America Recycles Day – Start at the Store

America Recycles DayAmerica Recycles Day 10 in the Bin Flyer 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

Egrets Standing on Garbage in a Landfill

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.

Pile of Single-use Plastic Bottles - Photo: WikipediaSkip 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.

Confusing Recycling Label Collage - Image: Recycle Across AmericaCheck 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.

Cases of Soda Cans Stacked to Resemble American Flag - Photo: Daniel OinesMaterial 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.

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References:

  1. U.S. EPA – Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2012

Resources:

First Day of Spring – 5 Ways to Renew Your Green Spirit

Glass Vase with Spring FlowersSpring marks a time of new beginnings. What a cliché. The thing is, it is actually a good time to refresh our spirits, get stuff done, and be green.

Some of us, maybe most us, tend to put off projects during the winter because it’s cold, or snowing, or raining, or it’s the holidays, or we have year-end deadlines at work.

Well, today is the first day of spring so let’s get going. Below are 5 ideas that will help you renew your spirit and be green at the same time.

Promote Your Brand

We inadvertently, or perhaps on purpose, provide free advertising for all kinds of products and our favorite sports teams, schools, and organizations. The clothes, shoes, and hats we wear, as well as the bags and gadgets we carry around all say something about us. It’s our personal brand.

Author's Reusable Shopping Bags

Expand your own personal brand by ditching single-use plastic bags and paper shopping bags and replacing them with reusable bags that promote your own message.

Reusable bags show everyone that you are an early adopter and willing to make a change to reduce waste and water pollution. You can use your bags to make a fashion statement, advocate for a company or cause of your choice, or keep your thoughts to yourself with plain bags.

Step Away

Woman Eating a Salad for Lunch at Her DeskIt took me many years of eating lunch at my desk to learn that eating lunch at one’s desk is, well, dumb. Why give anyone our free time for free. Besides stepping away from our desks at lunchtime gives us a chance to refresh ourselves and probably be more productive in the afternoon.

You know walking is good for your health, helps you keep your weight down, and reduces air pollution, but just can’t seem to find time to do it. Does this ring true?

Make the decision to step away from your desk at lunchtime and like magic you now have time for a walk. So do it. Walk for fun and relaxation, or run errands if you must.

Kick the Habit

Humans are creatures of habit, meaning we do the same things on a regular basis, often without much thought. Some habits that seem small and inexpensive can really add up over time.

Disposable Take Out Coffee CupsTake a small habit like buying a mocha frappuccino on the way to work or a fruit smoothie for the ride home. Sound familiar? Even if we low ball the cost at say $2.00 each, that’s a big chunk of change over the course of a 40-year work career.

So what if you eliminate this habit?

You’ll save a whopping $20,800. Yep, that’s enough for a down payment on a house, a new car, college tuition, or some really nice vacations. You’ll also eliminate the resource use and waste associated with 10,400 cups, cup sleeves, lids, stirrers, and napkins.

All that—by making one tiny change.

Pass It On

Author's Box of Clothes Ready for DonationSpring is the traditional time to declutter. It’s amazing how getting rid of excess stuff can lift one’s spirits. It’s worth the effort.

Enjoy being able to find a spatula in the utensil drawer, or not having your skinny clothes staring back at you whenever you open the closet, or being able to park your car in the garage, perhaps for the first time.

The best part about decluttering is passing on stuff in good condition to people who may need it, like it, and will use it. Besides redeploying stuff is green, it saves resources and reduces waste.

Use Your Words

One of the great things about living in a democracy is that everyone has an opportunity to make their voice heard.

Woman Writing a Letter with a PenChances are local, state, and national elected officials do not always vote the way you think they should or they don’t seem to care about the right issues. So use your words. Call, email, tweet, write, post, or otherwise let your elected officials know what’s important to you and what you think they should do about it.

For Earth Day last April, I wrote a letter to President Obama thanking him for his efforts on behalf of the American people and suggesting he fulfill his 3-year old commitment to install solar panels at the White House. Voilá! The installation took place four months later in August.

I know the President didn’t personally read my letter and it probably only resulted in a tick mark in the citizens-interested-in solar-power column in some database. But maybe that tick mark was the magic one that moved solar panels from the to-do list to the done list. You never know…

Call to Action

If one of the above suggestions got your attention and seems like something you’d like to do to renew your spirit, green or otherwise, then do it. If not, come up with your own idea and share it with other readers.

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