- Gary Dinges American-Statesman Staff
America Recycles Day got its start 20 years ago – thanks in no small part to an Austin-based ad agency.
EnviroMedia launched and worked on the first five years of the event, which takes place Nov. 15 each year, pushing Americans to do a better job of preserving the earth’s precious resources
In 2017, there was a new twist, with the introduction of a robust social media campaign that will live on all year long, according to EnviroMedia CEO and founder Valerie Salinas-Davis.
“It’s gratifying to see it’s still around celebrating its 20th anniversary as a program of Keep America Beautiful,” Salinas-Davis said. “This year, EnviroMedia observed America Recycles Day by launching #WasteLessWednesday, encouraging people to refuse things like straws and plastic cutlery they don’t need or want. ‘If you don’t need it, leave it.’ ”
Austin, in particular, has been receptive to Keep America Beautiful’s efforts over the years, according to Helen Lowman, the group’s president and CEO.
“Keep Austin Beautiful not only holds a special place in my heart having served on its board of directors, but it is special to our entire organization as one of the shining stars in the Keep America Beautiful affiliate network,” she said. “Led by the amazing Rodney Ahart and a wonderful staff, they implement programs based on local needs in all three of our national focus areas — End littering. Improve recycling. Beautify America’s communities. — and do them well.
“Keep Austin Beautiful sets a stellar example for other Keep America Beautiful affiliates and their best practices make an impact not only in Austin, but inspire and empower other communities we serve nationwide.”
Salinas-Davis, who was in Washington, D.C., recently for an America Recycles Day forum focusing on plastics recycling, said there’s still a lot of work to be done on the national level – even after 20 years.
“Unfortunately, not much has changed,” Salinas-Davis said. “We recycle about 35 percent of our waste in the U.S. That’s up just six percentage points since America Recycles Day was launched in 1997, meaning we continue to divert only about a third of our waste due to recycling.”
It’s not necessarily laziness that’s keeping people from recycling, she said.
“The reason why is complicated and multi-faceted, but we believe there two big reasons: awareness, meaning people believe recycling is more successful than it is, and lack of accessibility to recycling at home and at work,” Salinas-Davis said. “According to the Sustainable Packaging Coalition in 2016, ‘only 53 percent of the U.S. population has recycling automatically provided at their home.’ ”
The #WasteLessWednesday campaign is aimed primarily at young people, Salinas-Davis said.
“We’re targeting everyone but specifically young people who are more mobile and live a lifestyle that typically means lots of takeout, food delivery and even coffee on the go,” Salinas-Davis said. “They’re also very active online and in the digital space where content is easily shared.”
While some might roll their eyes, Salinas-Davis said the goal isn’t to take away your to-go plasticware. See some suggested tips – and download a poster – at wastelesswednesday.com.
“We don’t envision a world without straws and plastic forks,” she said. “There’s a purpose for them, but let’s not use them unless we really need them. What many people don’t realize is that straws and a lot of plastics are not recyclable. So, let’s just avoid using them whenever possible. And since not all Americans have access to recycling at home, the least we can do is reduce the waste we generate.
“#WasteLessWednesday allows us to talk about reducing waste and have the conversation about recycling once a week, 52 times each year. Hopefully, by initiating a weekly conversation about reducing waste and recycling, today’s younger generation of adults will demand more access to recycling.”