Recycling (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
In 2009 the United States produced 251 million tons of trash, with 82 million tons (32.5 percent) of those materials recycled. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, total recycling in the United States increased approximately 100 percent. At the national level, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees waste management, including hazardous wastes and landfills, and sets recycling goals. However, no national laws for recycling exist; instead, individual state and local governments have created their own laws concerning recycling.
Several U.S. states have laws establishing deposits and refunds for beverage containers. Other states ban the deposition of recyclable materials into landfills. Some cities, including New York and Seattle, have passed laws that include fines for failing to recycle certain materials. Several organized voluntary and educational programs have been established to increase recycling where it has not been mandated by law. Recycling education is usually integrated into science or social studies classes at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels. November 15 is celebrated as America Recycles Day, which is dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of recycling and to encouraging Americans to recycle and buy recycled products.
For recycling to be economically feasible, efficiently managed, and environmentally effective, adequate recyclable materials must be available, a...
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Commonly Recycled Materials (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
Paper is the most common material in municipal solid waste, approximately 35 percent of the total. Americans recycled more than 50 percent of paper used in 2008, but that percentage could be increased. Approximately 80 percent of the paper mills in the United States are designed to depend on paper recycling; they reduce recycled paper to pulp, which is then combined with pulp from newly harvested wood. Wood fiber can be recycled only up to five times, however, since damage to the fibers with each recycling process decreases the quality of the resulting product; hence, more new fibers must be added with each cycle.
Recycled fabric items are sorted into grades; some are then processed to make industrial wiping cloths, whereas others are made into filling products or used in the manufacture of paper. Discarded clothing items often end up in landfills in the United States, but many unwanted but still wearable clothes can be recycled through charitable giving. This practice helps to reduce unwanted waste and conserves the resources needed to make new clothing, while providing clothing to persons in need.
Plastic recyclable items are sorted and sent to facilities where they are washed and ground into small flakes that are dried, melted, filtered, and formed into pellets used to manufacture new plastic products. In 2008 the U.S. MSW stream included some 13 million tons of plastics—about 12 percent, an increase...
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Debates (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
Some critics of the promotion of recycling as a solution to environmental problems have suggested that the modern waste management system has fundamental flaws that call for reexamination—they have therefore added a “fourth R,” rethink, to the “three R’s”: reduce, reuse, and recycle. They argue that the costs of collecting and transporting recyclable materials for processing far outweigh the costs of production processes using raw materials. They also assert that more jobs are lost through the reduced collection of raw materials than are created by the recycling industry, which, additionally, pays low wages and offers poor working conditions. Critics argue further that when all processes are considered, the production of recycled products consumes more energy than would the traditional landfill disposal of the recycled materials used to make the products.
Recycling proponents counter that the benefits of recycling compensate for any higher monetary costs it may create. Landfilled wastes pollute groundwater and waterways and contribute significantly to global warming through the release of methane into the atmosphere, producing long-term financial costs of pollution remediation. Proponents also argue that the workers that would be needed to gather amounts of virgin materials equal to the amounts provided through recycling would be working in jobs, such as timber harvesting and ore mining, that have much more dangerous...
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Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
Ackerman, Frank. Why Do We Recycle? Markets, Values, and Public Policy. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1997.
Loeffe, Christian V., ed. Trends in Conservation and Recycling of Resources. Hauppauge, N.Y.: Nova Science, 2006.
McKinney, Michael L., Robert M. Schoch, and Logan Yonavjak. “Resource Use and Management.” In Environmental Science: Systems and Solutions. 4th ed. Sudbury, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett, 2007.
Tammemagi, Hans. The Waste Crisis: Landfills, Incinerators, and the Search for a Sustainable Future. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Weeks, Jennifer. “Future of Recycling: Is a Zero-Waste Society Achievable?” CQ Researcher 17, no. 44 (December 2007): 1033-1060.
Williams, Paul T. “Waste Recycling.” In Waste Treatment and Disposal. 2d ed. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2005.
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Background (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
A number of factors led to the recycling programs initiated in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Throughout history, waste disposal schemes have generally assumed that there was infinite sky and ocean to dilute wastes until they became undetectably faint. Then rivers began to catch fire, mercury was discovered in tuna caught at sea, forests in Scandinavia suffered from sulfur dioxide coming from British smokestacks, and people in the fishing village of Minamata, Japan, were poisoned by a vinyl factory that was dumping wastes into their bay. Many such instances finally led to the realization that the natural world was not an infinite sink and that humankind might be fouling its own nest. Hence, beginning in the 1970’s, ecology became a major political issue. A related concern was that fuels and certain key minerals might be exhausted in the near future because of the ever-expanding consumption of nonrenewable resources. These fears were strongly presented in 1970 in “The First Report to the Club of Rome,” published as The Limits to Growth, based on a computer projection of population, food production, industry, resources, and pollution.
The “landfill crisis” in the United States began in the 1970’s when environmental regulations restricted open dumps, backyard burning, and burning in apartment-sized incinerators. Restricted burning cleared the air but increased the burden on dumps. Other new regulations required...
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Waste Streams (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Wastes can be defined in a number of ways. Municipal solid waste (MSW), or trash, is the most commonly considered object of recycling. MSW is an almost infinitely varied mixture of newspapers, grass clippings, beverage containers, aerosol cans, old clothes, kitchen wastes, small appliances, and hundreds of other types of items. Calculations from the Environmental Protection Agency for 2007 listed roughly 254 million metric tons of municipal solid waste in the United States—approximately 2 kilograms per person per day. However, the numbers are more complicated than that. They do not include construction and demolition debris (about 155 million metric tons) composed of bricks, wood, concrete, and fixtures taken when old structures are razed. They also do not include the liner and covering materials for the landfill. Finally, they do not include sewage sludge, composed of both food garbage that is ground up in garbage disposals and human wastes. With those additions, the average daily weight produced per person nearly doubles.
Other complications in figuring the waste stream come from good news. Automobiles and appliances are now rare in landfills because they are recycled for the metal. Beginning in the second half of the twentieth century, steel “mini-mills” allowed more profitable recycling of such items because the mini-mills are less susceptible to “poisoning” by metals other than iron. Corrugated paper boxes...
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Repurposing Waste (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Recycling, or reusing materials for other purposes, reduces trash, energy use, and the consumption of mineral resources. For example, aluminum cans that are melted and made into new cans do not go to a landfill; they require no aluminum ore and much less energy than smelting new aluminum. A society with a “total recycling” program could conceivably function with little mining of nonfuel minerals (assuming a neutral population growth).
Recycling increased greatly beginning in the 1970’s, and governments have begun favoring recycled products over those made from virgin materials. In some European countries, manufacturers are held responsible for the eventual scrapping of their products, which results in designs favoring quick disassembly and recycling of standard materials.
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Technological Innovations (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Every waste stream is a potential resource stream. Many waste streams are already composed of liquids or small particles for easier processing. Thus there are myriad technologies for recycling and great prospects for improvement, depending on the money and effort that a society is willing to expend.
Many companies have profited from the “industrial ecology” of using waste streams from one area as resource streams for another. For instance, the ashes from burning coal have always been available as a raw material for making cement, but pilot projects to do so were only started in the 1980’s when environmental pressures increased. Likewise, manure can be spread back on fields or biologically digested to yield natural gas and concentrated fertilizer. The energy crisis of the 1970’s and 1980’s led to increased use of cogeneration, in which food-processing plants burn waste products such as corn cobs and shells from nuts for both process heat and generation of electricity. Even asphalt and concrete can be ground up and reused.
Some of the most likely improvements to municipal waste recycling include automated sorting, electronic monitoring of the liquid trash in sewers, charging for eventual disposal, and use of materials on-site. Automated sorting lowers labor costs, allows sorting at any time, and allows a finer sorting. For instance, a manual trash “disassembly line” has stations for separating...
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The Economics of Recycling (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Recycling saves material, and it often reduces energy consumption. However, collection and processing use energy and require labor as well as storage areas for the materials being recycled. Successful recycling must balance those profits and costs. Historically, recycling was feasible and widely practiced because labor was cheap and materials were expensive. Rag pickers collected old cloth for making paper. Polite wealthy diners left some food on their plates so that it could be given to the poor. Communist China provides a modern example that shows the drawbacks of intensive recycling: During the period of revolutionary fervor that existed from the 1950’s through the 1970’s, one program involved returning and repairing lightbulbs. Unfortunately, each worker in a light-bulb assembly factory averaged production of hundreds of bulbs per hour, while a repair technician only fixed several. Such labor-intensive recycling cannot compete in the modern world.
A second factor is that some materials favor recycling more than others. Glass containers are initially cheaper than aluminum ones, but glass is heavy (possessing low value per unit weight) to recycle back to collection points; moreover, tiny amounts of the wrong color ruin the color in remelted batches, and glass shards are dangerous. Meanwhile, the primary raw material for new glass is as common as sand on the beach.
Like aluminum, plastic has a high...
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E-Waste (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Electronic waste (or “e-waste”) has become an increasingly important part of the waste stream since the 1990’s. These wastes include consumer electronics such as computers, their accessories (mice, monitors, keyboards), cell phones, and televisions. The toxic contents of some of the components of e-waste require that they be recycled properly, by experts in the proper disposal and repurposing of hazardous wastes. Some of the components can be reused. For example, cell phones and televisions can be donated to prolong their lives, and the materials (plastics, metals, glass) can be retrieved and reused. On average, however, in the United States only about 15 percent of these wastes are recycled annually, the rest finding their way to landfills. Even e-wastes that are conscientiously transported to hazardous waste centers can find their way to salvage yards, where their toxins can leak into groundwater. It is estimated that a large portion of e-waste resides in consumers’ closets and garages, where it sits while owners are deciding how to rid themselves of it. Although some enterprising individuals have started businesses based on recycling these wastes, the problem of mounting e-waste continues to grow.
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Almost everyone wants some trash to be recycled, and as cheaply as possible. The first responses to the environmental movement were additions to labels that cost little (“Dispose of this container properly!”) and did not produce significant results. Until container deposit taxes were instituted, it was feared that North America would be buried under empty aluminum cans.
Likewise, other types of recycling can work only if there are financial incentives. These incentives might be like the “green dot” program in Europe, which holds manufacturers responsible for the ultimate disposal of the product. This program has led companies to design for eventual disassembly. The previously mentioned waste deposit taxes repay people for returning sorted items.
Trash taxes, rules, and limits on individuals have a limited value. If too harsh, they simply give people an incentive to rebel against them. Similarly, detailed sets of rules on how things should be done are probably counterproductive. Industrial ecology has worked better in Europe than in the United States because industry could simply be ordered to reduce wastes. In the United States, certain materials are categorized as toxic wastes and treated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (Public Law 94-580), one of the most complex sets of regulations ever devised. Recycling of many of these materials is forbidden, but the problem of how to...
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Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Alexander, Judd H. In Defense of Garbage. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1993.
Cothran, Helen, ed. Garbage and Recycling: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 2003.
Leverenz, Harold, George Tchobanoglous, and David B. Spencer. “Recycling.” In Handbook of Solid Waste Management, edited by Tchobanoglous and Frank Kreith. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002.
Lund, Herbert F., ed. The McGraw-Hill Recycling Handbook. 2d ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001.
Porter, Richard C. The Economics of Waste. Washington, D.C.: Resources for the Future, 2002.
Rathje, William L., and Cullen Murphy. Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage. New York: HarperCollins, 1992. Reprint. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2001.
Royte, Elizabeth. Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash. New York: Little, Brown, 2005.
Strasser, Susan. Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash. New York: Metropolitan Books, 1999.
Tierney, John. “Recycling Is Garbage.” The New York Times Magazine, June 20, 1996, p. 24.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Recycling. http://www.epa.gov/wastes/conserve/rrr/recycle.htm
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Recycling (Encyclopedia of Science)
Recycling is a method of reusing materials that would otherwise be disposed of in a landfill or incinerator. Household products that contain glass, aluminum, paper, and plastic are used for recycling and to make new products. Recycling has many benefits: it saves money in production and energy costs, helps save the environment from the impacts of extracting and processing virgin (never used; not altered by human activity) materials, and means that there is less trash that needs to be disposed.
The concept of recycling is not a new one. At the beginning of the twentieth century, 70 percent of the nation's cities had programs to recycle one or more specific materials. During World War II (19395), 25 percent of the waste generated by industrial processes was recycled and reused. Since the general public has become more environmentally conscious, the recycling rate in the United States has risen from 7 percent in 1960 to 17 percent in 1990 to 28 percent in 2000. Analysts predict that by 2005, Americans will be recycling and composting at least 83 tons (75 metric tons) or 35 percent of all municipal waste.
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Recycling (Encyclopedia of Small Business)
Over the past few decades, recycling has become a central component of many business operations in the United States. Recycling is valued for the cost-savings associated with some programs as well as its general environment-friendly aspects. Recycling programs are comprised of three elements in a continuum represented by the well-known "chasing arrows" symbol that adorns recyclable products: 1) collection of recyclable materials from the waste stream; 2) processing of those materials into new products; and 3) purchasing of products containing recycled materials.
THE GROWTH OF RECYCLING IN THE BUSINESS WORLD
The importance of recycling programs in the business world to the environment can hardly be over-stated. Businesses account for approximately one-third of the United States' total solid waste. As of 2000, for example, a study cited in the Business Journalilwaukee indicated that each office worker in America produced between 120 and 150 pounds of recyclable office paper per year, only 10 percent of which was typically recycled. Not surprisingly, paper accounts for a higher percentage (an estimated 40 percent) of the American waste stream than any other material. Many corporate recycling programs reflect this reality, and even businesses with exceedingly modest recycling programs sometimes take steps to collect wastepaper for recycling.
Recycling first emerged as an ongoing component of business operations in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as concerns about the pace at which the United States and other nations were consuming natural resources became widespread. (Previous recycling campaigns, such as the ones introduced in America during World War II, were relatively short-term efforts that were not predicated on environmental concerns.) The first national Earth Day celebration in 1970 heralded anti-litter campaigns, the creation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the introduction of some of the first municipal and corporate recycling programs.
Legislation during that period provided an additional impetus for recycling programs, especially in the federal government. The Solid Waste Disposal Act had established resource recovery goals as a priority for U.S. environmental and energy conservation programs. The Resource Recovery Act of 1970 amended the previous legislation, mandating paper recycling and procurement of recycled products in federal agencies wherever economically feasible. The well-known Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 completely revised both acts, imposing requirements regarding hazardous waste disposal and mandating the recycling of non-hazardous waste in federal facilities. The legislation included the requirement that federal agencies "purchase items that contain the highest percentage of recovered materials practicable given their availability, price and quality." Around the same time, deposit laws that encouraged recycling of glass beverage bottles were passed in several states around the country.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the General Services Administration (GSA), which were jointly charged with administration of the program, launched "Use It Again, Sam," an earnest and widespread federal office paper recycling program, in 1976. Within two years, 90 federal agencies and their 115,000 employees were recycling, their efforts guided by a comprehensive, EPA-issued manual. The federal recycling program declined in the 1980s. Many state and local governments around the country stepped in to fill this void in the ensuing decade, but overall, low disposal costs relegated recycling to little more than an afterthought of solid waste management in the 1970s and early 1980s.
In the late 1980s, however, several factors converged to revive interest in recycling as an attractive alternative to traditional disposal. Growing concerns about both the proliferation and toxic characteristics of landfills around the country brought closures, increased regulation, higher costs, and public opposition to location and expansion of landfills. Other options, such as incinerators, were explored, but these proved controversial as well. Another important factor was a general increase in anxiety about the state of America's (and the world's) environment. Finally, growing numbers of companies came to see environmental friendliness as a viable means of attracting consumers.
By the late 1980s, a number of eastern states had adopted mandatory recycling legislation. This trend toward recycling legislation, combined with increasing consumer demand for environmental responsibility and corporate frustration with rising waste disposal expenses, prompted a modest revitalization of recycling programs in the 1990s.
DEFINING "RECYCLABLE" AND "RECYCLED CONTENT"
Given the popularity of recycled products and the various benefits that accrue from being known as a good corporate citizen, most businesses are eager to use terms like "recyclable" and "recycled content" on their packaging and in their advertising. But as J. Stephen Shi and Jane M. Kane pointed out in Business Horizons, the government has clearly defined those terms to prevent businesses from making misleading or fraudulent recycling claims. "For a product to be labeled recyclable," wrote Shi and Kane, "the product must be easily collected, separated, or otherwise recovered from what would generally be considered trash and then used for making a new package or product." They go on to note that companies also have a responsibility to qualify whether it is the product or the packaging (or both) that is recyclable, or to qualify claims of responsibility if the product is purchased in an area with limited recycling facilities.
"Recycled content," meanwhile, refers to goods made out of materials that would have otherwise been thrown out for good, relegated to a landfill or incinerator. "To qualify as having recycled content," wrote Shi and Kane, "the materials can come from waste produced in either the manufacturing process or post-consumer use [materials recycled by consumers] Again, manufacturers must be careful to indicate exactly what parthe product or the packages made from recyclable material. If there is more than one component to the packaging, the manufacturer must indicate exactly which part of the packaging is made from recycled content. An example of this type of packaging is a paperboard box that is made of recycled materials covered by plastic shrink wrap that is not." Finally, they warn that manufacturers are guilty of misleading consumers if they claim that a product is composed of recycled content in instances where the company was merely following normal industry practice. "A manufacturer that routinely gathers spilled raw materials after trimming finished products and then adds the trimmings to virgin material for further production of the same product cannot claim that its product is made out of recycled content," they explained.
Business consultants, officials, and environmental groups all recognize that some of the regulations regarding permissible recycling/environmental claims are complex, but they urge business owners not to let this fact scare them off. Full descriptions of the rules governing recycling claims are available, and the potential benefitsoth to the business and the environmentan often make the additional research an ultimately worthwhile endeavor.
INITIATING AND MAINTAINING EFFECTIVE RECYCLING PROGRAMS
The federal government's Office Recycling Program Guide notes five basic, interconnected components of a comprehensive recycling program: education, collection, marketing, procurement, and monitoring and evaluation.
EDUCATION Education encompasses training of both leaders and participants in recycling practices. Not surprisingly, the most successful recycling programs are ones that have the active involvement of business owners and managers and the full participation of employees. Observers of successful recycling initiatives note that this involvement is much more likely to occur if the company owners and work force are well-informed about the reasons for recycling and the ways in which recycling practices can be effectively instituted. There are a wide variety of resources available to businesses interested in organizing recycling programs. Regional Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offices and state-affiliated natural resource departments throughout the country offer information packets and recycling kits.
After learning about recycling in general, business owners and managers should continue the education process by studying the operational factors that will be unique to their company's recycling efforts. One of the most effective ways in which this can be accomplished is through the use of a "waste audit." A waste audit should note the sources, amounts, and types of trash generated; the current methods and cost of disposal; and the volume of potentially recyclable trash. Based on these findings, leaders of recycling programs can determine which materials to target. Some experts advise beginning recyclers to limit their programs to one type of waste, usually high-quality bond and computer paper. Once participants have grown accustomed to recycling, the program can be expanded to include aluminum, newspaper, plastics, glass, cardboard and other materials. The types and volumes of materials to be recycled will govern the methods of collection employed.
COLLECTION Collection comprises the nuts-and-bolts logistics of separating, gathering, and storing recyclables from trash at their source. The most common methods of collection employed in the workplace are the desktop container, a series of designated containers, or a central collection area, but some businesses employ vendor sorting, where mixed recyclables are stored together and sorted off-site by the waste hauler. These containers are usually brought by janitorial or mailroom staff to a storage area, where they are kept until they are picked up. Some companies dealing with sensitive, proprietary, or confidential information may also need to consider destruction (by shredding, for example) as part of this step.
Maintenance of quality standards is paramount to this facet of a successful recycling program. Similar materials, like white and colored paper, may have a market separately, but are nearly worthless when mixed. Processors of most types of paper discourage commingling of "stickies" (labels, stickers and tape), food, and other contaminants. Although source separation has proven to be the best collection method, new technological advances will almost certainly relieve some of this separation pressure in the future.
MARKETING Marketing recyclable materials to a processor involves research and contracting. Dealers in waste paperhe most commonly recycled materialan be found in local phone directories or through contact with the Paper Stock Institute of America. The EI Environmental Services Directory, "the nation's largest, most in-depth directory of environmental service providers," lists and describes over 2,000 vendors. There are many variables that entrepreneurs and small business owners should heed when seeking a buyer for their recyclable materials, however. Foremost among these is usually cost. "The quality of a particular collected material greatly affects the price that interested buyers are willing to pay," stated the Encyclopedia of the Environment. "Uncontaminated materialsor example, glass that is free of stones, ceramics, or other materialommand prices substantially greater than contaminated materials. To help in evaluating the quality of a material, government and industry organizations have developed numerous quality standards. The actual price of a material depends on additional factors such as its relative abundance and the subsequent cost of transporting it to manufacturers."
PROCUREMENT Although it is sometimes over-looked, procurement is a vital component of recycling programs. Procurement helps "close the recycling loop," for it is the process whereby companies arrange to purchase and use supplies made from recycled materials. Most analysts of recycling programs contend that implementation of this stage of recycling often lags behind other stages. Recent studies indicate that while an overwhelming majority of businesses do have recycling collection systems of one kind or another in place, a far lower percentage of those businesses purchase recycled materials for use in their own operations.
This is due in part to the costs associated with developing additional capacity to use "secondary"ather than virginaterials. As the Encyclopedia of the Environment observed, "market conditions must be appropriate for companies to even consider new investments, credit must be available for financing projects, and sites have to be found and regulatory permits obtained."
MONITORING AND EVALUATION Each aspect of the recycling program should be monitored and evaluated for efficiency and progress. This is especially important for smaller companies, where flawed practices can have a more pronounced impact on fundamental business health. A cost-benefit analysis of the program can strengthen management support and encourage expansion to other areas of the company and/or other products in the waste stream.
Cichonski, Thomas J., and Karen Hill. Recycling Sourcebook. Gale Research, Inc., 1993.
Curry, Gloria. "Increasingly Cost-Effective, Recycling Programs Continue to Grow." Office. August 1993.
Eblen, Ruth A., and William R. Eblen, eds. The Encyclopedia of the Environment. Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
Kimball, Debi. Recycling in America: A Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO, 1992.
Office Recycling Program Guide. Office of Administrative and Management Services, 1993.
Ortbal, John. "How to Cultivate an Office Recycling Program." Modern Office Technology. April 1991.
"Set Up an Office Recycling System." Business Journalilwaukee. February 11, 2000.
Shi, J. Stephen, and Jane M. Kane. "Green Issues." Business Horizons. January-February 1996.
Steuteville, Robert. "Corporate Recycling Reaps Savings." BioCycle. August 1993.
Webb, Nan. "Recycling Tasks Are Part of the Job." Purchasing World. March 1991.