So... Can You Recycle That?
Do you recycle? You know you should, and it may even be the law where you live, but how much of what you could recycle actually winds up in your trash? Recycling reduces waste in our landfills, stops harmful chemicals from leeching into soil and water supplies, and saves a tremendous amount of energy -- and money.
The social implications of recycling are huge, too. The continual mining of raw materials can displace local residents, cause air and noise pollution, and is environmentally and economically unsustainable. All recycling efforts require energy, but it is far less than what is required to manufacture products from all new materials.
So what exactly can you recycle? It often depends on where you live and what sort of facilities your city offers, but here is a general guide:
Aluminum recycling drives also earn millions of dollars for organizations like Habitat for Humanity, schools, and Boy and Girl Scouts. Soda cans are the most often recycled product, but don't forget other aluminum items like home siding and lawn furniture, along with aluminum kitchen wrap.
Paper can generally be recycled four or five times before the fibers become too weak to reuse. Most post-consumer paper is mixed with virgin pulp to provide strength. When shopping for computer paper, stationary, journals and even checks, choose those with the highest amount of post-consumer content possible. According to the Energy Information Administration, a paper mill uses 40 percent less energy to produce recycled paper than paper from new pulp. Many mills even use waste product from the recycling process as an energy source!
Phone books, newspapers, office paper, old books, magazine, cardboard, and construction paper are most commonly recycled. Paper products with a waxy finish, like cardboard milk containers or butcher paper, are difficult to recycle, and many facilities do not accept them -- check before tossing them into your bin to avoid contaminating the lot.
TIP: Take the lids off your plastic bottles before recycling. Lids are usually made of a different plastic than the bottles and must be sorted separately. (This goes for glass bottles and jars with metal lids, too.)
Some grocery stores have a collection area for plastic bags. If yours does, use it! If it doesn't, request one. Some stores even offer a discount on your bill if you reuse or return used bags. Your best course of action? Skip both the paper and the plastic bag options and bring your own canvas bag. While this might not be feasible for a big weekly grocery shop, it is perfect for the times you need to pop into the store and just pick up a few things. Reuse your produce bags or skip them all together and place delicate fruits and veggies at the top of your cart.
What about plastics your city won't accept? Donate as much as possible wherever possible. School art classrooms and local art programs might be able to use your cleaned items (such as egg cartons and certain other containers) but make sure you ask before leaving a pile of trash on their doorsteps!
Better yet, don't purchase goods with excess plastic packaging that cannot be recycled. You really don't need your avocadoes pre-sliced and plastic-wrapped. You can take the extra minute to slice it yourself, and benefit from the extra freshness.
TIP: Know what numbers your city accepts and check packaging prior to purchase.
TIP: Pyrex, laminated and sheet glass can't be recycled. Pyrex kitchenware pretty much lasts forever anyway, so just pass it along to your favorite cook or donate to a soup kitchen. Mirrors usually may not be sent to recycling facilities because of their foil backing, but your local artist's guild might like them (even if they're broken).
Some cities have special collection services for such items, and organizations like PC Disposal can take care of proper disposal and recycling of your equipment while ensuring your personal information is secure.
Better yet, find a way to reuse these items. Donate your old computer to a local school or non-profit job training facilities. Battered women's shelters gladly accept old cell phones so their residents always have a line to safety. Check out Collective Good for some great programs.
Each city handles batteries differently, and you should check out your municipal website for specific instructions. But even if your city does not have a battery collection plan, you still have options. Household batteries can be recycled through battery retailers like Batteries Plus.
Using rechargeable batteries reduces waste and energy needed for the manufacture and transport of new product, but these contain even more toxic materials. However, it is extra important that these be recycled and not wind up in landfills.
Car batteries can be recycled at auto shops, and this is normally taken care of for you when you have your battery changed. Computer, PDA and cell phone batteries can be returned to the manufacturer for proper disposal, or to your service provider's store.
You could also earn a little cash for yourself. Selling your gently used items on consignment, Craigslist or an internet auction site like eBay is a great way to clear out your closets and make some dough. Keep it local, though -- the energy and emissions created by shipping the items can cancel out the benefits of reusing them. Want to do even more good? Use the money from your sale to purchase carbon credits, offsetting some of the pollutants your car releases into the atmosphere.
Are your fabrics too old or damaged to give away or sell in good conscience? Put them in your rag pile. Rather than using tons of paper towels, reach for one of your rags instead. If you wash them in a load of items you were going to launder anyway, no additional energy will be used. In fact, you'll be saving the energy it takes to manufacture and transport rolls of paper towels!
Before throwing anything in the trash, stop and use your imagination: "What else could I do with this?"
Sites like Craigslist and Freecycle offer a great way to give away or trade your items instead of tossing them. You'll be amazed what you can offload -- and what treasures you can find! Reusing items saves energy, landfill space and money for everyone.
Always check with your municipality to make sure your waste will be accepted. Including "bad" papers or plastics can cause an entire batch of otherwise good recyclables to be tossed in a landfill. Recycling and reusing saves energy, water, money, and the lives of animals. It is the single easiest thing you can do to help save our planet -- no more excuses!
Tips for sustainability: