Recycling Queen Carey Hamilton; by artist Ryan Alvis.

Recycling Queen Carey Hamilton; by artist Ryan Alvis.

There are many “R”s to consider when it comes, ahem, to rescuing the ecosystem. There’s the anathema “R” — retreat — I mention in my column (here), and the truth is, there is a lot of overlap regarding ones behavior; you might say there’s a redundancy.

Reduce, reuse, repurpose, repair — and finally, recycle — are all essential to addressing our need to eliminate waste and reduce carbon emissions.

We can find no one better to address this overlap — with the key emphasis on recycling — than Carey Hamilton, Executive Director of the Indiana Recycling Coalition.

Indy-based Hamilton has worked in the environmental field for almost twenty years. Over that time she has developed several policy initiatives and public outreach programs including managing the State of Indiana Partners for Clean Air Program, directing the State of Indiana Recycling Program and spearheading the development of Indiana’s Greening the Government Program, a program that she led until 2000.

She joined the IRC in September, 2008, and since then has more than tripled the organization’s budget. In early 2009, she led the IRC’s statehouse legislative campaign that culminated in the passage of Indiana’s electronics recycling law. In addition, Hamilton served as Co-Chair of the Environmental Programs Committee for the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee and she is a board member of Keep America Beautiful.

We started our conversation with my blunt question: Why does recycling matter?

CAREY HAMILTON: Recycling matters because when we recycle we conserve vast quantities of natural resources as well as significant amounts of energy. That energy is conserved both because recycled material is often transported shorter distances than raw material and it uses significantly less energy to make a new product out of recycled material versus raw material.

In the case of an aluminum can, it takes 95 percent less energy for a manufacturer to make an aluminum can out of an aluminum can, versus bauxite ore that was mined far away and mixed with other material to turn into that new can.

Recycling is one of the easiest ways to reduce our individual carbon footprint.

ILG: Tell me more about that.

HAMILTON: A lot of the energy savings happens at the manufacturing site — whose energy sources are often coal or natural gas.

Recycling reduces the demand for those fossil fuels.

Energy savings and resource conservation make the environmental case. The economic case is this. On average ten jobs are created for every ton of material recycled versus one job when that material is trashed. When you recycle, you also create a chain of activity that translates to jobs. Recycled material gets put in a container that is taken away by a person in a vehicle that is then processed potentially once, maybe twice, by people. And then it’s moved to a production facility where it’s turned into an energy efficiently made product. That is a great deal of productivity in our economy and that equals jobs, mostly local jobs.

ILG: How’s recycling going in Indiana?

HAMILTON: Recycling rates in Indiana are very low. We think at best we’re recycling about 30% of our waste. That’s probably a high estimate — unfortunately we don’t know how much we recycle because we don’t collect good data. That’s one policy the Indiana Recycling Coalition would like to see: good recycling data collection requirements.

ILG: Where would you get that information?

HAMILTON: From municipalities, solid waste management districts and the private sector haulers/recyclers.


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