Making a Case for Going Green

There’s a shifting mindset among companies and consumers alike—a recognition that the earth’s resources are not infinite, but need to be conserved. Although it’s true that the color green has long been associated with environmentally friendly products, consumers have never been more aware of what they can do to be environment “friendly.”

Their growing knowledge of a shortage in fossil fuels, clean water and unpolluted air has translated into a desire for green-friendly practices. In addition, scientific evidence has shown a serious global threat that demands a global response.    

Good for the Environment
Although there are still some nagging misperceptions in the marketplace, research has clearly indicated that recycling is good for the environment. Not only does recycling conserve natural resources, but recycling and reusing materials—instead of disposing them in a landfill—saves significant greenhouse gases.

In fact, recycling reduces the amount of energy used by industry and specifically reduces the consumption of fossil fuels like gasoline, diesel and coal. This in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions and helps prevent global climate change. Additionally, recycling paper helps slow the harvest of trees, thereby keeping them active in the beneficial consumption of carbon dioxide through photosynthesis.

In addition, when materials are reused instead of extracting and processing new raw materials from the earth, some of the pollution associated with these activities can be avoided. Pollutants released in extracting, refining and processing raw materials can include ammonia, carbon monoxide, methane and sulfur dioxides.

Discussions of a “carbon footprint” refer to the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted over the full life cycle of a product or service. Once calculated, this “footprint” provides a benchmark for comparison between operations and a target level to try to reduce or maintain. The carbon released through the use of crude oil, gas, coal and other types of energy conversion are primary causes of climate change.

Carbon Reduction Achieved through Recycling
Still, despite the documented environmental benefits, the national recycling rate has been a flat 22-24 percent for the past several years.

Total Waste Recycled and % Recycled
The National Recycling Coalition and others have expressed concern over the flattened rate and have announced a nationwide effort to educate the public on the value of recycling to address global warming.

Leading Studies
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - WARM Model
The current industry standard for calculating emissions reductions through recycling is the EPA’s Waste Reduction Model (WARM). The EPA has calculated significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through recycling for both businesses and municipalities. In its report, “Solid Waste Management and Greenhouse Gases,” it states very clearly, “Targeted recycling programs can reduce GHGs.” WARM estimates that carbon is reduced at several points in the life cycle of the materials.

City of Fort Collins—WDAM Model
In a June 2007 report (“Advancing Climate Protection Planning through Municipal Solid Waste Programs”) issued by the City of Fort Collins, the City calculated how much emissions would be saved through increased recycling. Using their Waste Diversion Assessment Model (WDAM), they discovered significant greenhouse gas savings were achieved through increased recycling: “in excess of 52 percent of the reduced emissions measured by Fort Collins climate protection programs in 2004 can be attributed to local recycling and waste diversion efforts. This suggests a powerful role for waste management strategies in municipal climate protection efforts.” 

The Economist: Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP)
WRAP, a nonprofit British company, conducted a study that was reported in The Economist in June 2007 and addressed those who wondered whether the energy necessary to collect and transport waste materials is worth recycling on environmental grounds. Studies looking at the entire life cycle of a particular material can shed light on this question, but WRAP decided to take a broader look.

According to the article, “The Truth About Recycling,” WRAP reviewers looked at 55 life-cycle analyses and researched more than 200 scenarios, comparing the impact of recycling with that of burying or burning particular types of waste material. “They found that in 83 percent of all scenarios that included recycling, it was indeed better for the environment.” 

The National Recycling Coalition
The NRC announced a Climate Change Initiative in September 2007. Designed to educate policymakers and the public on the value of recycling to help address global warming, the report states: “The environmental and economic benefits of recycling are well established and have been the foundation for the growth of recycling programs over the last 30 years. What most folks don’t know is that recycling also substantially reduces the emissions of greenhouse gases. After two decades of substantial growth, recycling rates in the U.S. have leveled off over the past few years despite the global market boom for commodities.”

Important to Customers
As the need for eco-friendly actions have increased, customers have begun placing additional pressure on companies to become more sensitive to the needs of the environment. Whether that means conserving energy, recycling paper or using eco-friendly cleaners, being green has become highly marketable today as the demand for these practices grows.

In fact, recent findings from the 2007 ImagePower Green Brands Survey indicate that the majority of consumers are concerned with environmental issues and that they are expected to double their spending on green products and services this year, totaling an estimated $500 billion for 2008.

Leading Green Efforts
To increase recycling rates and decrease greenhouse emissions, there should be further investment in the recycling industry and education of the public at large on the benefits of recycling. Some moves in the right direction include: new technologies that make the processing of recyclables more efficient and effective and new markets that are evolving constantly for recovered commodities, but even more end uses must be created for recovered materials. It’s important that corporations, municipalities and consumers alike become proactive in establishing and growing effective recycling programs.

Greenstar North America is the largest private processor of recyclables in America. In addition, the company is backed by one of the world’s largest private recycling companies (NTR). Greenstar currently handles over 1 million tons of recyclables per year through a network of 15 recovery facilities in the United States. Not only does it recycle and reuse within its own company, but it encourages and promotes these efforts throughout the world as well.

With more than 4,500 managed retail and commercial locations across all the 50 U.S. states and 13 Canadian provinces, Greenstar provides Recycling-Led Waste Management Services to businesses around the world and is focused exclusively on recycling and the creation of end-use value with innovative recycling solutions for paper, plastic, glass and metals.

Using the latest technology (optical sorting, robotics, updated single stream processing and more) to efficiently and effectively sort and process recyclables, Greenstar also upgrades some of the recovered commodities to find higher-value end markets and ensure the reuse of materials. One example: glass bead operations in which recovered glass is cleaned and reshaped into glass beads that are then sold for highway “striping” to provide better reflectivity on our nation’s highways.

One of Greenstar’s primary goals is to make recycling profitable and sustainable for customers and avoid the use of landfill for disposal through innovative approaches to reclaiming materials out of solid waste. The company also recognizes the need to further educate the public about the benefits of recycling and continues to spread the message that recycling is good for the environment.

Contact: This article was written by Sara Conte, Vice President, Corporate Strategy for Greenstar North America. It is excerpted from PR News Going Green: Case Studies in Outstanding Green Business Practices, Vol. 1. To order a copy, go to