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NERC Blog

The Plastic Waste Crisis Is An Opportunity For The U.S. To Get Serious About Recycling At Home

A global plastic waste crisis is building, with major implications for health and the environment. Under its so-called “National Sword” policy, China has sharply reduced imports of foreign scrap materials. As a result, piles of plastic waste are building up in ports and recycling facilities across the United States. The European Union is developing a circular economy platform that contains a multi-part strategy to increase plastics recycling and control waste. The United States is unlikely to adopt such sweeping policies at the national level. But for cities and states, especially those where support for environmental protection is strong, it could be a more attainable vision.

A Soil Microbe saved my Life

The Natural Product Repository at NCI is home to more than 230,000 substances derived from plants, animals and microbes found around the world. Scientists there are developing new methods of understanding the complex chemistry of natural compounds and conserving the samples they have. By mapping the genomes of bacteria and plants, they are gaining information they can use to synthesize new compounds with medicinal potential. Even as we rely on nature for fundamental medicines, we’re losing its diversity, and we’re losing it fast. Deforestation and climate change are driving species to extinction 1,000 times faster than you’d expect if no humans lived on Earth. Protecting the diversity of life on earth is not just important for saving the wild places and animals we love. It’s essential for saving ourselves and the health of our loved ones. Editor’s note: The article has little to do with materials management, but offers a fascinating look at the importance of nature in our lives and the vital need to protect it.

Why being an Advocate for Recycled Content is a Sustainability Win

Efforts such as lightweighting, moving to plant-based plastics and using renewable energy sources have helped companies get closer to their carbon footprint goals, but betting on recycled content has the potential to be just as powerful. In addition to ensuring the recycling system works well, using recycled content can help companies close the loop, by putting recycled materials back into packaging, starting the cycle once again, while at the same time lowering carbon footprints.

Celebrate the Bounty, Not the Waste

Americans toss a lot of food in the garbage, equaling about $165 billion every year. About $293 million of our food waste dollars are spent during Thanksgiving, and that’s just from tossing turkey. For our Thanksgiving meal, we’ll purchase nearly 3 million pounds of collard greens, 2 million pounds of kale and 1.2 million pounds of Brussels sprouts. In fact, food purchases during the week of Thanksgiving are second only to the week of Christmas for all food and beverage categories combined in the U.S. So, in being thankful for our food bounties, should we really strive to eat so much of it during the holidays? Especially since I doubt a celebration resulting in so much food (and other) waste would be something our Puritan ancestors would take pride in.

Recycling addresses the Symptom, not the Cause

The problems currently faced by the recycling industry cannot be solved by consumers or municipalities alone.

Why do we demolish buildings instead of deconstructing them for re-use?

Dismantling buildings piece by piece to preserve the reusable parts within keeps materials out of landfills and creates more jobs than demolition.

Why aren’t we mining landfills for valuable materials like metals and soil?

Many old dumps contain useful materials. Whether they’re worth extracting depends on how we value other benefits such as preventing pollution and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

World Food Day

Today is World Food Day, a day to promote wasting less food, eating better and adopting a sustainable lifestyle which are key to building a world free of hunger and a healthy planet for future generations. It is a day to remind us of the role that food plays in our survival, how it is integral to all of the world’s cultures, and how we grow, process, and dispose of food has far reaching effects on our world.

Think Globally, Act Locally

On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released “The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C.” The findings of the latest IPCC assessment are ominous—that the world has only 12 years to keep global temperatures below 1.5°C and avoid catastrophic environmental breakdown. Disposing of biodegradable materials, including paper products, food scraps and yard trimmings, in a landfill results in anaerobic decomposition of these organic materials, which creates methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas which is 72 times more potent than CO2 over a 20-year period. We can act locally to make a difference by stepping up our recycling efforts to keep clean, recyclable paper out of the landfill and by composting food scraps and soiled paper.

Materials Management and Rural America, Part 2

Across America, some rural and small communities are flourishing, just as some urban areas are growing and thriving, while other communities, rural and urban, are on the decline. Effective strategic planning, dedication on the part of local stakeholders, and a focus on resident education and involvement can help make waste diversion successful in rural and small town communities. Beyond the potential economic benefits, materials management can help to build communities, bring citizens together, promote public participation, and help to spur a sense of community pride.