The High 5 Initiative is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to practice, promote, and enable sustainable practices and environmental conservation. We just happen to have a board made up exclusively of patients.
As patients we found ourselves, like most of you, with an overwhelming amount of plastic pop-tops spilling out of a bin in our closet that we wanted to recycle. To be clear, the goal of recycling is to reduce resource needs and minimize environmental impacts.
Recycling involves three steps, represented by the three arrows.
We had a simple question before we just tossed all of our pop-tops in our blue bin. Do I need to remove the label on the package to make sure the pop tops don’t go into the landfill? To answer this, we reached out to our local county recycling coordinator. We were then told our county sends it to another facility in Maryland. Turns out each county sends it to one of a few major collection centers. We then contacted the final sorting centers to find out it does not matter what we do to prepare the #5 plastic packaging for the blue bin, it inevitably resulted in the plastic being rerouted to our local landfills.
The blue bins at our houses are part of a recycling model called “Single Stream Recycling”. The idea of this model is to be able to put all “recyclable material” in one collection bin and eventually sort the collection into categories later in the process.
How The Single Stream path works:
Seems right, so why are the MRF’s rerouting the “recyclables” to the landfills?
In 2017 the single buyer of 72% of the Worlds recycling, China, implemented its National Sword Policy, which lowered the contamination rate of #5 plastics to 0.5% by mass. This policy change has had major effects on America’s ability to dispose of our “waste”. The Single Stream Recycling Material Recovery Facilities have been unable to meet the new contamination percentage specification standards.
In the United States, and specifically in our home state of Maryland, the inability of our MRF’s to meet the new specification has led to them being quickly overwhelmed by the backup of previously recyclable plastics.
MRF’s have almost universally chosen to reroute the material back into our local landfills as a temporary solution, though some have been shipping the material to other states. A large portion of these rerouted plastics on their way to the landfills end up in our local waterways and eventually our oceans in a phenomenon called “leakage”. The rerouting of the material as a solution is expected to continue for at least another 5 years.
To find out where the plastic goes once it makes its way to the oceans, google The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where plastic is more abundant than plankton.
Consumers are forced by regulation to take ownership of and be responsible for the proper disposal of the plastic packaging that comes with every purchase. With the knowledge that if we disposed of the material in the blue bin, it would just end up in landfills anyway, we felt like we were being forced to pollute our environment by regulation and set out to see how we could make a change.
We asked how we could help. The High 5 Initiative worked with the MMCC to evaluate the totals of the #5 plastic produced by the local industry to determine the size of the issue. We brainstormed with the state, the waste industry and the MMCC to find a solution. The result of all this work was the creation of The High 5 Recycling Initiative, a turn-key compliant return to retail recycling program. The High 5 Recycling Initiative was essentially a landfill diversion path for these materials with SOPs. This was the best option for our area due to limitations previously mentioned and the state laws. In 3 years, this dual-stream recycling path kept 551,434 containers out of local landfills equalling 18,219 pounds thanks to everyone who participated. If you are interested in finding out more or finding out what can be done in your area, we are available for consulting. We have done so with many other groups and lawmakers across the US since the inception of the program helping cause a domino effect.
WOOP WOOP! Celebration Time! The High 5 Recycling Program has reached its final Goal by collecting over 500,000 containers!!!
When we created this pilot program, we set out to prove the potential of “Return to Retail” models in the cannabis community. As the origin story goes – Reaching out to the MMCC - We first asked about Reusable and Refillable models, instead we were asked to prove “Return to Retail” for Recycling first.
To prove the concept of “Return to Retail” using a Dual Stream Recycling Model, we set 3 measurable goals.
Goal #1 - Develop a path to actually recycle the single use #5 packaging. Check!
Goal #2 - Make that path available to everyone in Maryland. Check!
Goal #3 - Enable the community to recycle 500,000 single use cannabis packages. CHECK!
More than proving a concept, the success of this little community-based program has begun a ripple effect, inspiring changemaking from regulators like the Maryland Department of the Environment and Legislators and Senators from across the US! We even helped get the Producer Responsiblity Bill through after 3 years!
We have also seen producers change from #5 packaging that could not be recycled without this program. In the beginning we saw 85% of the packaging not being able to be recyled and now we only get about 15% of the #5 plastic in our collections. You can recycle glass and metal containers at home. Additionally, you can refuse exit bags. Together we have made a difference!
LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE HIGH 5 RECYCLING INITIATIVE!!!
1.Every person is a part of, not separate from, the environment.
2. Pollution from Single Use Packaging is a Global Business Problem with Local Environmental Impacts.
3. Recycling is just scrapping with better marketing.
4. Recycling is just one of the solutions, not the ONLY solution.
And the biggest lesson ....
5. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE WHEN A COMMUNITY COMES TOGETHER!!!
There is still more to do to get reuse through, so please reach out to your local representative and request that the Maryland Food Code be updated!
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR MAKING THE HIGH 5 RECYCLING INITIATIVE A SUCCESS!!!
AND REMEMBER, REFUSE AND REUSE COME WAY BEFORE RECYCLING!!!