More products than ever can be recycled, and the rewards are great.
Content contributed by Earth911.com, the leading resource for local recycling solutions.
If you religiously recycle your old newspapers and junk mail, you’re not alone. In 2007, 56 percent of the paper used in the U.S. was recovered—an average of 360 pounds of paper per person. But have you been recycling your dead light bulbs, flat tires, and leftover paint? You may not be able to put such items on the curb, but many companies and communities are providing ways to recycle them. In fact the EPA says that about 75% of what Americans throw away these days could be recycled.
Read the tips below to boost the statistics for your household—and maybe even benefit your whole community. Recycling not only saves energy and reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills. It can also prevent hazardous materials and chemicals from contaminating soil and leaching into local drinking water.
- Know your trash. Check with your local government or recycling company to get a list of what materials you can and cannot put in your curbside bin.
- Go beyond the big five. Most curbside recycling programs accept the “big five”: paper, plastic, glass, steel, and aluminum. For everything that can’t be put on your curb, check Earth911’s recycling database for drop-off locations near you. This includes items like paint, batteries, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), and pesticides. You can access through the database using the widget at the top of this page. In addition, use mail-back and store drop-off programs. Most auto parts stores and mechanics will take used motor oil and old tires. For electronics, look into drop-off programs such as Best Buy’s and the EPA’s eCycling Program. Products such as cell phones can be mailed to manufacturers or traded in for money.
- Spread the word. Encourage your family and friends to recycle, both when they visit you and at their own homes.
- Shop for better trash. Choose products with minimal packaging or packaging made from recyclable materials. Better yet, buy in bulk and bring your own reusable containers to the store to hold items you might otherwise put in a disposable container. Tell the checkout clerk the weight of the container when it’s empty, so it can be subtracted from the price of items bought by the pound.
- Know your plastics. If you need to buy something in a disposable plastic container, use one made from one of the most readily recyclable forms of plastic: #1 and #2, which will be marked in a recycling symbol on the bottom of the product. Check Earth911’s recycling database for ideas about how to recycle products made from other kinds of plastic, such as plastic bags and Styrofoam. To motivate yourself, remember this: It takes plastic bottles 700 years to begin to decompose in a landfill.
- Make a deal. Consider trade-in programs when purchasing computers and other new equipment. By planning ahead, you’ll save time and money on proper disposal.
- Close the loop. Buy products that contain recycled materials. When buying recycled content paper, remember to look for the highest percentage of post-consumer waste content.
- Buy less. It’s good to recycle. But it’s even better not to create any waste in the first place. Before you buy, ask yourself: Do you really need another (fill in the blank)?
Some recycling lingo is confusing. What, for instance, is the difference between recycled-content products and recyclable products? What’s post-consumer content?
- Recycled-content products are made from materials that would otherwise have been discarded. That means these products are made totally or partly from recycled material such as aluminum soda cans or newspaper. Recycled-content products also can be rebuilt or re-manufactured from used products such as toner cartridges or computers. More than 4,500 recycled-content products are available, and this number continues to grow. In fact, many of the products people regularly purchase contain some recycled content.
- Recyclable products can be collected and remanufactured into new products after they’ve been used. These products do not necessarily contain recycled materials and only benefit the environment if people recycle them.
- Post-consumer content is material that has served its intended use and is being reused in a different product. If a product is labeled “recycled content” and not “post-consumer content” it may be made from manufacturing waste—not material collected through a recycling program.
Feel as if you need to be a chemist to figure out what kind of plastic you are trying to recycle? This list will help:
- )*: soda bottles, oven-ready meal trays, and water bottles
- )*: milk bottles, detergent bottles, and grocery/trash/retail bags
- ): plastic food wrap, loose-leaf binders, and plastic pipes
- ): dry cleaning bags, produce bags, and squeezable bottles
- ): medicine bottles, aerosol caps, drinking straws, and food containers (such as yogurt, ketchup bottles and sour cream/butter/hummus tubs)
- ): compact disc jackets, packaging Styrofoam peanuts, and plastic tableware
- : reusable water bottles, certain kinds of food containers, and Tupperware
…to your health
Keeping hazardous wastes out of the waste stream will keep local water and air cleaner.
…to your wallet
Recycling programs can bring new jobs into your community. Incinerating 10,000 tons of waste creates one job; landfilling 10,000 tons of waste creates six jobs; recycling 10,000 tons of waste creates 36 jobs. Recycling can also put money in your pocket. Some cities pay for recyclables you bring to their centers and/or reward good recyclers with lower rates for their trash pickup or other incentives. Shopping to minimize waste saves money, too.
…to the Earth
- According to the U.S. EPA, recycling (including composting your yard wastes and table scraps) diverted 68 million tons of material away from landfills and incinerators in 2001, up from 34 million tons in 1990.
- America’s current level of recycling saves the equivalent of more than 5 billion gallons of gasoline, reducing dependence on foreign oil by 114 million barrels.
- Substituting recycled for virgin material reduces climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions. Producing new plastic products from recycled materials uses two-thirds less energy than is required to make products from virgin materials.
Getting All Mixed Up. Throwing the wrong thing into the recycling bin increases the cost of your community’s recycling effort. Some estimates put the industry-wide costs of contamination at about $700 million a year.
Here are few of the key elements to starting a recycling program, whether it’s for a business, a school, an organization, or just in your home.
- Decide what to recycle. Evaluate how much space you have to sort and store materials and what items you tend to go through on a regular basis, such as plastic bottles.
- Find a vendor. Check with your local recycling center, municipality, or waste hauler to find out what kind of materials are accepted in your area. The green Earth911 recycling locator at the top of the page can help.
- Decide on storage.Washable plastic bins or trash cans are the best to use to store your recycling. Be sure to rinse out the containers that held food to avoid critters.
- Educate participants. If items are put in the wrong containers, it means more work for you and could mean materials are not recycled.
- Label bins. Print up a sheet of special instructions, such as: remove caps, stomp on containers, break down cardboard boxes, bundle newspapers, and so forth.
- Maintain and monitor. Keep the storage bins clean and dry and make sure materials don’t pile up. A clean recycling area encourages other to keep it clean and uncluttered as well.
- Reward good behavior. Praise your participants and share any monetary rewards from dropping off materials.