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Last night’s presentation of Food Inc. at Endicott College focused on the environmental impacts and public health of the American food system, but here’s some food-for-thought on the end-of-the-line.

In the late 1990s the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency commissioned data gathering on food and food packaging waste, and research showed that though recycling of inorganic waste has increased four times since early 1990 levels, waste from household food consumption is the least effected by improved recycling rates, according to academic research and reporting by BioCycle Magazine. Food is also the third largest component of landfill waste!

The good news is that with a little effort, you can recycle most of packaging. Hard plastic, tin cans, and glass in the bin–paper and cardboard tied together–and clean plastic film and bags at the grocery store.

This ought to get folks motivated. If you live in Salem, you can earn yourself $50, courtesy of North Shore Recycled Fibers–if you think you have what it takes to perform the Perfect Pick-up.

More than 300 Salemites have taken the Perfect Pick-up Pledge. SalemRecycles volunteers check sorting and are eager for a winner. I have heard that a few people are very close!

The purpose of this SalemReycles program is to generate some understanding of the value of sorting–Salem’s recycling program is the dual-stream type.

It might seem anal retentive to separate paper, but there’s actually a purpose–revenue. Over the past two years, paper recycling alone generated more than $200,000, according to Julie Rose, Salem Engineering Department business manager.

Doing a good job on the comingled side of the bin is also helpful. Certain items like greasy pizza boxes end up being discarded by the recycler because the grease degrades the output product.

Efforts like the Perfect Pick-up and others have resulted in the Witch City recycling rate increasing from 9% in 2007 to more than 18% in 2009. Salem has also reduced trash by 25% across the board. SalemRecycles programming and this impressive statistic have earned three recycling awards in the last two years, including the coveted MassRecycles “Green Binny.”

If you think you can win the Perfect Pick-up cash, sign-up for the Pledge online.

In the food or restaurant business? You can reconsider your food and takeout packaging. Read EPA’s Preferable Purchasing Guide for Greening Your purchase of Food Serviceware to get the facts on how much of this stuff is sitting in landfills and for resources.

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