Recycling to reduce waste

This poster, printed during World War II, shows that recycling is not a new concept. Image courtesy of Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives

Since the advent of the modern-day environmental movement in the United States in the late 1960s, recycling has arguably been the single most identifiable component of a sustainable strategy. The idea of using materials over and over instead of extracting more limited resources appeals to our common sense and is easy to understand and implement. Today, nearly everyone has access to curbside recycling services or, at least, a centralized collection point for waste that can be recycled or reused. In the latest statistics compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans recycle about 34 percent of the waste we generate, and an additional 11 percent is burned for energy production. That leaves 55 percent that still winds up in landfills—an increasingly expensive and damaging practice.

Over the last 20 years or so, we at Fermilab have made great strides in managing and minimizing waste, partly through a concerted recycling effort. For example, since 2007, our custodial subcontractor has played an integral part in the collection of recyclable materials throughout the laboratory. During the fiscal year that ended in September 2012, Fermilab generated approximately 375 tons of waste, of which nearly 135 tons, or about 36 percent, was ultimately recycled. We keep separate statistics on construction and demolition waste, and in that area, we recycled about 93 percent during FY2012.

Each year, we report various sustainability measures to DOE and the federal government in the Site Sustainability Plan. We report our performance relative to goals set for us, based on national standards. Our recycling goal for both domestic construction and demolition waste is 50 percent. Clearly, our management of construction waste far exceeds our goal, but we could probably do a better job of recycling other waste.

That’s where all of us can help. Think carefully before tossing things into the trash—it may be that you can toss them into recycling containers instead. The materials most commonly (and effectively) recycled include plastic, glass and metal containers, and paper products. You can also carry these practices over to your home. Remember that any plastic product that carries the recycling triangle symbol on the bottom is potentially recyclable, so put it in the recycle bin.

Rod Walton