Few would deny that mankind’s giant steel-toed boot is leaving a massive, negative footprint on our planet. Everyday we’re using up more and more natural (and unnatural) resources, and global warming is also a very real and potentially dangerous phenomenon. Waste is increasing at an alarming rate, with an island of trash piling up in the pacific that is twice the size of Texas!
Luckily, as we all know, there are things we can do about it. And while many require a substantial amount of time, or money, or research, one thing we can do requires virtually none of these at all. In fact, if you play your cards right, you can even turn a small profit out of it!
I’m talking about recycling. And while everyone knows what it means, not all of us know what products can be recycled, where to take your recyclables and how to purchase recycled materials.
Have no fear loyal readers, Causecast is here to help. Let’s begin.
Step One: Find Out What Products Can Be Recycled
The EPA estimates that an amazing 75% of our waste is recyclable. We all know that bottles and cans are good to go, paper too, but I bet you didn’t know you can recycle refrigerators, lawn chairs, motor oil, and oh so much more. You can start with this handy, compact list of all the things you can (and can’t) recycle.
The most common and easy-to-recycle items are the previously mentioned bottles—both plastic and glass, cans (aluminum) and paper. Everything from your milk jug (though not your milk carton) to your soup cans can be recycled again and again and again. These are items you use every single day. You’d almost have to go out of your way NOT to recycle them.
Not sure if the product you just used is reusable? The easiest way to find out is by looking for that famous recycling emblem, usually located on the bottom of your product. You know what it looks like. One major caveat: every municipality has different standards for recycling. Some districts will recycle things that other’s won’t. For example, that cap on your water bottle? Some cities recycle them and others still don’t. Contact your local recycling centers to see what products are recyclable in your area.
I bet you didn’t know that Crocs can be re-used to make new shoes or that wine corks are re-used to make tiles. There are ways to practically recycle or re-use anything.
OK great, so you’re ready to recycle, what’s next?
Step Two: Sort Your Recyclables
Until a few weeks ago, I thought that when I was done with something recyclable, I could simply chuck it into the plastic bag (also recyclable) labeled “Save the World” and that would be that. What I didn’t know was, it’s actually crucial to wash your items out first. They then should be separated into three distinct categories: aluminum, glass, and plastics. There are actually seven different types of plastics, most of which will be accepted at the local recycling plants, though some may not, depending on location.
Now technically, not sorting and washing is allowed, but it’s highly frowned upon and means more work for someone else later on down the line. Plus, if you want to collect a cash reward for your good deeds, you’ll have to sort them anyway when you get to the recycling plant. I had to do this the first time—by the end my hands were covered in 2 week old beer juice—not recommended.
So you’ve rinsed and sorted, and you’re ready to recycle. Now it gets fun…you can squash your products before recycling them! Remove any caps (for some reason they are often made out of non-reusable materials) and crush those cans and bottles. It’ll save space in your bin, and won’t affect the recycling process at all.
Of course, there’s also all that paper we go through. It can be recycled too, though it should be divided into several groups: newspaper, office paper (higher grade and thus in its own class), and everything else. The majority of paper products can be recycled, with the exception of most pizza boxes, tissue paper, and coffee cups. If possible, remove all rubber bands, wrappers, etc. before recycling.
OK, everything’s washed, sorted, crushed, ready. Now, lets get these used suckers outta here; you know they’re just itching to be reborn.
Step Three: Find Out Where To Recycle
You’ve got several options here, depending on where you live and how much you love money. Many homes these days have recycling containers already (usually the blue one with the recycling logo on it), and more and more apartment buildings are supplying recycling dumpsters for tenants (if yours doesn’t have it, it’s time to get on your landlord’s case). One option is to dump your bags of recycling in these bins, and the wonderful people at the recycling plants will come whisk them away on a weekly basis.
However, if you want some compensation for all your good deeds, you can track down your local recycling center, take them down yourself, and get a cash rebate for your used goods. Recycling rebates vary state by state.
And that’s pretty much all there is to it! To learn more about recycling programs in your area, check out the EPA database.
Recycling has been on the rise for years now, but we can do so much more. 80% of the waste on that floating island of trash is plastics, many of which could have been recycled. Trees are being chopped down every day to provide more paper for us, when in reality, there are endless retailers selling recycled paper. Just one ton of recycled paper saves 17 trees and up to 60,000 gallons of water, for starters.
Step Four: Wonder “What else can I do?”
So glad you asked! On top of recycling your used goods, you can cut back on purchases of non-recyclable material or buy already-recycled products. The EPA has a guide that can get you started, and Eco Mall has a long list of sites where you can purchase recycled goods (the site may look dated but the links are not).
Alternatively, there are hundreds of ways to cut back on usage altogether. Instead of buying 24 packs of plastic water bottles, drink from the tap or from a gallon jug. Instead of deciding between “paper or plastic” at the grocery store, you can bring your own bags.
The possibilities to reducing your carbon footprint are endless.
Lastly, don’t forget that even if a product isn’t recyclable in the literal sense, that doesn’t mean it can’t still be reused. You don’t have to toss clothing, furniture or old appliances in the garbage. You can always donate them to your local Goodwill or thrift store nearest you.
Originally posted on Causecast.org.