Kids who grew up in the 1990s will remember the epic environmentalist crime-fighting superhero cartoon that was Captain Planet.  For those who don’t know, Captain Planet was an epic superhero created from the combination of the five elements of the earth (the fifth one is love) to fight the baddies that pollute the earth.  Well, if he was real, and around in modern day America, it’s safe to say he’d be quite ticked off.

We, the citizens of the United States created 251 million pounds of trash in 2012, recycling a paltry 34.5 % of our waste.  We created so much garbage in 2012, that if we loaded it all up into your standard 10 ton garbage trucks and lined them up end on end, they would cover nearly half the distance from here to the moon!

This trash is piling up (in landfills) across the nation, blighting our landscape with mounds of pollutants that remain in those landfills for decades and cause rapid degeneration to the surrounding area.  If that wasn’t enough, according to Forbes, trash is also the United States’ biggest export commodity.  The worst part, though, is that a majority of this trash that we generate (and eventually ship off to third-world countries) can actually be quite easily recycled.

However, it isn’t all doom and gloom.  Amid all the darkness of America’s trash woes, there are a few shining beacons lighting the way.  Certain cities and states are showing the rest of the country that all it takes is a little effort and conviction to help increase recycling efforts to bring down the volume of trash in the city.

The Four Kings of Recycling

Austin, Texas

Famous for its live music scene and its general love for the arts, and regarded as one of the cleanest cities to live in, Austin is an example for the rest of the nation to follow.  The sheer magnitude of Austin’s environmental programs and initiatives will blow your mind.  Although, successful efforts began in 1990 for Austin, with a unique pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) program gaining particular success, the city hasn’t rested on its laurels.  Recently, Austin implemented the momentous 100% recycling or zero waste goal for the city.  By 2040, Austin does not want to create any indigenous rubbish that ends up at landfills.  The city has a plan of making this happen, too.  Aptly called the Zero Waste Recovery Master Plan, it is ably supported by the likes of the Universal Recycling Ordinance and many, many more initiatives to help make zero waste 2040 a reality.

New Jersey

The state of New Jersey got wise to the benefits of recycling pretty early on.  By 1987, a mandatory recycling law was already in place to help improve recycling levels.  In more recent times, New Jersey has implemented an all new e-waste program, recognizing the need for electronics to be disposed of in a responsible manner.  The Electronics Waste Management Act requires manufacturers to provide free recycling for gadgets like computers, monitors, laptops, etc. for all consumers within the state.  There are a slew of other recycling laws and initiatives in place that help NJ to maintain its above 40% recycling figures year after year.

New York City

With approximately 8.4 million people mulling about her streets, New York City is the most populous city in the United States.  This means waste figures are understandably high, and so is the effort to promote recycling.  The New York City Department of Sanitation has outlined a whole list of materials that need to be recycled as a compulsion to help with this effort.  Providing awareness and education about recycling from the grass roots level has been another crucial endeavor.

Collaboration with the Sims Municipal Recycling Facility in association with Sims Metal Management – an 88 Acre recycling facility built as part of former Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC2030 initiative, for instance, have also helped push the recycling wave within the city.  The City Council’s efforts and collaborations (like the one mentioned above) have also encouraged 3rd party recycling firms to partner with with the city and provide more recycling options.  The aforementioned SIMS, for example, has a multitude of facilities throughout the Tri-state area, which makes recycling in New York City much easier than it has ever been before.

San Jose, California

Way back in 1980, San Jose was faced with a major issue regarding solutions for garbage disposal.  This crisis brought issues of environmental friendliness and recycling sharply into focus, and the city has been attuned to these practices ever since.

San Jose runs the largest waste management program in the USA, and has helped the city create massive inroads in waste reduction and recycling.  Efforts such as the Bring Your Own Bag ordinance of 2012 that bans the use of plastic bags across the city, and their very own version of the Zero Waste Plan are among the many steps the city council has undertaken to keep the environment clean, green, and sustainable.  According to this plan, San Jose plans on hitting the much vaunted Zero Waste figure by 2022, which isn’t as outlandish as it seems (considering the state was averaging 60% plus recycling figures as far back as 2008).  Projects such as the new technologically advanced water purification plant, too are going a long way towards making this happen.

Are the rest of the cities and states listening?