I’m constantly reassessing how our family is doing on the waste and recycling front. Living a life that is as thoughtful as possible is very important to me; being kind to our planet is a big part of that. I’m also mindful that teaching the concepts of reducing unnecessary purchases, seeking quality over quantity and instilling the habit to recycle is important as our girls get older and eventually head out into the world on their own. Recycling tips are always a part of our decisions when we are assigning weekly chores.
Being a participant in recycling at your home is an important part of being a good steward of our planet. Recycling helps to conserve natural resources, it reduces the need for landfill space, it helps to lessen pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and it saves the energy that is used to extract and process raw materials.
The tip of the recycling tips iceberg
Here is a look into how we have tried to create better recycling habits at our home, I hope you are able to take a few of these recycling tips and incorporate them into your home:
First, it is so important to familiarize yourself with your local recycling program. What kind of program is available in your area? What are acceptable items for recycling? How do the items have to be presented for recycling? When is the pickup or do you have to bring it to a recycling center? I have lived from one end of our country to the other and every recycling program has been different in some way. I would be surprised if your city doesn’t provide some kind of recycling program since even my parents’ tiny town in rural Wisconsin has a recycling drop off site.
Typical recycling programs:
- Curbside Pickup – Single Stream Recycling is a system where all paper, plastics, metals and other acceptable recyclables are co-mingled in the recycling bin instead of being sorted into separate bags or bins. The recycling bin is as large as, or larger, than the garbage bin and is collected in the same manner (i.e., the collection truck dumps the contents of the bin directly into the truck).
- Curbside Pickup – Sorted Recycling is a system where all acceptable recyclable items are placed into containers that either have been provided by your municipality or have been authorized by them. These items must be sorted by like items. For example, newspaper bundled together, cardboard flattened and put together and so on.
- Recycling Centers are typically available if your municipality does not provide curbside pickup for your recycling.
Also check where your city’s household hazardous waste facility is located.
Taking the next step
The next step, now that you know what can be recycled within your municipal recycling program, is to check around your neighborhood for other recycling opportunities. For example, most supermarkets have a bin for bringing plastic bags for recycling. Retail stores like Target and Best Buy have multiple recycling bins usually located by the front of the store for items like paper, plastic, glass, ink cartridges and cellphones.
Gently used items can always be donated to a local charity instead of being thrown away. Many charities will even come to your home to pick up items. In our community we have Good Will and Salvation Army trucks set up in parking lots; you drive right up to them and drop off your donations. There is also a Neighborhood Donation and Recycling Station that allows you to drop off clothing, shoes, CDs, books and DVDs.
You can also check with your local library, schools and hospitals if you have gently used books, toys, DVDs and so on that you would like to give away. We recently sorted through our extensive DVD collection and were able to donate most of them to our local elementary school library.
Putting recycling networks to…work
There are also sites like the Freecycle Network. The network is a nonprofit group of people who are giving and getting gently used treasures for free in their own towns. The goal is to reuse and keep useful materials out of our landfills. Each local group is moderated by local volunteers and the membership is free.
Now that you are up to speed on what items can be recycled in your area, you need to make it easy for yourself to collect these items at home. This is important because when people know what can be recycled and where to recycle it; it is easier to make this behavior a habit.
Location, location, location
Place collection bins close to where the items will be recycled. Then make sure when those collection bins are full, everyone in your family knows where they should go next. We have a collection bin for all recycling located under our kitchen sink next to the garbage, a collection bin for paper located under our desk in our office, a collection bin for bathroom recyclables in a cabinet in each bathroom and a collection bin for ink cartridges located next to our printer. We also have bins in each closet for clothing items that have become too small or aren’t being worn anymore and for toys that are ready to have a new home. Everyone in our family knows where to empty the bins and, most of the time, they are great about it.
If your recycling program requires your recycling needs to be sorted, you should have specific bins set up in your garage, basement or similar area and label what should go in each of them. Typically, this would include a bin (or bag) for paper, one for plastics and one for glass. Check with your local recycling program for specifics on how they would like the items to be sorted.
One recycling program we had did not allow plastic bottle caps to be included with our curbside recycling. (Check with your local recycling program as this may not be the case for you). The plastic in the caps are made up of different chemicals than the bottles and the program did not have the capability to sort or sell those plastics. In our particular case we ended up starting a program with our girls’ elementary school to collect the plastic bottle caps and use them in a beautiful school mural project. All the children collected the caps, the kindergartners sorted them by color and the whole school was involved with creating the mural.
If you have a single-stream recycling program, all collection bins can be emptied into your large recycling bin and rolled to the curb on your recycling day.
Now that you have set your household up to be recycling phenoms, here are a couple of bonus recycling tips:
- Buy products that contain recycled materials. This is a critical part of recycling because when you recycle, your city or waste management company sells the recyclables to companies that used to produce their products instead of extracting virgin materials. So in order for municipalities to have a viable recycling program, they need to have companies that will buy the materials they are collecting from the community which means we need to be buying those products. You can find recycled content in everything from toothbrushes to cars so make your purchases count.
- Before you recycle, reuse. We know the mantra: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” But before you reuse something make sure it is safe. Things like single-use plastic bottles and plastic utensils are not made to be used again. The plastics break down and release chemicals that can be harmful to human health.
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.” — Native American proverb
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