In this day and age, nearly everyone is recycling. If you visit the Grand Canyon, you’ll find recycling bins everywhere. The same can be said for visits to other popular national parks, a trip to Disneyland and even a visit to your local professional sports arena. All of these venues encourage visitors to recycle by placing easy-to-see recycling bins in strategic, high-traffic locations. While these examples are all obvious recyclers, there are also some not-so-obvious recyclers that deserve recognition, ones that you wouldn’t typically find in a top recyclers list.

1. Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil is known for its magnificent shows in Las Vegas as well as its traveling programs that make stops around the world delighting viewers both young and old. What it isn’t as well known for is its recycling programs, some of which are rather creative. In Brazil, local organizations handle the waste recycling process from stops on the Quidam tour. The organizations provide jobs to needy Brazilians, raise money to reinvest in the community and divert waste from landfills. In the United States, Cirque du Soleil encourages visitors to the big top touring shows to recycle their waste by placing recycling bins around the facility. When the Cirque du Soleil Kooza tour made a stop in Baltimore, 70 percent of the waste was recycled or composted.

2. Goodwill Industries

Goodwill Industries, a nonprofit organization with a national presence, collects charitable donations from the public and then turns around and sells these donations in its stores. This allows individuals and families on a fixed income to buy products at a discount, it raises funds for the organization and it provides jobs to those in need. Goodwill also receives products that aren’t suitable for reselling, but it strives to divert these products from area landfills by recycling. For example, used clothing that can’t be resold to consumers is sold to textile recyclers and remade into rags, carpet fibers and other products. The textile recycling process diverts about 1.3 million tons of used clothing each year.

3. New York City Schools

While New York City has a massive recycling program, the youngest citizens of the city should also be recognized for their recycling efforts. Recycling bins can be found in classrooms, school hallways, the teachers’ lounge, school offices, the cafeteria and school kitchens. Schools are required to recycle under Local Law 19, but the city has created the Golden Apple Awards to recognize schools that go above and beyond the mandate. These recycling programs often include waste reduction measures as well as participating in cleanup and beautification projects at their school and in their communities.

4. BP

When you think of BP, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the Deepwater Horizon spill and the last thing on your mind is probably recycling. However, BP actually has a comprehensive company-wide recycling program. For example, at the Cherry Point refinery, BP recycles aerosol cans, harnesses, respirators, gauges, paper, cardboard, film plastics and more. When BP sells recyclables generated at the Cherry Point refinery, it turns around and donates these funds to local environmental programs. Despite its comprehensive program, the company’s recycling efforts will continue to be overshadowed by the Gulf oil spill and other environmental catastrophes.


The Democratic and Republican national conventions implemented several environmental initiatives in 2008, including convention-wide recycling programs, and will likely do so again in 2012. Coca-Cola Recycling was chosen as the official recycling provider for both conventions in 2008. The company set up recycling bins with biodegradable bags and liners to collect paper products, plastic bottles and aluminum cans. The products collected were then recycled locally in each convention city. The recycling initiatives at the 2008 conventions were more aggressive than the 2004 gatherings, and it is likely that we’ll see more innovative recycling measures at next year’s DNC and RNC events.

6. Religious organizations

From mega churches to community synagogues, religious organizations across the country are launching recycling programs. The California-based Saddleback Church is one recycling mega church. Saddleback Church, home of Pastor Rick Warren, the controversial pastor who delivered President Barack Obama’s inaugural invocation, hosts community electronic recycling events to keep e-waste out of landfills. In Evanston, Ill., the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (JRC) is proud of its green synagogue. The JRC installed paper recycling bins in all classrooms and offices as well as recycling bins for glass and cans on each floor and in the kitchen. The JRC also recycles ink cartridges, used electronic equipment, fluorescent bulbs, batteries and more.

7. Fast-food restaurants

Although fast-food restaurants can’t control what their customers do with their waste, they can control what happens inside the restaurant. McDonald’s locations are focusing on recycling corrugated cardboard and cooking oil as these two items account for over one-third of a location’s total waste. On average, a company-owned McDonald’s restaurant recycles more than 17 tons of corrugated cardboard and 13,000 pounds of cooking oil annually. In many cases, cooking oil is being converted into biodiesel. In fact, 100 percent of the cooking oil used at McDonald’s U.K. stores was recycled into biodiesel for McDonald’s delivery trucks.

8. Zoos

When you go to the zoo, your eye is on the animals and not on recycling opportunities, but zoos across the nation are encouraging visitors to recycle. Recycling at zoos isn’t just a local project; it can lead to positive eco-benefits on a global level. Visitors to the San Diego Zoo can recycle their cell phones for free. Recycling cell phones can benefit gorillas because the phones contain columbite-tantalite, a rare ore mined in central Africa. Urban mining techniques can be used to extract this rare ore and help protect the gorilla’s wildlife habitat in Africa. There are similar programs in place at the Bronx Zoo, Zoo Atlanta and other zoos across the nation.

9. Financial services industry

Although big banks and the financial services industry in general are still recovering from a guilty verdict in the court of public opinion, they should be commended for their recycling programs. Goldman Sachs’ recycling program goes beyond paper recycling in the office and extends all the way to construction projects. In 2009, 82 percent of construction waste was recycled. Bank of America, owner of the first LEED Platinum certified skyscraper in the United States, also goes beyond in-office recycling by educating employees on the importance of recycling and encourages them to take this knowledge into the community.

10. Switzerland

Switzerland is most commonly known for its banking system and its neutral stance in world conflicts. What Switzerland is not commonly recognized for is its recycling efforts. This small, landlocked European country is the world leader in paper recycling. Swiss citizens also do a fantastic job of recycling plastic PET bottles with about 80 percent of these bottles being recycled. This is significantly higher than the 20 to 40 percent recycling rate seen elsewhere in the European Union. It’s easy to recycle in Switzerland, which is part of the reason why its recycling rates are so high. Supermarkets have recycling centers for batteries, paper, glass and more, and yard waste is picked up curbside. There is also a financial incentive to recycling — throwing away garbage costs money but recycling is free. (Perhaps the Swiss are on to something with this recycling model.)

Click for photo credits

Photo credits

New York City Schools: darquati/Flickr

BP: Associated Press

Religious organizations: Kathy Willens/AP

Fast food restaurants: natashalcd/Flick

Financial services industry: Andrew Batram/Flickr

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