Archive for the ‘Recycling’ Category

Gene Green’s Mean, Clean, E-Waste Controlling Machine

Photo by georgehotelling. Some rights reserved.

Gene Green has earned his surname. The House Rep. has joined forces with Rep. Mike Thompson in an effort to pass the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (H.R. 2284), legislation that would put some much-needed restrictions on e-waste that flows out of the U.S. and into developing nations.

Specifically, the Act adds a new section – “Electronic Waste Export Restrictions” – to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (42 U.S.C. §6901 et seq.) that prohibits the export of certain discarded/used/broken/toxic electronics to countries such as China and India for salvage and recovery. Two GAO reports published in 2008 (here and here) determined that most of these countries “lack the capacity to safely handle and dispose of them.”

If passed, the Act would also establish a Rare Earth Materials Recycling Research Initiative “to assist in and coordinate the development of research in the recycling of rare earth materials found in electronic devices.” (The more we can recycle the better – pickins are slim!)

H.R. 2284 was introduced into Congress late last month, and while an earlier version of the bill had trouble gaining traction during the last Congressional session (it was introduced as H.R. 6252 on September 29, 2010 and referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, but never made it further than that), bipartisan support has grown for the bill this time around, and it is expected to pass. It’s even being backed by corporate big-wigs such as HP, Dell, and Apple.

Recycled Content Doesn’t Have to Be Boring

If, like me, you grew up in Seattle, you probably recycle without thinking. To not recycle is blasphemous. It’s also against the law.

Recycling: It's easy to do.

But that’s Seattle. Surprisingly, the EPA is not in a position to establish federal regulations mandating recycling. The EPA publishes information, guidance and provides technical support to encourage recycling programs, but, ultimately, it is up to state and local governments to regulate recycling of municipal solid waste. Currently the most the EPA offers, regulation-wise, is a recommendation to states that “source separation, recycling and resource conservation should be utilized whenever technically and economically feasible.” (40 CFR 256.31)

Some governments offer refunds for recycled beverage containers, others ban the disposal of recyclable items into landfills, while others simply set recycling goals for their state or city. Given that recycling programs vary from place to place, you should always review the rules and restrictions of your own municipality before tossing a given item into the recycling bin. Even products that are stamped with the ubiquitous recycling symbol are not necessarily accepted at all facilities.

Ah, the recycling or “three-chasing-arrows” symbol. Ever wonder about it? The original design was envisioned in 1970 by USC student Gary Anderson in response to a contest sponsored by the Container Corporation of America. The symbol is not trademarked, but its use is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

And that’s where the federal government steps in with regards to recycling. The FTC’s Green Guide addresses environmental advertising and marketing practices, and it specifically calls out recycling symbols. The clause on recyclability states, “A product or package should not be marketed as recyclable unless it can be collected, separated or otherwise recovered from the solid waste stream for reuse, or in the manufacture or assembly of another package or product, through an established recycling program can be substantiated, the claim should be qualified to indicate what portions are recyclable.” They give the following example:


A nationally marketed 8 oz. plastic cottage-cheese container displays the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) code (which consists of a design of arrows in a triangular shape containing a number and abbreviation identifying the component plastic resin) on the front label of the container, in close proximity to the product name and logo. The manufacturer’s conspicuous use of the SPI code in this manner constitutes a recyclability claim. Unless recycling facilities for this container are available to a substantial majority of consumers or communities, the claim should be qualified to disclose the limited availability of recycling programs for the container.

The SPI code that the FTC refers to is part of the SPI resin identification coding system, which was developed by the Society of the Plastics Industry in 1988 and is placed on plastic products to identify the polymer type and to help separate the different types for purposes of recycling. According to SPI, the code was not developed to be an indicator of “recyclability,” though certain polymer types are more widely recyclable in certain areas.

SPI codes are used internationally, though that hasn’t stopped some countries from developing their own versions of the recycling symbol. Below I offer some choice selections.

The Green Dot

The trademarked Green Dot is used in Europe to convey producer responsibility and efficient packaging waste management, though doesn’t have any bearing on whether the product itself is recyclable.

Japanese symbol for recyclable paper

Japanese recycling symbols use two or three of the familiar chasing arrows, though the shape these arrows form can vary according to the type of recyclable material.

A Taiwanese recycling symbol

This neon green Taiwanese recycling symbol is guaranteed to catch your eye.

And perhaps I’m just feeling patriotic, but it’s hard to argue that this US federal recycling logo isn’t the most regal of them all:

%d bloggers like this: