Recycling 101: November 15th, America Recycles Day

Steve Davies

By Steve Davies,
Healthy Planet Staff Writer

For most of us, the next couple of months are full of days that we all enjoy, from Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Years but there’s another day that many of you may never have heard of before and as ashamed as I am to admit, neither have I. That day is America Recycles Day. Ironically, it also happens to be the day after my birthday.

As soon as I heard about this day, I decided to see if anyone around here is familiar with it. First, I emailed the city of Kirkwood, where I live but, unfortunately, no one ever responded. Then I decided to email the city of St. Louis and to my pleasant surprise, they have heard of it. In fact, according to Brightside St. Louis they are currently planning to host an in-home bin distribution day in City Hall on 11/15.

Now, the first question that many of the rest of you may have is, what is America Recycles Day? I know that’s the first question I had. Well, as a former librarian, I decided to do my research and it turns out that the day first began in Texas when two employees on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality created Texas Recycles Day back in 1994. The idea being that the state would help to inform and encourage more people to recycle.

Later, before they left, they proposed converting it to America Recycles Day with the National Recycling Coalition accepting that challenge and thus, this day was born. In 1999 President Clinton signed a proclamation on America Recycles Day, creating a national observance.

The other question that I had and perhaps you did too is, who currently sponsors this day? Well, originally it was National Recycling Coalition. These days however, it’s Keep America Beautiful. After a little more research on KAB and their affiliates however, it seems they only have two in Missouri, one in Kansas City and one in Cape Girardeau though according to the person I talked to, neither has been very active.

So, the next step, at least I think to many of us, is probably, where do we go from here? Well, looking back at the history of this event, it has been pointed out that according to the EPA, recycling has gone from 7% in 1960 to our current rate of 32%. In addition, recycling accounts for nearly 681,000 jobs today.

If we look at the idea of those who first promoted this national day, the idea is to inform and encourage more people to recycle. As someone who lives in a city where recycling is actively being promoted, from curbside pick up to a recycling center, for many it is a habit but, obviously with only one-third of those in this country recycling, we still have a long way to go.

If you want an example, I would look no further than the pizza box, the first item I wrote about in Recycling 101: First Up, the Pizza Box. What I learned about there was the wide way in which the pizza box is treated. To refer back to my article:

When I first asked someone at the city of Kirkwood about pizza boxes, I was told:

Kirkwood does not recycle pizza boxes because they cause contamination in single stream recycling due to the oil and grease that permeates the boxes. Contamination in our recycling has the potential to damage sorting machinery and cause contamination of other recyclables that are in good condition. Some residents will separate the top and bottom of their pizza boxes and place the greasy bottom in the trash and place the clean top in the recycling. That is totally ok, but we do not advertise it.

If you read their website however, it gives two descriptions:

Pizza Box (Greasy) – Put this item in your black trash cart

Pizza Box (Empty with no food residue) – Recycling

On the city of St. Louis website, they say:

If the grease spot is smaller than the palm of your hand, recycle the entire box.

If that’s not confusing enough, if you order pizza from let’s say Domino’s Pizza in Kirkwood, their boxes say “Do Your Slice: Recycle this Pizza Box”.

In addition to all that, there is an article I found while doing my research entitled Yes, you can recycle your pizza boxes by Adam Minter at the Sierra Club. The article includes a study by the company Westrock from 2020 that talks about how in fact, pizza boxes can be recycled.

All this, leads me to believe that all in all, we do still have a way to go, there is no doubt about that. In fact, I was down at the Kirkwood market shortly after I wrote that aforementioned article where I saw this trash can full of cardboard, including pizza boxes.

If we look back to the idea of the two employees on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that created Texas Recycles Day back in 1994, the idea being that the state would help to inform and encourage more people to recycle, I think it’s fair to say that that should still be the goal. As someone who until recently worked part-time for the city of Kirkwood, I still plan to follow up on this story. If you have questions feel free to email me at thprecycler@yahoo.com