In the world of wise quotes about life, Walt Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
In the world of plastic caps and teaching the public how to handle disposal, an industry is contradicting what it originally taught an entire public. Instead of taking those caps off, consumers should squeeze the air out of the bottle and twist that cap back on. It's not a message that's new to the industry, but public awareness of Caps On is fairly low. Officials are giving Caps On its own focused campaign.
It's all in the name of getting that material back, improving the chances of bulking up an anemic recycling stream and diverting it from landfills. This topic was the focus of several presentations at the 2012 Sustainability Conference, held Sept. 20 by the Closure & Container Manufacturers Association in Lincolnshire.
Some 350 billion caps are produced every year, according to the Southeast Recycling Development Council Inc., a nonprofit coalition of eleven states in the Southeast that includes numerous industry and municipal representatives.
“Even at 2 grams a piece, it is a lot of material and presents an opportunity,” said Will Sagar, SERDC's executive director, during his presentation. “The first thing we told people is, ‘Remove the cap from the bottle.' Now to reverse it with Caps On will take a monumental effort.”
So the industry now is focused on education. Walter Willis, executive director of the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County, said his agency is aggressively educating residents about recycling and Caps On. Lake County encompasses the Chicago metropolitan area. Its Caps On campaign is being reinforced with the tag line, “Recycle First, Trash Last,” which officials are using as the slogan for Lake County. Under its strategic plan, the agency is aiming for 60 percent diversion from landfills.
“We are at 40 percent diversion,” he said. “We need to get residents to recycle more and get energized in order to reach 60 percent. We do this by educating them.”
The campaign's target audience is those “sometimes” recyclers. For its part, the agency is willing to partner with CCMA and other organizations such as the Illinois Recycling Association to increase awareness. It is willing to push the envelope and keep as much as possible out of landfills.
From the perspective of Waste Management, the solution is to track loose plastic caps through a single-stream municipal recycling facility. The biggest issue with caps recycling is that it can contaminate glass.
“Single-stream is the way to go,” said Kurt Humes, manager of materials procurement and sales for Houston-based Waste Management Inc.
“It's proven. We have 50 percent more participation from residents. It helps lower costs and emissions by reducing transportation while capturing new volume.”
These recycling issues will require an integrated approach, all officials agreed. The topic isn't sexy but does require a collaborative, hands-on effort to achieve effectiveness.
As one presenter said, “I feel like Zsa Zsa Gabor's eighth husband on their wedding night. I know what needs to be done, I just don't know how to make it exciting anymore.”