#20for20: New Year Sustainability Resolutions for Your Business

Happy New Year from Rubicon! The beginning of a new year is a time for reflection, and with this in mind, I’m excited to kick off Rubicon’s #20for20 campaign to help you fulfill your business’s sustainability New Year’s resolutions.

Wondering what to do with the food waste in your office kitchen? Questioning if you can recycle that old lightbulb? We’ve got you covered.

At Rubicon we’ve previously written about what makes something recyclable, as well as a number of detailed guides on how your business can recycle a broad range of materials. In this blog post, we’re going to focus on individual items, instead of materials, as often items are made of multiple or hard-to-recycle materials, making it confusing to know how to best divert them from a landfill once you’re done with them.

Over each of the next twenty business days, I’m going to share a common sustainability or recycling question in this blog post and across Rubicon’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts at 9:30am EST. We invite our social media community to share their knowledge and answer the question for their chance to win a reusable cleaning kit from fellow B Corp Grove Collaborative. The first person to correctly answer the question each day will win! At 5:00pm EST we will reveal the answer in this blog post, featuring insights from our team of sustainability experts, as well as revealing the day’s winner. Please note that winners of the daily prize must be at least 18 years old and permanently reside in the United States. (Find our full terms and conditions here.)

Keep in mind that different cities and municipalities have different recycling rules in place, and what can be recycled curbside is different from what can be recycled if it’s brought into a specialized recycling facility. While there’s a high likelihood that the advice we offer below is true where you are, be sure to check in with your local recycling provider if you’re unsure, so to avoid recycling contamination through aspirational recycling.

Without further ado, let’s kick off Rubicon’s #20for20 campaign to help make 2020 your business’s most sustainable year yet. From tried-and-true methods to cutting-edge recycling innovations, these are the solutions to watch out for this year.


  Plastic Bottles

The ubiquitous plastic water bottle ends our #20for20 campaign in style. With a life span of over 500 years, every plastic bottle each of us has ever used still exists on this planet in one form or another. How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of plastic bottles?

Answer

Plastic water bottles can typically be recycled curbside, so long as they are made from one of the more common types of plastic. These numbers, known as Resin Identification Codes (RICs), were designed to make it easier to process post-consumer plastics. Most plastic bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PETE/PET), while a smaller number are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE/PE-HD), and a number of other RICs. Check with your local recycling provider to find out which RICs they accept. Remember to keep plastic bottle caps on your bottles when you recycle them, as if they’re recycled separately they will literally fall through the cracks during the recycling process, and end up being sent to a landfill.

Whenever possible, use a reusable water bottle instead of its single-use plastic counterpart. Keeping a stainless steel water bottle with you that you can refill at your place of work, in the airport, or in any number of other locations is a great alternative to purchasing plastic water bottles.

Thank you to everyone who participated in Rubicon’s #20for20 campaign over the last twenty days! If you enjoyed this series, be sure to subscribe to Rubicon’s free weekly blog newsletter below.


  Clothing

Clothing, such as old employee uniforms, overalls, or outdated promotional T-shirts all need to go somewhere after they are no longer needed. How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of clothing?

Answer

In most circumstances, clothing cannot be recycled curbside. Luckily, unless your clothing is worn out or there is another reason why it shouldn’t be worn again as-is (more on this below) clothing can be easily donated to help those in need.

Clothing should be washed before it is donated. While some donation centers have the resources, space, and equipment available to wash donated clothing before it is given to those in need or put out for sale in an affiliated thrift store, many do not, and can often not accept unwashed clothing due to hygiene restrictions.

If your business has the aforementioned uniforms, overalls, or outdated promotional T-shirts that you don’t want to be worn by people who don’t work at your company, search online for a clothing/textile recycling program in your local area that will break down and recycle your clothing to turn it into rags, insulation, and other lower-grade fiber products.

Today’s question was a tough one, and unfortunately we received no correct answers. Better luck tomorrow, everyone!


  Paper Towels

Multiple rolls of paper towels can be found in the kitchens of homes and businesses up and down the country. While these fibrous soaker-uppers serve an important function, they have come under fire in recent years for their unsustainable credentials. How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of paper towels?

Answer

Paper towels are the ultimate convenience. But with this convenience comes a responsibility to do right by the environment. While I’ll cover how you should find a replacement for paper towels at your business and in your home in a moment, first let me tell you how you can recycle the paper towels you already have.

Contrary to popular belief, paper towels (even clean paper towel sheets) cannot be thrown in with your paper recycling. Paper towels are often made from recycled paper, meaning that the paper fibers within the sheets are too short to be recycled. Even if your paper towels aren’t made from recycled paper, they are likely made from a low-quality paper that consists of short paper fibers by its very nature. Instead of throwing paper towels in your paper recycling, you can often deliver them to a local composting or commercial food waste program.

Ultimately, the best thing you can do to reduce your paper towel waste is to use cloth napkins and cleaning cloths that you wash between each significant use. If these are made from recycled materials, all the better!

Congratulations to Michelle M. for being the first person to answer this question correctly on Twitter.


  Grease and Oil

Grease and oil can cause substantial environmental harm if they are disposed of incorrectly. With this in mind, how should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of grease and oil?

Answer

Grease and oil should never, under any circumstances, be poured down the drain. Not only is this a wasteful use of a valuable resource, it can cause significant damage to your business’s drain pipes, and land you in regulatory hot water.

If your business is a restaurant or other commercial setting that produces a large volume of grease, search online for local composting or commercial food waste recycling programs in your area, specifically looking into commercial used cooking oil (UCO) programs and a commercial grease trap cleaning service. For customized help in this area, reach out to Rubicon’s Ryan Cooper today and he’ll help your business get set up.

If your business is a garage or similar commercial setting that uses large volumes of oil, Rubicon can help introduce a truly closed-loop program through re-refinery processes. We’ll help you recycle or refine your industrial and hydraulic oils in a safe, responsible manner that keeps your business in compliance with both federal and local regulations.

Today’s question was a tough one, and unfortunately we received no correct answers. Better luck tomorrow, everyone!


  Cans

Whether we’re talking about steel and tin cans containing shelf-stable food items, or aluminum cans filled with your favorite beverage, cans were a revolution when they were first introduced to the market in 1812. How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of cans?

Answer

Most steel, tin, and aluminum cans can be recycled curbside. If your local recycling provider tells you that you can recycle ‘metals,’ then these three are almost certainly included.

Similar to glass; steel, tin, and aluminum are infinitely recyclable. Aluminum cans constitute the largest single use of aluminum globally, and as my Rubicon colleague Meredith Leahy noted in her article on aluminum recycling, 75 percent of all aluminum that has ever been produced is still in use to this day.

Congratulations to Ryan L. for being the first person to answer this question correctly on Twitter.


  Glass and Lightbulbs

How many times a day do you interact with glass, in one form or another? From glass window panes, to glass light bulbs, to the water glass you hold in your hand, glass is everywhere. How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of glass?

Answer

Glass is one of the easiest to recycle materials on the planet. It can be recycled an infinite number of times without degrading, so long as it finds its way to an appropriate recycling facility. Despite this, glass accounted for 4.2 percent of all municipal solid waste (MSW) in landfills in the United States in 2017.

It is 33 percent more energy efficient to produce new glass using recycled glass than it is using new materials. For this reason, it is essential that you recycle all glass curbside, assuming this is something your recycling provider allows (most do). Recycling rules for broken glass vary widely, so I recommend you reach out to your local recycling provider or call 311 to find out the rules for broken glass recycling in your area.

Lightbulbs are another story entirely. Incandescent and halogen light bulbs are unfortunately extremely difficult to recycle. Search online for a drop off location in your area, but if one isn’t available these should be placed in the trash. Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) and LEDs can sometimes be recycled curbside; as always, reach out to your local recycling provider or call 311 to confirm either way.

Congratulations to Nell M. for being the first person to answer this question correctly on Instagram.


  Wood Waste

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), wood waste accounted for 6.7 percent of all municipal solid waste (MSW) in landfills in the United States in 2017 at a total weight of 18 million tons. How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of wood waste?

Answer

Wood waste typically comes from two distinct locations; the aforementioned MSW collections, where it accounts for 6.7 percent of its total, and construction and demolition (C&D) waste, where it accounts for 7.1 percent of the total.

Wood waste can be composted or sent to a mulch yard so long as it is untreated and unpainted. For treated and/or painted wood, search online for an organization that will take them in your local area, or call your local recycling provider or 311.

Today’s question was a tough one, and unfortunately we received no correct answers. Better luck tomorrow, everyone!


  Batteries

Batteries have faced scrutiny in recent months due to highly-publicized occurrences of lithium-ion rechargeable batteries catching fire on airplanes, in pockets, and at materials recovery facilities (MRFs). How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of batteries?

Answer

Whether we’re talking about disposable (one-time use) or rechargeable batteries, it’s essential that batteries are never thrown in the trash or placed in residential or commercial curbside recycling. As noted above, batteries have been known to explode and/or catch fire in MRFs, which poses a serious health and safety risk to workers at these facilities.

If you have batteries at your business that have run out of power, or that you otherwise have no more use for, search online for “battery recycling” and your city name to find a local battery drop off location. If you’d prefer to speak to someone on the phone, call your local recycling provider or 311.

Today’s question was a tough one, and unfortunately we received no correct answers. Better luck tomorrow, everyone!


  Plastic Bags

The ubiquitous single-use plastic bag is facing a public relations crisis like no other. Despite this, plastic bags still thrive across much of the United States, with less than a handful of states having banned them outright. How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of plastic bags?

Answer

There is both a short term and long term answer to this question; both of which need to be applied at the same time in order to reduce the amount of plastic bags and other single-use plastics that find their way into our landfills and oceans.

Short term, and in almost all instances, plastic bags and other flimsy single-use plastics cannot be recycled curbside. As always, I recommend calling your local recycling provider to confirm if this is true for your building, but it most likely is. For this reason, search online, call your local recycling provider, or call 311 to find out where your nearest plastic bags drop off point is.

Long term, commit to taking reusable bags with you whenever you go out so you have one to hand should you need to carry something, and you’re not having to use a disposable option.

Congratulations to Kristie S. for being the first person to answer this question correctly on Instagram.


  Yard Waste

Yard and food waste fit into a category known as “organics.” Organics recycling programs are becoming more and more common across the United States, as the harm that is caused by organic material as it breaks down and releases methane into the atmosphere is becoming more apparent. How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of yard waste?

Answer

The answer to this question is largely dependent on the policies of your local waste and recycling provider.

Most curbside recyclers pick up yard waste, whether from a residential or commercial property, on a set schedule—weekly, monthly, or less frequently, depending on demand for the service in your area. For this reason, ensure you are aware of your provider’s schedule so you can set your yard waste out in good time the night before.

Similar to our answer on how to recycle christmas trees, before your yard waste is picked up, I recommend you call your local waste and recycling provider to ask how they will be disposing of it. If they send to landfill, consider looking into taking your yard waste to a local composting facility or mulch yard instead.

Congratulations to Caroline S. for being the first person to answer this question correctly on Instagram.


  Electronics

Some of us have become so attached to our electronic devices that they have essentially become an extension of us. While many of our electronics have become smaller over time, our addiction to annual phone upgrades and new shiny objects has created a glut of electronic waste of which to be disposed. How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of electronics?

Answer

Electronic waste (e-waste) cannot be recycled curbside under almost any circumstances—this is true of both residential and commercial locations. If you drop e-waste recycling into your curbside recycling container it will almost certainly be thrown into the garbage; potentially exposing any data remaining on your electronic devices to the risk of being stolen, while contaminating the rest of the otherwise recyclable materials sitting around it.

So, where should you recycle your commercial e-waste? Search online for “e-waste recycling” and your city name to find a local e-waste drop off location. If you’d prefer to speak to someone on the phone, call your local recycling provider or 311.

If you need to recycle residential e-waste, you can follow the instructions for businesses above, or you can take your e-waste to your local Best Buy location, which recently expanded its e-waste recycling program and will properly recycle your electronics and appliances for free, even if you purchased them elsewhere.

Today’s question was a tough one, and unfortunately we received no correct answers. Better luck tomorrow, everyone!


  Packing Peanuts

While a box filled with packing peanuts may be more exciting to a young child than the items they are bound to protect, businesses are frequently asking us how to recycle this nut (well, legume) shaped cushioning material. How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of packing peanuts?

Answer

Similar to yesterday’s item (disposable utensils), most packing peanuts are made from polystyrene—in this case, expanded polystyrene (EPS), otherwise known as styrofoam. As I’ve noted previously in this series, while polystyrene can be recycled at scale in certain cases, it can rarely be recycled curbside.

Even if your business does receive a large enough quantity of packing peanuts to make recycling them a worthwhile activity, the best way to maximize the lifestyle of this packaging material is to call your local FedEx, UPS, or other packing supply company and ask if they take used packing peanuts. If they do, ask if you can drop off your peanuts when you’re next in the area.

If you receive biodegradable packing peanuts that are made from natural sources such as starch or wheat, and you have no use for them in your own packaging needs, you can add these to your compost pile or dissolve them in water to dispose of them.

Congratulations to Kari D. for being the first person to answer this question correctly on Instagram.


  Disposable Utensils

Disposable cutlery and other utensils compromise those flimsy plastic forks, knives, and spoons that are often thrown in with your takeout order or that you can purchase in large quantities for a company picnic or other outdoor event. How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of disposable utensils?

Answer

The word “disposable” in disposable utensils is an unfortunate clue here. While there has been progress in this area—Uber Eats, for example, recently made changes to their delivery menus so users need to “opt in” to receive disposable utensils and other single-use items with their food delivery instead of receiving them by default—this is currently not the norm.

Most disposable cutlery and other utensils are made from plastic; most often either polypropylene or polystyrene. These are both low-value plastics; as my Rubicon colleague Meredith Leahy notes in her article on how to recycle different plastics, and while some curbside recycling programs accept polystyrene and similar low-value plastic products, many do not, so you should check with your recycling provider before throwing disposable utensils in with your plastic recycling. If you cannot recycle polystyrene curbside, your best bet is to take them to a local drop-off facility, such as the aforementioned Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHaRM) in Atlanta, Georgia.

While compostable utensils are a great alternative to their disposable counterparts (and are a great option for takeout restaurants to utilize), using reusable utensils is your best bet to ensure that your utensils have the longest possible life.

Today’s question was a tough one, and unfortunately we received no correct answers. Better luck tomorrow, everyone!


  Takeout Containers

Takeout containers, whether made from polystyrene (styrofoam), plastic, or film-coated cardboard, are a mainstay of offices and residences up and down the country. How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of takeout containers?

Answer

The answer to this question depends entirely on what your takeout container is made of. If your container is made of polystyrene (styrofoam) then it can be recycled at scale in certain cases, as my Rubicon colleague Meredith Leahy has written about in depth in the past, but it can rarely be recycled curbside. Plastic food containers, such as plastic clamshells, are generally accepted curbside, though there is a debate surrounding how often these are able to be recycled at the materials recovery facility (MRF). Film-coated cardboard containers can rarely be recycled curbside.

While cardboard takeout containers without a film-coating generally cannot be recycled if they have excess oil and grease stains from food on them, they can often be composted either in your building if you have an on-site composting solution, or at a local organics drop-off location. Needless to say at this point, this is a category where checking your recycling provider’s website or giving them a call is essential to ensuring you’re following the correct recycling rules for your area.

For the future, if you get your takeout meals from locations close to your business, consider taking your own food storage container so you don’t have to use disposable options.

Congratulations to Kelly M. for being the first person to answer this question correctly on Instagram.


  Holiday Lights

Holiday lights don’t last forever. Whether your business’s string of LEDs blow a fuse upon first use, or they last you going on twenty years, eventually your holiday lights are going to run their course. How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of your holiday lights?

Answer

Like other forms of electronics, including old television sets, computers, or wires, holiday lights cannot be recycled curbside. Depending on where your business is located, attempting to place used holiday lights in with your recycling may result in a fine as it can contaminate the whole load.

Luckily, there are many places to properly dispose of your holiday lights. If the lights are still in good working order they can be donated to most charity shops across the United States. If they’re no longer working, contact your local recycling provider to ask if they have drop off locations in your city. If they don’t, search online for an unaffiliated local drop-off facility, such as the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHaRM) in Atlanta, Georgia.

Today’s question was a tough one, and unfortunately we received no correct answers. Better luck tomorrow, everyone!


  Food Waste

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that in 2017, almost 41 million tons of food waste were generated in the United States, with only 6.3 percent diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting. This is a sad statistic, and one that can be avoided if we take measures to take better care of this waste. With that in mind, how should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of food waste?

Answer

My Rubicon colleague Ryan Cooper has written extensively on food waste, food waste recycling, and composting in the past. When I asked him how best to tackle this answer, he pointed me towards the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, which prioritizes actions businesses can take to prevent and divert wasted food.

As you can see, source reduction, or simply purchasing less food in the first place, is number one. This is followed by food donations to those in need, sending food scraps to animal feed, then anaerobic digestion and composting. Hopefully one day, wasted food will never go to landfills because it won’t be generated in the first place—and if it is, there are so many beneficial uses for the valuable resource.

Source reduction is easy enough, as is feeding hungry people, so long as you donate only food that can be used by donation organizations. If you’re interested in how Rubicon can help you send some of your food scraps to feed animals, deliver them to anaerobic digestion facilities, or start a composting program, reach out to Ryan Cooper today and he’ll help your business get set up.

Congratulations to Amy S. for being the first person to answer this question correctly on Instagram.


  Wrapping Paper and Ribbons

Whether you do a gift exchange in your workplace or you receive gifts from your partners, suppliers, or other business associates, the holidays produce a mass of wrapping paper and ribbons, all of which need to be removed in the most sustainable way possible. How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of wrapping paper and ribbons?

Answer

There are numerous answers to this question. Let’s start with the most sustainable.

While this won’t reduce the amount of wrapping paper you need to recycle immediately, consider wrapping your gifts in old newspaper or magazine print going forward. In giving this paper a second life you are telling your customers and anyone else you send holiday gifts out to that you take sustainability seriously.

Alternatively, purchase wrapping paper that is made from recycled paper, and that itself can be recycled. Plain, non-glossy wrapping paper is accepted by most curbside recycling providers, whereas glossy, glittery, or metallic wrapping paper cannot typically be recycled curbside.

Bows and ribbons are notoriously difficult to recycle, and in the case of ribbons, they can be hazardous to the equipment in your local materials recovery facility (MRF). Your curbside recycling provider will almost certainly not take them, therefore the best way to get the most out of them is to reuse them, year after year, until they are worn out. Once this happens, opt for bows and ribbons made of a single material, such as plain paper or fabric, that can easily be recycled.

Congratulations to Emily N. for being the first person to answer this question correctly on Instagram.


  Shipping Boxes

Cardboard shipping boxes are abundant this time of year, both at businesses that receive stock from their suppliers, and at private residences as the rise in online shopping continues unabated. How should you recycle cardboard shipping boxes?

Answer

Cardboard is one of the easiest materials to recycle. Shipping boxes are typically made from old corrugated cardboard (OCC), which due to its rippled layer sandwiched in the middle should be baled (compressed) onsite if your business receives a substantial amount of OCC, as doing so compacts the cardboard, which my colleague Jackie Beason notes in her article on cardboard recycling, is good for the environment and good for your company’s bottom line. Packing tape and stickers can be left on the boxes, as these are removed prior to the pulping process.

Residential cardboard recycling programs vary by city, but most residences can recycle cardboard curbside (with tape and stickers left on the boxes), though be sure to not include cardboard that has been contaminated by grease and oil, such as the bottom layer of pizza boxes, as this can contaminate the whole load.

Congratulations to Emily R. for being the first person to answer this question correctly on Instagram.


  Christmas Trees

Whether you favor a Douglas, Noble, or Balsam fir, it’s not uncommon to spend the first two weeks of January tripping over Christmas trees as they lay strewn across the sidewalks of America. With that said, how should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of your Christmas tree each year?

Answer

Call or look on the website of your city and/or local waste and recycling company to find out what day(s) they pick up Christmas trees in your neighborhood, and, if possible, find out how they dispose of them. If they don’t compost them—instead choosing to throw them in with waste destined for the landfill—find out if your office is located near a composting facility or mulch yard. If so, reach out to them and ask if they would be willing to take your Christmas tree off your hands.

Still no luck? One of my Rubicon colleagues wrote a blog post about how to recycle your Christmas tree last year that lists a number of obscure ways to ensure that your tree is properly disposed of.

Congratulations to @kvandyck1 for being the first person to answer this question correctly on Instagram.


  Cleaning Supplies

We’re kicking off our #20for20 campaign with cleaning supplies, and more specifically, plastic bottles used to hold cleaning solution. How should you reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of your plastic cleaning supply bottles, either with or without cleaning solution still within them?

Answer

Like many of the answers you’ll be seeing to these questions over the next twenty days, the answer here is twofold. If you currently purchase standard cleaning supplies in plastic bottles for your business, switch to reusable cleaning bottles combined with cleaning solution tablets to help your business stop throwing out plastic bottles and getting cleaning solution shipped to you from across the country.

Secondly, if you have a lot of these plastic bottles piled up, start by ensuring they are clean. Check the bottle’s instructions for proper disposal method. For soaps or detergents, rinse containers with water and pour any remaining cleaning product down the drain—house drains, never storm drains! Then check with your local recycling provider if the plastic in question can be recycled curbside. Many providers will accept the sturdy plastic of cleaning supply bottles. If your provider cannot, or the contents are hazardous and can’t go down the sink, search online for a nearby drop off point. It is also worth checking if your cleaning brand has their own recycling program. For example, Procter & Gamble have partnered with Terracycle to provide an interactive map of recycling options for their fabric care products (Tide, Downy, etc).

Congratulations to Debra M. for being the first person to answer this question correctly on Instagram! Debra earned herself a reusable cleaning kit from Grove Collaborative.

If you’re enjoying this series, be sure to subscribe to Rubicon’s free weekly blog newsletter below.


David Rachelson is Vice President of Sustainability at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.

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