Recycling and How to Do It Properly
In 2018 alone, the EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) reported a whopping 69 million tons of waste were recycled. They also reported that roughly 35% of Americans now recycle regularly. But we still have a long way to go in order to catch up to other countries with high recycling rates. Germany clinched the top spot with a rate of 56.1% of citizens recycling!
Recycling is an important branch of sustainability we can all make an effort to introduce into our lives. Although the specifics of recycling can vary from region to region, there are a few important rules and considerations to keep in mind across the board.
Whether you’re new to recycling or you’re an expert, this is a good list to keep you up to date on what can and can’t be recycled.
What Is Recycling?
Recycling is the act of collecting and diverting materials from landfills in order to repurpose them into new items. There are several ways to recycle.
- Homeowners can sign up for single-stream, curbside recycling through their garbage company.
- If that isn’t available in your region or you aren’t a homeowner, you can collect, separate, and deliver your recyclable materials to a recycling center.
There are tons of reasons why recycling is important. Humans create a lot of waste. With heaps of garbage sent to landfills every day, we’re running out of space to put our trash. But that’s not the only reason we should make an effort to recycle more. Here are several other reasons why it’s important to recycle:
- Cuts back on habitat destruction caused by sourcing of raw materials.
- Can reduce chemical and greenhouse gas emissions.
- Can help preserve natural resources for future generations.
- Creates new jobs.
- Boosts economic security with domestically sourced materials.
Basic Recycling Rules to Keep in Mind
It’s vital to keep best practices in mind while recycling. If you don’t, you run the risk of disqualifying or contaminating your materials. This can prevent them from being processed.
Here are some basics to keep in mind while recycling:
- Only throw clean recyclables into your bin. Rinse out containers and never throw away greasy cardboard boxes.
- Be sure what you’re tossing in your bin is actually recyclable. There’s usually some point of reference if an item is recyclable –and if it can be recycled in a bin– on the container.
- Remember, a lot of mixed material items can’t be recycled (i.e. Pringle’s bottles).
- Flatten your cardboard boxes and remove any plastic tape.
- Check your local guidelines. Every region is different and the rules may vary.
What Can I Recycle?
Paper & Cardboard
Paper and cardboard can be recycled about 6 or 7 times after it’s first manufactured.
Unfortunately, most plastic can only be recycled one or two times before it’s no longer able to be repurposed.
Aluminum is a golden child of the recycling world with the ability to get repurposed indefinitely. So go ahead and toss out those food cans in your recycling bin!
This is another all-star material that can be recycled over and over again indefinitely. The only drawback is that glass takes a lot of energy to recycle.
Recycling Beyond the Bin
Electronics, car oil, yard clippings, lightbulbs, batteries, and more aren’t available for curbside recycling. But many of these items can be recycled; they might just require some additional research to figure out where to take your items.
What Can’t I Recycle?
Since straws are so lightweight, they can’t be separated out at recycling plants efficiently. They can potentially slip through the sorting screens and get mixed in with other materials.
As a number 4 type plastic, six-pack rings are technically recyclable. But many recycling plants have a hard time processing them because of their shape. Check with your local recycling company. If they can’t recycle it, be sure to cut it up to prevent potential harm to marine life. Although they aren’t one of the biggest plastic pollutants out there, they can cause a lot of issues for wildlife.
Plastic Bags or Film
Plastic bags and films are too thin to process for recycling in most facilities. They can wrap up in the machinery and cause issues with processing. There are ways to recycle these types of materials but you’ll have to take them to a special location.
It's also important to note that you should never package your recyclables in a plastic bag. Simply place them in the bin.
Since styrofoam is so porous, it can easily become contaminated. That disqualifies it as a candidate for recycling. It’s best to avoid this material when you can.
Containers With a Wax or Plastic Coating
The plastic and wax coating on paper containers prevents them from being able to break down into pulp. This makes it impossible to recycle.
The residue left behind in chemical product containers could pose a risk to workers and contaminate other materials. For that reason, most facilities don’t accept them for recycling. Go with more natural cleaning solutions so you can effectively recycle!
What About Food Waste?
Many people assume food waste isn’t a concern. It’s biodegradable after all right? Well, sort of. But the truth is, food waste can be just as harmful as other waste when sent to a landfill.
As food scraps are buried under mounds of garbage, they lack an adequate amount of oxygen to decompose properly. This can result in the production of a harmful gas called methane. Methane is a major contributor to climate change. Around 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions are a result of poorly disposed of food waste.
Composting is a simple solution to divert food waste from the landfill. It is the act of letting food waste and other biodegradable materials decompose to eventually create nutrient-rich soil. The materials can then be used for farming or gardening. Many individuals take it upon themselves to create their own backyard composting operation. But a growing number of cities throughout the United States are beginning to offer commercial composting.
Some Bonus Sustainability Tips
Recycling is just a small part of the massive push towards a greener, more sustainable way of life. Once you get in the groove of things with recycling, you might consider taking your relationship with environmentally-friendly living just a bit further.
One of the first things to remember is, although it’s wonderful in many ways, recycling isn’t foolproof. First of all, it takes a lot of energy to recycle old materials. That could potentially lead to more greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also important to keep in mind that poor consumer recycling habits could lead to materials being sent to the landfill anyway.
One of the best ways to grow your sustainable practice is to minimize the number of disposable materials you use – especially plastic. Instead, try to reuse old items and invest in reusable swaps when you can.
Many cleaning products can contribute to a lot of pollution and ecosystem disruption too. The next time you stock up on cleaning supplies, go for a non-toxic option. Green Earth is proud to offer an effective, eco-friendly alternative for household disinfectants.
Hold businesses accountable. We can only do so much as individuals. Ultimately, big corporations contribute more to emissions and pollution. Write emails, sign petitions, and vote with your dollar for more sustainable options.
Last but not least, support local businesses and agriculture! Shopping local is a great way to cut back on shipping emissions and purchase food and goods that come from your community. Farmer’s markets are a great way to dip your towns into shopping local.