This year’s Indiana Recycling Coalition Conference focused less on recycling and more on the other two R’s — reduce and reuse. China’s refusal to take the United States’ low-grade recycling is forcing some communities to think about a more holistic approach.
Keynote speaker Ken Miller is a consultant who worked in the chemical and plastic industries for decades. He says for a long time, everyday people have had to decide what to do with products once they’re done with them — but it shouldn’t be that way.
“Who better to deal with a washing machine that doesn’t work anymore than the person who made it in the first place?” Miller says.
Miller says if companies knew that product would be returned to them one day, they’d make it more durable and reusable. What's more, Miller says this kind of circular economy requires all kinds of jobs — including manufacturing and transportation. Recycling Coalition executive director Allyson Mitchell says Indiana excels at both.
“So I think we are well positioned as a state to add that third ingredient of innovation to take advantage of the infrastructure that we already have,” she says.
Mitchell says Indianapolis’ sustainability plan, Thrive Indianapolis, includes expanding recycling access as well as encouraging investments in these kinds of economies. She says that can look like anything from a traditional milkman service with reusable glass bottles to car sharing services like BlueIndy.
Some companies in Indiana are already looking into ways to turn plastics into fuel for cars and jets. Though Miller warns often these processes require fossil fuels, creating greenhouse gas emissions. He says using renewable energy like wind and solar could help close that loop.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.