America Recycles Day on November 15, 2014 offers people an opportunity to drop off recyclable materials at collection points across the country.
In addition to dropping off cans, newspapers, and bottles, take advantage of events that allow you to safely dispose of recyclable stuff that requires special handling and should not be put in public or curbside recycling bins like batteries, Styrofoam™ packaging, fluorescent light bulbs, household hazardous waste, and electronics (e-waste).
I am a fan of recycling and an avid recycler so when I ran across America Recycles Day last year I decided to dig into its history and purpose and then wrote Every Day Should Be America Recycles Day.
Container and Packaging Recycling
For this year’s post, I decided to focus on containers and packaging, something everyone deals with on a daily basis. It seems like most things we buy come in some kind of container or packaging, sometimes multiple layers. As soon as we open or use the product, the container and packaging becomes waste unless we recycle it.
According to the EPA, at 75 million tons, containers and packaging accounted for a staggering 30% of all solid waste generated in the United States in 2012. 1
Beverage manufacturers, consumer product companies, and recycling industry representatives tout the container and packaging recycling figure of 51.5% as a recycling success story. That still leaves 48.5%, or over 36 million tons of steel, aluminum, glass, paper, plastic, and wood containers and packaging in landfills across the country. 1
Making boxes, cans, bottles, pouches, canisters, bags, tubs, wrappings, sacks, and cartons consumes energy, water, resources and generates waste. So does collecting, transporting, sorting, and processing recyclable materials. Not all containers or packaging is recyclable.
Clearly, our first priority should be to reduce containers and packaging in general. Next, make sure recyclable items do not end up in landfills.
Recycling Starts at the Store
If you think about it recycling starts at the store. While shopping, we have an opportunity to look at a product’s container and packaging and consider its recyclability before we bring into our home.
Grocery shopping is a universal activity that has a significant impact on what goes into our recycle bins, from cereal boxes to shampoo bottles. Let’s look at some ideas for shopping with reducing and recycling in mind.
Skip It – some products are wasteful regardless of whether they come in a recyclable container or not. Leave these items on the shelf, like bottled water.
Less is Less – buy in bulk, it usually results in less packaging overall, is more cost effective, and does not necessarily involve buying a huge amount of something.
BYOB – putting three apples in a plastic produce bag and toting groceries home in single-use plastic bags has become a habit for many America shoppers, but it can easily be broken by bringing your own bags or in some cases not using a bag. It’s easier to convert than you may think.
Just Add Water – cut down on plastic bottles by purchasing concentrated cleaners and adding water at home. Spray bottles conveniently marked with fill lines help unhandy people like me pour in the correct amount of solution and water, no measuring needed. By eliminating unnecessary water, which adds bulk and weight, these products have the added benefit of reducing transportation carbon emissions.
Check the Code – materials like cardboard and glass are relatively easy to recognize and are highly recyclable. Many plastics are recyclable too, but not all. Look for the recycling symbol and become familiar with recycling codes and which plastics your recycling company accepts.
Lose the Laminates – some foods and drinks come in pouches and bags made with recyclable materials like aluminum and plastic, but once the materials are fused together, they cannot be separated for recycling. I cringe when I remember the drink pouches we used to buy for our kid’s lunches.
Watch Out for Wrappings – what is the difference between eating a handful of cookies directly out of a box or grabbing three 100-calorie individually wrapped bags of cookies out of a box? One option involves three times as much packaging. By the way, the first box of cookies probably costs less.
Material Matters – it doesn’t make sense to use certain materials for disposable containers. For example, aluminum is valuable, recyclable, and has a huge environmental footprint. It is an important material for making cars, electronics, and building components. Think twice before putting a six-pack of single-use aluminum beverage cans in your cart.
If you are you already a savvy shopper, then celebrate America Recycles Day by safely disposing of your household hazardous waste or e-waste at a local event, reducing junk mail by getting off catalog mailing lists, or swinging by a local retailer and dropping off your used batteries or fluorescent light bulbs.
- Aluminum Beverage Cans – Environmental Impact
- Composting Made Easy – Tips from an Unlikely Composter
- E-Waste – Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle
- Every Day Should Be America Recycles Day
- Garbology – Book Review
- Give Old Electronics a Second Life – Help Others & Be Green
- Reduce Comes Before Recycling
- Stop Junk Mail and Get Off Catalog Mailing Lists
- We Drink What We Dump – Household Hazardous Waste
- You Can Live Without Single-Use Plastic Bags – Here’s How
- U.S. EPA – Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2012