group of youth wearing T-shirts with recycling logo and holding recycling bin

Recent news about the climate and the state of the recycling industry can leave people with a feeling of hopelessness at a time when we need action.

When frustrated by the lack of a national or even state recycling policy, it’s always important to remember that local experiments are the genesis of regional and international policy. People working together with their neighbors are the source of national change.

There are many actions you can take right in your own community to support or even launch a local recycling program.

Volunteer Your Time

Your time may be the most valuable donation you can make to a city’s recycling efforts.

Reach out to local schools and community centers and offer to share your recycling knowledge, tips, and resources with others to help them recycle better. Keep America Beautiful has some school-related ideas that might be helpful — take a project to your kids’ elementary school or organize a recycling club at a local high school.

Volunteer to help with community recycling or neighborhood cleanup events. Check your city’s website for volunteer opportunities or call in to ask about upcoming events. Contact your local recycling center, which may appreciate your help with outreach and education efforts.

Also, check with Volunteer Match, a network that connects people with good causes where they can make a difference. You may find a nonprofit in your area that needs help with recycling efforts.

Start Your Own Recycling Event

No recycling volunteer opportunities in your city? You could channel your inner Leslie Knope and organize your very own recycling event!

For example, you could organize a weekly or monthly collection event in your neighborhood for items that are typically harder to recycle like e-waste or furniture. Use Earth911 Recycling Search to identify nearby locations where you can drop off the materials you collect.

Great times to host a recycling event are on national or international days recognizing recycling like America Recycles Day on November 15, Global Recycling Day on March 18, and Earth Day on April 22. Your local event can help create a relationship with the larger sustainability movement.

Even though the official event was earlier this month, it’s never too late to celebrate America Recycles Day. Their website offers resources for planning your own recycling event, including how-to-recycle handouts and electronics recycling event resources. They even have resources to help you encourage recycling at work. Earth Day also has various toolkits to help event planners, including resources for colleges/universities.

Help Your Property Owner Start Recycling

If your community offers curbside recycling, but the property owner of your apartment or rental house doesn’t extend this service to tenants, it’s worthwhile to investigate why. Maybe the property owner doesn’t offer recycling because they don’t know that tenants want the service. Or, maybe they don’t know whether the city will charge them extra for the bins and pickup service.

That was the case in Highland Park, Illinois, where a city official told Earth911 that many multifamily buildings weren’t taking advantage of recycling services that are already included in their waste disposal costs. With sufficient tenant demand, property owners are more likely to take advantage of these services.

If you’re not sure if your property owner already pays for recycling, check the city’s website for information about the local recycling program. If you can’t find information online, call the city or local waste contractor for more information. Some important things to find out:

  • How are recycling services paid for? Are they already included in waste disposal rates?
  • Will recycling containers be provided or purchased? Are different sized containers available?

Once you’ve gathered all the information you can, share it with your property owner when you request recycling services for your apartment or rental house.

Each Small Action Makes a Difference

The times call for action. Individuals do make a difference, but they seldom do it alone.

Make a point of looking past the frustration and anger that characterizes policy debates and find connections that make an immediate difference locally. Clean up a park. Teach kids why recycling will save them money on their next mobile phone while making the world a cleaner place. Small actions can add up to a massive change in humanity’s environmental impact.


By Jayson Arend

Jayson Arend has a bachelor's degree in environmental science and business with an interest in exploring how a thriving society and the environment can coexist.