Episode 61- Recycling Hacks with Rob Hacker

Episode 61

Jessica: Hi, this is Jessica with Build Green Live Green, CaraGreen's Podcast on environmental and health issues and sustainability, where we talk about things in the architecture and design world and the built environment, as well as in your own personal environment to kind of green up your own lifestyle. So, today we're kind of focusing on more at the consumer level, and we have a special guest Rob Hacker, who is a CaraGreen employee, and he handles sales for the DC area and meets with a lot of architects and designers. And as you know, when you're presenting here CaraGreen products, we're often talking about recycled glass in Geos or recycled paper in PaperStone or recycled hard plastics in Durat or Elemental or Kirei EchoPanel and some of those acoustic products. So recycling is a hot topic in the A and D world, but it's also an important thing that we all do at home. And when you work for a company like CaraGreen, you kind of end up in the practice, what you preach mode and I certainly find myself kind of installing more better recycling practices in my own life and kind of pushing that influence out onto other people in my ecosystem as well and educating them. And Rob, you recently mentioned having, that similar experience in your own life.

Rob: Yeah, I would totally agree with that. I have this increased awareness of the importance of having a high quality, plastic or glass being recycled, and I've taken a special look at how I'm recycling and what I'm doing wrong and what I can improve upon to help with this whole recycling ecosystem.

Jessica: So, not only your friends, but your family, you probably have a similar situation to myself where I see my family recycling wrong and I say something or I see friends, recycling bin and garbage bin to have the wrong things in them and I literally go in and move one for the other and try to explain to them what can and cannot be recycled.

Rob: Yeah, it might sound a little gross, but sometimes I find myself picking through the recycling bin just to wash those different materials and make them a little cleaner and more easily recycled. Just because something that I really care about and would like to see be improved across the board and our country.

Jessica: Yeah, I agree. I think for our listeners today, we should probably stick to kind of the most egregious recycling mistakes and talk about some of the things that you can do immediately in your own lives to make sure that you're recycling correctly. So, I think first and foremost, number one is actually recycle, so a lot of people just drink a lot of water and they just throw their water bottles into the garbage. And that is a huge amount of the waste that does get disposed of and buying a reusable water bottle is not a big step to take. And we actually throw away in the U S two and a half million bottles every hour.

Rob: Yeah, you know I bought my own water bottle and it actually increased the amount of water I'm drinking, just a nice side effect. But we have so many plastic water bottles and not enough materials that are reusing those plastic materials. So, definitely need to both increase the amount of recycling, but also increase the products that are using recycled material. I've also found myself, having this feeling where I really want to recycle as much as possible, but it almost had a negative impact on what I was putting in the recycling bin because I was just throwing anything that was plastic in there, even though that's not the right thing to do because not everything is recyclable in the first place.

Jessica: Right, so that kind of brings us to our second point is, first step is recycling and then the second thing is, make sure, you know the rules. So, you don't have to know every single rule, but you should know what are the laws and rules in your municipality or whatever level a recycling is managed. You know, for me, it's at the town level and I go to the town website and have a very clear breakdown of what is and is not recyclable. And depending on where you are, if you have single waste streams or mixed streams, what you're able to recycle is different. So first recycle and second, make sure you're recycling, right, by going in your municipality website and seeing what they do and don't allow.

Rob: And I've found a lot of times they're so different across the many places that I've lived. Some you can throw every single type of plastic or paper or glass into one bin, but in other places, they want you to sort the plastics in one container, the paper in one container and the glass in another container. So, it's really important to hop online, check out the infographics that your municipality has and really educate yourself on what can and cannot go in the bin.

Jessica: And I think another thing that's really important about recycling is, I would kind of put this as number three is really understand the impacts of that recycling. You're helping prevent this Pacific garbage patch from growing because you're not letting waste actually pollute the landscape, but it's actually saves a lot of energy too. So, it takes more to create a virgin can or a virgin bottle or virgin paper and it causes more pollution than to recycle that same material. So, you're not just limiting waste, you're actually limiting the amount of carbon dioxide that ends up in the environment, because the recycling energy process is so much lower than creating something out of virgin materials.

Rob: And as you say that I start thinking about something, I was reading last week about aluminum recycling and there was some statistics saying the amount of aluminum we're throwing into our landfills right now there's enough that we could rebuild the entire commercial air fleet out of all of the aluminum we see in our waste streams. So, it's really amazing to see how much is going into the landfill. It's almost like we could mine our landfills for aluminum instead of digging up the raw aluminum at this point.

Jessica: Yes, and that statistic that you mentioned, that's every three months.

Rob: Oh my gosh, even worse.

Jessica: Yes, I know. So, I think we know kind of in general the things to recycle, but I think there's some kind of quick little hacks that we can give the listeners to improve their recycling habits right away. And my number one thing that I see is those flimsy grocery bags, whether it's the produce bag or the bag that you carry paper, plastic, the plastic, those are almost always recyclable now as are the produce bags, but those have to be recycled at a location that takes that type of plastic. So, for me here in North Carolina, I save all of my bags from the grocery store, all the produce bags, and I ask them not to put my… when I'm there myself, I don't even put the produce in bags, it's just so wasteful. But if I'm getting Instacart or something, they may put them in bags, I try to always give direction not to do that. So, that's kind of a hack as well, if you're getting groceries delivered or even takeout delivered, ask them to eliminate as much of the packaging as possible, so you don't end up throwing it away, but those plastic bags cannot go in your recycling, those have to go to a location that accepts that kind of flimsy plastic and it's not just grocery bags that use that flimsy plastic now.

Rob: And as you speak about the plastic bags, you know, I used to be the person who would always forget their reusable bags at the grocery store. But in DC, they're charging us for the plastic bags now, there's a bag tax, so now I'm forced every time I leave my house to remember them, so that I'm not paying the extra 20, 30 cents every time I go to the store, which can add up over time and really start to impact your financial wellbeing as well.

Jessica: Yeah, so I think even in some States where both you and I went to school and I grew up, in Vermont, you cannot use plastic bags right now. So, it's kind of this progression, it's either completely banned, there's this charge for them and they're obviously, the kind of bottom of that is the recycling of them, which, you know, I still think it's just a good practice that it's good for people to know that those have to be recycled in a special way. So for me, I get them from the grocery store, I bring them back to the grocery store and a lot of the packaging that I get from Amazon or any other delivery service often has that flimsy plastic as well. And so I will use that, I will take that whether it's the outside of paper towels, almost every time you buy bulk paper towels or the individual, as well as bread bags, bags that grapes come in, look at all those bags because they often have that plastic recycling symbol on it. And I will just put those altogether and take them back to the grocery store and recycle that lighter grade plastic all at once.

Rob: And this is more important time than ever to be paying attention to those different plastic materials with all the packaging we have. And with COVID, there's been an increase in sanitary needs, so we're double packaging, double ceiling food. So, there's just almost double the amount of plastic waste out there. So, more important now than ever to start taking a look at those and really collecting them and making sure you're putting them in the right place. I think maybe we want to talk about like paper and glass a bit too.

Jessica: What was the last thing you said, it was about what was plastic or something? Rob: Yeah, we were talking plastic, I was thinking maybe we could jump into glass and cardboard and some of those like higher value materials. Jessica: Okay, I still want to stick with kind of the tips and tricks thing too.

Rob: Yeah.

Jessica: Another interesting area of recycling that I think a lot of people know about is paper recycling. So a lot of schools and at our homes, we know that we can recycle paper, I think a lot of people don't realize how much paper you can recycle and which types of paper you can't recycle. So, things like the junk mail you were talking about, a lot of that is recyclable magazines, those glossy papers. Sometimes people feel like those aren't recyclable when they actually are recyclable, but thinner things like tissue paper and shredded paper, they ask that you not recycle those types of papers. So, when it comes to paper, a good rule of thumb is paper in magazines, anything that is kind of that middle grade of paper, all of that is recyclable, but things like tissue paper, they really kind of caution against recycling that. And then when you're looking at things like wrapping paper, it's always good to just kind of check and see if that's recyclable or not.

Rob: And when you talk about the junk mail, I not only try to recycle it, but I've honestly started unsubscribing from magazines and calling the people that are actually sending me these different pieces of junk mail, just to reduce the amount I'm getting overall. So, instead of focusing on the recycling part of it, I'm also trying to cut down on the amount that's coming to my house, because it's just keeps growing and growing and growing. And we just have these giant stacks of people's mail who have lived at my house in years past that just sit around. So we've been trying to cut back on it, but it feels like it's just a never ending stream.

Jessica: Yeah, I think, you recycle paper, seeing a lot of growth as a source in the industry and certainly with PaperStone the product that we carry, they take the paper fibers and they turn them into this super durable surfacing material. So, I love seeing uses like that, for the recycled paper, but I think there's still a large way to go. And what's interesting is as we cut back on the amount of paper that we do use, you know, that's kind of your first step, right? Is reduce the amount and then recycle it, another kind of major recycling product that would be good for our listeners to know that I see all the time. You know, Wednesdays is recycling day and I walk the neighborhood and I'm always making observations, but pizza boxes, you cannot recycle pizza boxes that grease really deteriorates that material and it makes it unusable in those recycling sorting and repurposing.

Rob: I didn't even know that, so you're saying that the grease in the food makes it like impossible to recycle.

Jessica: Yes.

Rob: And does that go the same for the plastic takeout containers or anything, you're getting that way too?

Jessica: Yes, so plastic takeout containers, if they have a recycling symbol on them, you can rinse them out but pizza grease, like permanently damages that cardboard. So, you can't use that pizza box, when you see a lot of these restaurants that use compostable containers now, those are not meant to go in the recycling they're compostable. So, a lot of people make that mistake too, they think they went to this Pokey Bowl, you know, how much I love those Pokey Bowls Shop and, they got this cardboard looking thing that's compostable and compost me, it says on the bottom. Well, just because it's compostable does not mean recyclable, it's meant to be composted, not recycled. So, a lot of food containers just aren't meant to be recycled unless they are specifically like a hard plastic call-out to be recycled.

Rob: And I think the composting conversation might be for another episode, but those compostable plastics, you know, they're not meant for the recycling bin and they're not meant for the landfill because they're certainly not going to break down in that landfill, they won't break down unless they're in an industrial composting facilities. So, it's almost better to have a high quality plastic that can be recycled in an efficient manner.

Jessica: So, then actually there's kind of tips and tricks, and then there's a little bit of hacks that we're throwing in here. But one of the things that I often do, and obviously I did it more circa 2019 than circa 2020, but I had a lot of parties, I like to have friends over and do things or my kids have birthday parties, whatever and or the kids go into lunch at school when they used to go to school, but I would always keep plastic ware, that would come from a restaurant or a takeout or something like that, they would give you this plastic ware. And I would reuse that or wash it, there's no reason I can't wash a plastic spoon and let my kids eat with it again. So, I find myself just recycling some of those things that we're so used to throwing out because someone gave it to us as a single use item, doesn't make it a single use item. So, plastic spoons and forks, I often reuse those.

Rob: Don't forget about the takeout containers, I have so many of those talks up in my cabinets.

Jessica: Yes.

Rob: I'm not going to recycle those because they're so good to use instead of going out and buying some Tupperware.

Jessica: Yeah, and another one is plastic plates, so I'll get kind of nicer plastic plates, but then if I have a bunch of people over, I stick them in the dishwasher and they're good for another round. So, like I said, “We're just so used to throwing stuff away.” And obviously ideally you have compostable paper, but we're not always in control of what ends up in our kind of use profile, but when it is, those hard plastic goods can be rewashed and reused again.

Rob: So, something that's coming to my mind, as we talk about all these to go containers, we've been going through during COVID is these face masks. So, I know there's some sort of polyester blend, but do you think those can be recycled or do we need to start looking for some solutions on that front?

Jessica: You know, I mean, I think if you're talking about the ones that are out in the world already, I'm not sure that there's going to be a really good use for them, depending on, how post pandemic looks, if people are going to keep their masks around waiting for the next one, or if you're talking about these kinds of single use ones that you get at every doctor's office and things like that. I'm not sure the industry had time to choose the right mask for the environment, I think it was kind of a human health issue, what works and that's what they've used. I'm not aware I haven't seen anything that is kind of an outlet for all of those masks. But it's certainly something that I think we could, look at how many were created and how many were disposed of and how we might be able to manage that better from an environmental standpoint next go round with a little more runway.

Rob: Well, let's hope we don't have to focus on that too much in the future, hopefully we're done with those face masks for a little bit in a few months.

Jessica: Yes, absolutely. Well, thanks Rob, I mean, I think we got some kind of quick and dirty recycling tips here. and as I said at the beginning, “When you work for a company like Carageen” and some of our products have this great recycling story I think of Geos and the glass and how glass can be basically infinitely, recycled. You know, some of those, materials you kind of develop an affinity for, because we're out there representing them all the time and recycling becomes a part of our lifestyle.” So, I'm happy that I've kind of amped up my recycling game and I push it on people and whether they like it or not, but I like it and I like the connection that I have to CaraGreen through recycling.

Rob: I would totally agree, I'm a total sustainability nerd and always happy to talk with recycling with anyone out there. It's a great topic and it's a great initiative for us all to feel like we're responsible reducing our waste stream and moving to a more sustainable lifestyle.

Jessica: And recycling is always changing too, there's always new rules and people are getting better and making new packaging, that can be recycled. So, it's an evolving topic and we'll probably cover it again, thanks Rob.

Rob: Thanks Jessica.

Jessica: This is Build Green Live Green.