Materials management is the responsibility of every industry worldwide to preserve and protect Earth’s natural, finite resources. World Resources Institute estimates ½ to ¾ of resources put into production are returned to the environment as waste within one year. Global Footprint Network reported that the rate at which we are producing and consuming things today is unsustainable. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development projects [by 2050] the world economy will quadruple and global population will grow to over 9 billion and that the consumption of materials will increase by 35%. Both 2015 international summits, G7 and COP21, declared waste and resource management as priorities for sustainability, supporting emission reduction commitments.
Life cycle analyses show manufacturing products with virgin materials is more resource [water and energy] intensive than manufacturing products with recyclable materials. Yet, the Container Recycling Institute affirmed only 1/3 of all beverage containers in the US gets recycled. In 2015, the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), reported only 30% of approximately 6 million pounds of PET plastic bottles sold in the US were collected for recycling. Estimates of energy conserved using recycled material versus virgin material:
- 92% energy savings using recycled aluminum
- 87% energy savings using recycled plastic
- 68% energy savings using recycled paper
- 34% energy savings using glass.
Nationwide, overall recycling is very low. In November 2016, the Environmental Research and Education Foundation (EREF) released its study on waste in the US and ascertained that the US recycled just 21% of the 347 MILLION TONS of waste it managed in 2013. Of the remaining 347 MILLION TONS, 6% was composted and 9% was burned, resulting in 222 MILLION TONS OF GARBAGE BEING BURIED. Furthermore, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), US waste characterizations show recyclable materials, fiber and plastics, comprise 40% of the total waste.
Compounding waste matters, landfill capacity issues plague the northeast. For example, Massachusetts is projected to have to export 2 MILLION TONS of trash annually by 2020 and is expected to have only five remaining landfills open in 2025 (reduced from over 300 in the 1980s). Environmentally, Massachusetts will increase its carbon footprint from exporting its trash and, economically, will double or triple its disposal costs, depending on transportation costs as well as fees imposed by the host state. Exporting trash is increasingly challenging politically, too. Reminiscent of the historical Mobro ’87, when a US barge filled with trash was rejected by neighboring states and forced to return to its origin, there is increasing opposition by states to being a dumping ground for another state’s garbage.
Thanks to Kyle Porter of PorterWorks, Inc. for sharing his documentary on waste diversion and conservation efforts in the Pacific Northwest: Unwasted: The Future of Business on Earth