The neat white Rabbit Recycling van stops at my curbside, and the driver, Meghan Sismour, takes the 44-gallon lidded container holding our household e-waste, batteries, and separately packaged light bulbs (to prevent breakage) and then pauses at the open door of the van. The vehicle, stacked from stem to stern with similar containers, doesn't look like it can hold one more thing, but she finds a niche to accommodate the bin and a now-defunct desktop printer.
—In just a few years, Rabbit Recycling has gone from a grassroots neighborhood endeavor to a a recycling service dedicated to paving the way for real recycling—not the wish-cycling that sends most of our trash to landfills and incinerators.
According to a Columbia University report compiled from EPA data, in 2017 "Sixty-six percent of discarded paper and cardboard was recycled, 27 percent of glass, and 8 percent of plastics were recycled." And this was before China closed its markets to US recyclables in 2018.
This makes curbside recycling in most communities a miss or miss proposition. But it doesn't have to be that way. I've signed up with Rabbit Recycling because their service is invested in recycling solutions. Matt Siegfried, co-owner of the company, says that his brother, Bryan Siegfried, started by sorting out recyclable materials in their Fairmount apartment building and taking them directly to end-use companies.
Matt joined in and helped his brother expand their reach in their neighborhood and beyond. By the end of 2019, Rabbit Recycling had become a full time endeavor, and during the pandemic the demand only grew as folks had time to clean out their closets. Today Rabbit Recycling serves communities in the city and Philadelphia's surrounding suburbs.
"People didn't trust the recycling system," Matt Siegfried says. "So, we found out that we could be an alternative."
The Siegfried brothers have built up the company to offer a holistic approach to recycling waste. For those living in the service area, this means one can sign up as a subscriber and order a recycling container for a small initial fee, and then arrange on the website for pickup on specific days. The subsequent pickup fees range from $14 to $22 for a 5-gallon or18-gallon container respectively. If you donate unwanted items to Rabbit Recycling, you can reach out later to find out where those things went for a second life. Matt Siegfried says, all you need to do is ask. "We believe in full transparency."
At Rabbit items are hand sorted and then categorized as either: commodity, donation, upcycle, (Something that can be improved) specialty, and deconstruction, according to the website. This procedure prevents cross-contamination from other peoples' recycling and ensures that the items actually make it to their intended use.
For example, single-use plastic bags go directly to Trex Recycling, a company that turns the bags into outdoor decking. In many municipalities glass bottles aren't recycled in the quantity collected because many break in the machine sorting process, but the folks at Rabbit take bottles to Bottle Underground in South Philly's Bok building, so much of it gets reused, or upcycled, or turned into sand and used in watershed protection projects to stabilize shorelines.
Plastics are the focus of another Rabbit Recycling solution. Specific types of containers are ground down to a granular level and delivered to companies that use it as an additive in concrete; this cuts down on the concrete production’s carbon emissions. Finally, the company encourages people and local charities to make an appointment to visit their Philadelphia shop and take donated items, such as clothing or household items, free of charge for reuse and upcycling.
While this is wonderful for people living in the Philadelphia area, it's not the only company doing this kind of work. In other places around the state, organizations with similar ideas are taking on the recycling challenge. In the Pittsburgh area and Delaware County the Pennsylvania Resources Council hold recycling events to make sure your castaways get a second chance for their highest-best use.
And there are steps you can take personally to reduce waste. For example, if you're swamped in junk mail, you can get off subscription lists and stop excess junk mail by making sending out a few emails.
So, do you know a company in your area doing this work? Please write and share so we can spread the word!