re following the correct recycling rules for your area.

For the future, if you get your takeout meals from locations close to your business, consider taking your own food storage container so you don’t have to use disposable options.

Congratulations to Kelly M. for being the first person to answer this question correctly on Instagram.


  Holiday Lights

Holiday lights don’t last forever. Whether your business’s string of LEDs blow a fuse upon first use, or they last you going on twenty years, eventually your holiday lights are going to run their course. How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of your holiday lights?

Answer

Like other forms of electronics, including old television sets, computers, or wires, holiday lights cannot be recycled curbside. Depending on where your business is located, attempting to place used holiday lights in with your recycling may result in a fine as it can contaminate the whole load.

Luckily, there are many places to properly dispose of your holiday lights. If the lights are still in good working order they can be donated to most charity shops across the United States. If they’re no longer working, contact your local recycling provider to ask if they have drop off locations in your city. If they don’t, search online for an unaffiliated local drop-off facility, such as the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHaRM) in Atlanta, Georgia.

Today’s question was a tough one, and unfortunately we received no correct answers. Better luck tomorrow, everyone!


  Food Waste

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that in 2017, almost 41 million tons of food waste were generated in the United States, with only 6.3 percent diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting. This is a sad statistic, and one that can be avoided if we take measures to take better care of this waste. With that in mind, how should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of food waste?

Answer

My Rubicon colleague Ryan Cooper has written extensively on food waste, food waste recycling, and composting in the past. When I asked him how best to tackle this answer, he pointed me towards the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, which prioritizes actions businesses can take to prevent and divert wasted food.

As you can see, source reduction, or simply purchasing less food in the first place, is number one. This is followed by food donations to those in need, sending food scraps to animal feed, then anaerobic digestion and composting. Hopefully one day, wasted food will never go to landfills because it won’t be generated in the first place—and if it is, there are so many beneficial uses for the valuable resource.

Source reduction is easy enough, as is feeding hungry people, so long as you donate only food that can be used by donation organizations. If you’re interested in how Rubicon can help you send some of your food scraps to feed animals, deliver them to anaerobic digestion facilities, or start a composting program, reach out to Ryan Cooper today and he’ll help your business get set up.

Congratulations to Amy S. for being the first person to answer this question correctly on Instagram.


  Wrapping Paper and Ribbons

Whether you do a gift exchange in your workplace or you receive gifts from your partners, suppliers, or other business associates, the holidays produce a mass of wrapping paper and ribbons, all of which need to be removed in the most sustainable way possible. How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of wrapping paper and ribbons?

Answer

There are numerous answers to this question. Let’s start with the most sustainable.

While this won’t reduce the amount of wrapping paper you need to recycle immediately, consider wrapping your gifts in old newspaper or magazine print going forward. In giving this paper a second life you are telling your customers and anyone else you send holiday gifts out to that you take sustainability seriously.

Alternatively, purchase wrapping paper that is made from recycled paper, and that itself can be recycled. Plain, non-glossy wrapping paper is accepted by most curbside recycling providers, whereas glossy, glittery, or metallic wrapping paper cannot typically be recycled curbside.

Bows and ribbons are notoriously difficult to recycle, and in the case of ribbons, they can be hazardous to the equipment in your local materials recovery facility (MRF). Your curbside recycling provider will almost certainly not take them, therefore the best way to get the most out of them is to reuse them, year after year, until they are worn out. Once this happens, opt for bows and ribbons made of a single material, such as plain paper or fabric, that can easily be recycled.

Congratulations to Emily N. for being the first person to answer this question correctly on Instagram.


  Shipping Boxes

Cardboard shipping boxes are abundant this time of year, both at businesses that receive stock from their suppliers, and at private residences as the rise in online shopping continues unabated. How should you recycle cardboard shipping boxes?

Answer

Cardboard is one of the easiest materials to recycle. Shipping boxes are typically made from old corrugated cardboard (OCC), which due to its rippled layer sandwiched in the middle should be baled (compressed) onsite if your business receives a substantial amount of OCC, as doing so compacts the cardboard, which my colleague Jackie Beason notes in her article on cardboard recycling, is good for the environment and good for your company’s bottom line. Packing tape and stickers can be left on the boxes, as these are removed prior to the pulping process.

Residential cardboard recycling programs vary by city, but most residences can recycle cardboard curbside (with tape and stickers left on the boxes), though be sure to not include cardboard that has been contaminated by grease and oil, such as the bottom layer of pizza boxes, as this can contaminate the whole load.

Congratulations to Emily R. for being the first person to answer this question correctly on Instagram.


  Christmas Trees

Whether you favor a Douglas, Noble, or Balsam fir, it’s not uncommon to spend the first two weeks of January tripping over Christmas trees as they lay strewn across the sidewalks of America. With that said, how should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of your Christmas tree each year?

Answer

Call or look on the website of your city and/or local waste and recycling company to find out what day(s) they pick up Christmas trees in your neighborhood, and, if possible, find out how they dispose of them. If they don’t compost them—instead choosing to throw them in with waste destined for the landfill—find out if your office is located near a composting facility or mulch yard. If so, reach out to them and ask if they would be willing to take your Christmas tree off your hands.

Still no luck? One of my Rubicon colleagues wrote a blog post about how to recycle your Christmas tree last year that lists a number of obscure ways to ensure that your tree is properly disposed of.

Congratulations to @kvandyck1 for being the first person to answer this question correctly on Instagram.


  Cleaning Supplies

We’re kicking off our #20for20 campaign with cleaning supplies, and more specifically, plastic bottles used to hold cleaning solution. How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of your plastic cleaning supply bottles, either with or without cleaning solution still within them?

Answer

Like many of the answers you’ll be seeing to these questions over the next twenty days, the answer here is twofold. If you currently purchase standard cleaning supplies in plastic bottles for your business, switch to reusable cleaning bottles combined with cleaning solution tablets to help your business stop throwing out plastic bottles and getting cleaning solution shipped to you from across the country.

Secondly, if you have a lot of these plastic bottles piled up, start by ensuring they are clean. Check the bottle’s instructions for proper disposal method. For soaps or detergents, rinse containers with water and pour any remaining cleaning product down the drain—house drains, never storm drains! Then check with your local recycling provider if the plastic in question can be recycled curbside. Many providers will accept the sturdy plastic of cleaning supply bottles. If your provider cannot, or the contents are hazardous and can’t go down the sink, search online for a nearby drop off point. It is also worth checking if your cleaning brand has their own recycling program. For example, Procter & Gamble have partnered with Terracycle to provide an interactive map of recycling options for their fabric care products (Tide, Downy, etc).

Congratulations to Debra M. for being the first person to answer this question correctly on Instagram! Debra earned herself a reusable cleaning kit from Grove Collaborative.

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David Rachelson is Vice President of Sustainability at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.

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