America Recycles Day vs. American Zero Waste Day

by Aryn Aiken

Since 2010, in the United States every November 15th has been America Recycles Day, an initiative started by the nonprofit, Keep America Beautiful. Organizations across the country encouraged their communities to take the recycling pledge featured on America Recycles Day’s website:

The initiative succeeded in garnering 65,298 signatures and 605 posts on instagram were tagged #iwillrecycle. Some companies also took initiatives to reduce their waste through recycling. Dell sent Adrian Greiner, the Entourage star, out in New York City in an Uber to collect used electronics for their Dell Reconnect program.

On the surface, America Recycles Day seems like a fine way to raise awareness on the issue of waste management and recyclable goods, but when we look deeper problems arise. The reasoning behind the problematic nature of America Recycles Day is hidden in plain sight. Keep America Beautiful was started by a coalition of corporations including, the International Bottled Water Association, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Coors. They started KAB in 1953 when litter, that of their own disposable containers, was becoming an increasing issue in the US. Their message to the public was and still is a simple command: you should keep america beautiful, not us. Their focus is on making the consumer responsible for the trash the manufacturer created when switching to disposable containers instead of the previous refillable system. These same corporations fought against bottle bills, formally know as beverage container deposit legislation, which allow states to pay people for recycling bottles and now only exist in 10 states. Bottle bills are proven to increase recycling rates from 20.4% to 60%, as reported by the Container Recycling Institute. The question becomes do they really want to keep america beautiful or do they want to keep focus away from manufacturer and corporate accountability for waste? It seems they want consumers and waste infrastructure to be responsible for their trash and their systems of production and distribution to remain free from question.

A popular sustainability news source, Treehugger, published several articles leading up to November 15th expressing their distaste for America Recycles Day based on these same issues and advocating for the transformation of America Recycles Day into Zero Waste Day, one day a year during which you buy nothing that comes in a disposable container. This still puts the pressure on the consumer instead of the manufacturer, but it takes away one day of sales for all companies who use disposable packaging. Zero Waste Day, although still focused on an individual instead of corporate change, poses more of a threat to businesses like those who started Keep America Beautiful. At Return Recycling, we’re working on ways to promote sustainable businesses who make their own zero-waste efforts instead of relying on the consumer to recycle their waste or find ways to reuse it. But what makes a company “sustainable” to begin with? More to come on that soon.