My eldest daughter’s middle school science class is using recycling to teach energy usage, and it’s pretty fun to have a personal connection to one of her lessons – more fun, at least, than being befuddled by her Japanese immersion class.
So there I was, trying to help, but I kept noticing a lot of the assumptions in the lessons were painfully simplistic. Everything was being viewed in a vacuum, instead of in a recycling bin, which is how it really works. While my daughter was curious and engaged, she ultimately realized I wasn’t helping much by continually pointing out the intricacies of plastics processing and OCC market development. She thanked me for my “help” and sent me on my way.
It’s complicated, isn’t it? This business of recycling?
All these pieces that have to work perfectly together. The person putting the container in the curbside cart and the hauler picking it up. The MRF sorting out the streams and selling materials to the mills, reclaimers and plants further refining the materials. And the converter or producer turning that stuff into new goods and materials to (hopefully) start it all over again.
It’s hard maintaining that well-oiled industry machine, and sometimes it seems that peril lurks behind every corner.
It all brings to mind exclamations on the 1950 movie posters advertising thrillers. Contamination! Low oil! Down markets! A strong dollar! Here comes China! There goes China! Then some song comes on the radio as the hero hangs on for dear life, making it all too concise and too clear that sometimes the markets for this stuff just ain’t here.
Well, thanks to my sunny disposition, I happen to think that we’ll meet these challenges head on, even if it feels like the difficulties are insurmountable.
I have this faith in the process in part because recycled materials are more than just commodities. Sometimes they are a means to positive environmental impacts that help communities and companies meet sustainability goals, something that could become increasingly important with the continued rise of sustainable materials management.
Of course, to reach our respective goals, we need support from industry, we need support from consumers and we need support from each other.
And with that, I am going to leave you for now in these (digital) pages.
I am leaving Resource Recycling and heading off to join the team at The Recycling Partnership. The nonprofit group I am joining works to boost recycling in communities large and small by connecting municipalities with corporate dollars and helping improve the quality and the volume of the material placed in curbside carts around the country.
Though I am leaving Resource Recycling, I need to thank Jerry Powell and the fantastic team there for all the help and guidance through the past decade learning about and connecting with the recycling industry as a whole.
And I hope to see you around, all of you – the scrappers, municipalities, packaging producers, haulers, zero wasters, commodities consumers, MRF operators, coordinators, consultants, reclaimers, mills, brokers, equipment makers, composters, converters, engineers, state and regional recycling organization leaders, trade association-ers, transfer station attendants, and everyone else.
Because this is a complicated business reliant on all of those moving parts, and my new gig is hopefully going to help bring all of these pieces together, no mean feat. Of course, I will definitely need some help, so many of you will be hearing from me in that different space in the future to partner up and recover more.
And maybe, if I work hard enough, I’ll even be able to communicate to a middle schooler how to make more recycling better.
Dylan de Thomas, the former editorial director of Resource Recycling, started his new position with the Recycling Partnership last week and can now be contacted at [email protected].
The Resource Recycling team wishes Dylan the best of luck in all future endeavors, even if we don’t understand most of his music references and still can’t comprehend why he roots for the Oakland A’s.