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Low-Impact Products and Environmental Impact Based on Characteristics and Attributes

April 16, 2020

We discussed low impact materials in a previous post. This post continues in that vein through the consideration of material attributes. Those of us who strive to make environmentally conscious purchasing decisions make many assumptions about the environmental impact of a product based on the characteristics or attributes of that product. These attributes include things like the origin of the material (does it contain recycled content or is it biobased) and what are its disposal options (is it recyclable or compostable). But, as we will consider in this discussion, these attributes represent the beginning and end of the story, not the full story of the environmental impacts of a product. When we are trying to make environmentally conscious purchasing decisions, we rely on product attributes such as recycled content, biobased, recyclable, and compostable. Unfortunately, relying on these attributes alone does not account for the entire environmental impact of a product and can lead to unintended negative impacts.  The majority of environmental impacts resulting from a…
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Environmental News, Recycling News

New Paradigm of Low-Impact Materials Shifts Recycling Responsibility from Consumers to Manufacturers

April 8, 2020

Recent research conducted by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the USEPA has shown that although a product may be recyclable, that does not always translate into the packaging having the least environmental impact. Instead, the entire life cycle of products and product packaging should be evaluated to determine their overall environmental impact.    Some in the recycling industry are calling for a shift from the current paradigm where the responsibility for recycling lies entirely on the consumer to the point upstream where manufacturers are choosing materials and designing their products to be more climate/environmentally friendly. A good example of this comes from an EPA study which evaluated the overall impacts of several types of coffee containers. The study compared the energy use, carbon dioxide emissions, and overall waste generated by a steel can, a plastic tub, and a non-recyclable flexible pouch. The study concluded that the pouch required the lowest amount of resources in each of the three categories. The item that went in…
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Recycling News

Analysis of State Recycling Definitions: Environmental Research & Educational Foundation Report

December 30, 2019

The Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) identified and analyzed recycling definitions used by state agencies in an effort to document the various ways recycling may be defined. Definitions for “recycle”, “recycling”, and/or similar terms such as recyclables were identified through a search of state codes. Definitions were identified for 49 of 50 states. A definition was not found for North Dakota. Definitions were analyzed based on various components, including: What activities are considered to be part of recycling (e.g. collection, sorting, separating, processing, etc.),What are the end product(s) of recycling (e.g. raw material, product, commodity, substitute for commercial product),  the end uses considered as recycling (e.g. reuse, remanufacturing, composting, waste-to-energy), Are any special wastes specifically included in the definition (e.g. waste oil, household hazardous), andWhether recycling occurs to waste materials, or materials prior to becoming waste. State definitions of recycling were found vary widely, and based on EREF’s analysis there are at least 18 distinct ways that recycling is defined throughout the U.S. Activities…
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