By Bob Gedert, SWEEP Steering Committee Member and President of the National Recycling Coalition

America Recycles Day (ARD) is the only nationally recognized day dedicated to encouraging Americans to recycle and buy recycled products. ARD is celebrated annually on November 15. (Source: Wikipedia)

Recently, recyclers around the nation celebrated America Recycles Day on November 15th. What did you do to promote recycling recently? Not surprisingly, promoting recycling is the main purpose of America Recycles Day, often known as ARD to recycling specialists. This past November 15th marks the 20th anniversary of America Recycles Day, and I thought it would be worthwhile to celebrate its history and purpose.

ARD roots go back more than 20 years to the State of Texas. Yes, we owe the great Republic of Texas for the seeds of a national celebration for recycling. Texas Recycles Day began in 1994 as the brainchild of two employees of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Kevin Tuerff and Valerie Davis. Their idea was to promote recycling through a six-week campaign to boost recycling in the state. They chose Nov. 15th as approximately a half year after EarthDay, as well as a date that was after Election Day, but before the holidays. When Kevin and Valerie left their state jobs and started EnviroMedia, an Austin based public relations and advertising agency focused on environmental issues, they proposed transforming Texas Recycles Day into America Recycles Day. They presented the concept at the National Recycling Coalition’s Congress, and it was embraced immediately.

The national launch of America Recycles Day was on November 15th 1997. The NRC pre-announced the event through a kickoff parade at the National Recycling Coalition 16th Annual Congress & Exposition, held in Orlando FL: 2,000+ recycling members gathering for educational sessions and national policy development. On October 1st, 1997, the NRC and USEPA co-sponsored a national press conference at the White House Conference Center, featuring Vice President Al Gore as honorary Chair for the event. The theme was “Buy Recycled” and the press conference featured a model store filled with recycled-content products. A raffle was offered to those who signed recycling pledge cards, with the raffle winner receiving a free “American Green Dream House”, a home built with recycled-content and energy-efficient products. At least 40 states participated in that first America Recycles Day.

Over the following years, the NRC hired staff to operate America Recycles Day and advertised the event through buttons, posters and the promotion of local events. To promote recycling, ARD developed a different recycling theme each year. In the early years, the theme revolved around buying recycled, looking for recycled content products, encouraging letter writing campaigns to manufacturers, and signing pledge cards to recycle at home, at school, at work and at play. Later years focused on residential collection of recyclables, and the expansion of recycling in local communities. More than 3,000 local events across all 50 states were posted on the NRC website in 2007, the 10th anniversary of ARD.

In 2009, the ARD torch was passed to Keep America Beautiful, since the NRC needed time to reorganize. As the managing entity and promoter of America Recycles Day since 2009, Keep America Beautiful (KAB) provides promotional and marketing support and resources to a very large network of local event organizers. KAB has kept the program intact as a local event promotion throughout the nation, yet has enhanced the effort with national funds from private sponsors. The NRC continues to assist in advertising the ARD to its 6000 members and supports KAB efforts to promote ARD nationwide.

The 2017 ARD campaign theme is “Be Recycled”, utilizing the TV and radio advertising developed by KAB by the themed title “I Want To Be Recycled”, demonstrating an individual recycled plastic bottle rolling the streets wanting to be recycled into a picnic bench. More recently, a new ad depicting a plastic shampoo bottle reaches its dream of being recycled into a hair brush. KAB offers creative commercials promoting recycling, sponsored through the Ad Council and available for distribution to local communities.

The 2017 America Recycles Day campaign success can be measured in the following statistics: 73,800 people pledged to recycle, and 1,500,000 people attended ARD events across the country. Obviously ARD has grown through the years, thanks to the support of KAB, NRC and their sponsors. For more information about ARD: https://americarecyclesday.org/

Yet one statistic still haunts the recycling community: the national recycling rate is still 34% – and has been stuck at that level for several years. As we try to raise the nation’s consciousness on recycling, and increase pledges to recycle, we need to raise the recycling rate through higher citizen participation rates. Recently, I voted as a civic responsibility, and I recycle as an environmental responsibility to reduce my carbon footprint. Are you a recycler? Tell us what you did to celebrate the 20th anniversary of America Recycles Day!

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