Recycling: A Social Service

How Plastic Recycling Can Improve a Community

One of the most interesting businesses we visited in the Netherlands was Mosaico, a recycling non-profit with a dual purpose. What makes this program unique is its intelligent method of meeting the triple bottom line— people, planet, and profit. Mosaico is a public-private partnership that employs mentally and physically handicapped people to make bags and totes out of recycled plastic bags and film strips. In this way, the organization creates a community and support system for a group of people who would otherwise be marginalized, while improving the environment. The bags are stylish, functional, and cheap enough to be sold in supermarkets. I even bought one myself.

An example of a bag made by a Mosaico resident. Each bag is hand-labeled and signed by the weaver to give it a personal touch.

In the United States, environmental regulations are viewed as hurting business. This is the justification many Republicans use when voting against environmental reform. However, a non-profit like Mosaico is a clear example of how a green business can not only function without hurting business, but also improve society. It’s easy to criticize the EPA for imposing strong restrictions or “wasting” taxpayer money, but there is no clear downside to a program like Mosaico. This is the kind of environmental movement that could appeal to both Democrats and Republicans in the United States. Not only does Mosaico reduce plastic waste in landfills, it provides employment and even makes a small profit.

An employee explains how plastic bags from grocery stores and simple strips of film are woven into beautiful bags.

There are a few programs like this in the United States, such as Grid Alternatives, which provides solar panels for low-income homes to reduce their energy burden. Go Meals is another example; they collect leftover food from Greek life functions and deliver it to the local homeless shelter. These are the types of environmental programs that have the potential to become popular in the U.S. and win over multiple parties. After visiting Mosaico, it is clear to me that the best way to frame the green movement in the United States is to market it as a tool to rebuild less-fortunate communities.

Here you can see the black strips – which are pieces of film woven into the bag. Each bag is hand-woven and takes up to a full day to create.

One of the key factors in marketing these social innovation startups is funding. If these programs are to be widely implemented in the U.S., they will need to be autonomous, like Mosaico. Although the program originally received government funding in the form of a free workspace, the sale of the bags now provides enough income to keep the facility running. Non-profits that do not rely on donations or grants have the best chance of surviving and fulfilling their purpose of improving both society and the environment. In North Carolina, there would be much more opposition to a social venture that required continuous funding from local or federal government. However, it is difficult to find a negative thing to say about Mosaico. The program is self-sufficient, well-intentioned, and provides necessary services. If we implement programs like this in the United States, many more conservative North Carolinians may join the environmental movement.

-Erin Danford