What Is Contamination Of Recyclable Materials And Why Is It A Problem? January 10 2018
As a company that specializes in designing ecofriendly custom tradeshow booths for environmentally conscious organizations of all sizes. Boothster is especially mindful about the lifecycle and recyclability of materials used in our tradeshow booth designs. We pride ourselves on designing and building tradeshow booths with an eye towards what will happen to our design materials in the future. While many people understand the concepts of 100% recyclability and biodegradability, most do not realize what actually happens to recyclable materials after they are dumped in the recycling bin! The U.S. actually exports about one-third of its recycling, and nearly half of all this recycled material goes to China. For decades, China has used recyclables from around the world to supply its manufacturing boom and growing economy. But this summer it declared that this "foreign waste" includes too many other nonrecyclable materials that are "dirty," even "hazardous." China, who has been a major consumer of our recycled materials has essentially announced that they will no longer accept “contaminated” recyclables.
Unfortunately, many consumers don't realize what "contaminated recycling" means! In recycling parlance, contamination happens when non-recyclable items are mixed in with recyclable items or when recyclable items are placed in the wrong recycling bins. A common example is the cardboard used in food service materials such as pizza boxes. Pizza boxes are made from corrugated cardboard, however once the pizza has been placed in the box, the cardboard becomes soiled with grease, cheese, and other foods. Once soiled, the paper cannot be recycled because the paper fibers will not be able to be separated from the oils during the pulping process. All the food service paper materials smeared with food or grease cannot be processed with clean paper and can ruin a newly made product if it is not caught before it goes to the factory. Too much contamination is the reason China has now chosen to reject tons of recyclable paper materials each year.
This is why we at Boothster don’t think tradeshow exhibitors and tradeshow booth design companies should get a pass for merely using “recyclable" materials. We recognize the cold reality that the problem is not just the mass quantity of wasted tradeshow exhibits and tradeshow booth design materials, but that exhibit materials are typically not 100% biodegradable. Using “Recyclable” materials is OK, but is not the answer, because in reality, most design and booth construction materials never get recycled. Unfortunately, now that countries like China are rejecting our recycled materials, the best case scenario is that trade show materials get recycled for a couple of uses, and then end up in a landfill. We believe the answer is in using biodegradable and non toxic materials that, through natural degradation, biodegrade back into the eco system. Our ultimate goal is to create exhibits that are made with 100% biodegradable and non-toxic materials, while minimizing the fossil fuels required for transport. On past projects, we have achieved as much as 99% biodegradability and when recyclable materials must be used, we will ensure they really are recycled!
Luckily, there is no limit to the creative uses and functionality of recyclable materials in tradeshow booth design. As seen in our custom tradeshow booth design for the United States Forest Service, there are many different examples of recyclable custom tradeshow booth elements such as a main reception counter and film projector base made out of reclaimed wood and cardboard shipping container tubes used as central structural columns for the entire booth. In addition to the main custom tradeshow booth structure, there are numerous other eco-friendly seating and display elements such as the 100% recyclable tradeshow stools, brochure holders and display banners created out of bamboo fiber material, which at the end of their lifecycle are actually converted into grocery store totes used by consumers in the Portland Metro Area!
Finally, in addition to being mindful of the lifecycle of materials used in our custom ecofriendly tradeshow booth designs, we as a society need to take more responsibility for recycling everything we use properly. Recycling contamination is not just limited to pizza boxes.... It's behavior like putting non-recyclable items like paint cans, small plastic caps, or broken glass in recycling bins. It's also about cleaning up your recycled goods to remove contaminants. Don't just throw a used ketchup bottle or pasta sauce jar in there. Rinse it out. It's a privilege to live in a rich society with so many disposable goods, but as China’s recent decision shows, it is up to us to make sure we reduce, reuse and recycle! To learn more about how Boothster can help your company or government organization with custom recyclable tradeshow booth design, give the Boothologist a call or fill out our contact form here!