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Recycling: into the mainstream.

More than just a slogan to spur the general public to action, "reduce, reuse, and recycle" represents a practical way to bring environmental ethics and cost-efficient practices into homes, schools, and corporate offices.

Throughout the 1990s smart businesses will be changing their operations to minimize waste and divert recyclable materials to other uses. Improved production efficiencies and lowered waste disposal costs are the immediate paybacks. But corporations that focus only on waste reduction may miss the greatest opportunity to harness the power of the American marketplace to environmental stewardship.

Recycling is much more than diverting waste from the landfill. It is the process of recovering materials for reuse as feedstock in new products. Recovered materials cannot be simply substituted for their virgin counterparts. They have different material properties and require different processes and equipment to use. Companies that pioneer in these technologies are risking their resources, on the promise of a significant payoff in the marketplace. The National Recycling Coalition (NRC) and other recycling advocates want to assure these businesses that the market will be there.

Already, most federal, state, and local governments have procurement regulations requiring the purchase of recycled products. NRC is attempting to expand this market exponentially by asking American businesses to join the Buy Recycled Business Alliance.

This NRC program is asking 5,000 companies over the next three years to make a commitment to increase their purchase of recycled-content products. The leaders and financial supporters of this massive business-to-business campaign carry sufficient clout to get attention in the corporate boardrooms and executive suites of their colleagues.

In 1993 these companies include American Airlines, Anheuser-Busch, AT&T, Bank of America, Bell Atlantic, Browning-Ferris Industries, Coca-Cola, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Du Pont, Fort Howard, Garden State Paper. James River, Johnson & Johnson, Johnson Controls, K mart, Laidlaw, Lever Brothers, McDonald's, Menasha Corp., Moore Business Forms, Quaker Oats, Quill Corp., Rock-Tenn Co., Rubbermaid, Safeway, Sears Roebuck, Wal-Mart, Waste Management, Wellman, and Wisconsin Tissue Mills. Supporting associations include the American Plastics Council, Food Marketing Institute, and Steel Recycling Institute.

No one knows what the purchasing potential of these companies will be, and they have already been joined by more than 300 other companies in the last several months. Last year only a handful of companies were able to provide information on how much they were purchasing, and they reported almost $3 billion in purchase of recycled-content products. When the Alliance announces the results of its 1993 survey this fall, its members expect to triple the size of the business market for recycled products.

Alliance companies are not only purchasing more and different types of recycled products without sacrificing quality or price, but they are urging their vendors, suppliers, and customers to do the same. Recycled products and materials purchased and offered for sale by these companies range from copy paper, business forms, tissue products, and all types of recycled packaging materials to such diverse items as re-refined oil, plastic binders made from recycled soda bottles, bulletin boards made from recycled rubber tires, and recycled plastic components for portable toilets. Several Alliance companies collected paper in their own office recycling programs then printed their annual reports on recycled paper made from that material.

Corporations that have not yet contemplated what this growing recycled-content market means strategically should do so immediately. The use of recovered materials is moving out of the realm of experimental businesses into the mainstream. It takes time and financial investment to change material supply sources and business relationships, re-engineer products, and retool plants. A few Alliance companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the past few years as they added equipment and facilities to use recycled materials.

While using recovered materials in the products a company produces requires serious rethinking and reorganization of a corporation's business, it may soon become an economic necessity. A growing number of major American businesses and governments are changing their purchasing specifications to maximize the use of post-consumer materials. Consumers are becoming more aware that recycling also means buying recycled. Unless companies can meet the recycled-content test, they may find they are losing market share to their competitors who have recognized that environmental stewardship is smart business. Nor can a nation that wants to maintain its international competitiveness afford to use its resources once and bury them in a landfill.

Marsha Rhea is Executive Director of the National Recycling Coalition, a nonprofit coalition committed to maximizing recycling as an integral part of waste management and resource management. Its 4,000 members include recycling and environmental organizations, large and small businesses, state and local governments, and individuals. The Coalition, based in Washington, D.C., provides technical education, disseminates public information, shapes public and private policy on recycling, and operates programs that encourage market and economic development for recycling.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Special Section: Answering the Call for Leadership; Leadership in Environmental Initiatives
Author:Rhea, Marsha
Publication:Directors & Boards
Date:Sep 22, 1993
Previous Article:So much waste that can be avoided.
Next Article:Opening new sources of support.

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