Amy Hammes is fighting to decrease the average American’s 102-ton lifetime waste legacy. Hammes is a recycling specialist for the Burbank Recycle Center who educates residents and businesses in Burbank, Calif. on sustainable lifestyle habits. She runs the Waste Warriors program, which helps increase awareness of the growing plastic, food and green waste crises resulting from America’s materials economy.
As the global recycling market plummets, in part due to China’s 2018 National Sword Policy, industry groups move toward enacting federal waste legislation here in the United States. Consumers are practicing what Hammes calls “wishcycling,” which means people assume an item can be recycled because the package has a chasing arrow symbol. However, according to Hammes, this is not always the case since there is a decrease in the global recycling market.
“It’s not about whether something is recyclable or not. It’s about if it’s going to get recycled, which means it’s a market-based decision,” said Hammes.
“If there is no market for the stuff, it doesn’t matter if it’s recyclable or not. We have to get that message out to the public.”
On February 11, 2020, Congress introduced the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, in an effort to spur much-needed investments into U.S. domestic recycling and composting infrastructure. The bill also aims to require producers of packaging, containers, and food-service products to design, manage and finance waste and recycling programs.
Hammes says there is now more awareness about plastic pollution and resource depletion than ever. As companies push externalities onto society, there is a greater need to educate the general public about the side effects these materials have on environmental and human health.
“There is a challenge with having infinite demands on finite resources,” said Hammes.
“It’s a breakthrough that anybody is even putting a bill like this out. The federal government is starting to recognize this instead of it just being niche environmental states.”
The Waste Warriors program helps educate consumers to make better choices so they can get ahead of the disposable mindset. The goal is to create community ownership and spread awareness about the waste crisis in the United States. Find more information about the proper disposal of consumer goods at WhereItGoes.Burbankca.gov.