Sustainable Living Challenge

Week 3: Recycling 101

This is one of two posts about recycling that I plan to write.  The other will come up further along in the challenge when I talk about recycling items that may take a bit more time and energy.  But for today, here are the basics!

Where Does All of Our Trash Go?

Many people pick up after themselves…but there are plenty that still leave items like these behind in the woods!

One of my favorite sayings from the environmental movement is, “there is no away”.  It is more true than many of us would like to think.  Overall, people in the U.S. do a pretty good job of tidying up after themselves and throwing trash and litter into the garbage.  That’s not the end of the journey though.  It’s easy for trash to be “out of sight out of mind”.  Unfortunate as it is, once we close the lid on the trash can, that trash doesn’t magically disappear.  If I had gotten my Hogwarts letter years ago like I was supposed to, maybe I could try to fix that.  Alas, we are stuck with our muggle ways of dealing with trash.

In first world countries like the U.S., placing garbage in landfills is one of the most common practices we use to deal with our trash.  While this helps remove litter from our surrounding environments, it does not completely eliminate the trash.  Some of the stats on how long it takes for manmade materials to decompose are just insane.  It takes a plastic bottle 450 years to break down!

And while that trash is breaking down, it releases gases like methane into the atmosphere.  Nowadays, the general public is becoming more aware of how Carbon Dioxide contributes to global climate change as a greenhouse gas.  However, methane is another greenhouse gas that, while less abundant in the atmosphere, has a much stronger effect on our climate.  In fact, it is estimated that the impact of methane on our climate pound for pound is 25 times greater than Carbon Dioxide.

And this is only the trash that actually makes it to the landfill!  Anything that doesn’t get put in the dumpsters is clogging up our waters and potentially contributing to things like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (check it out…it’s horrifying).

Don’t You Keep Saying We’re Not Doomed?

The good news is that there is always good news if you go looking for it.  And that’s exactly what I do.  I can’t help it, I’m a glass half full kinda gal!

Gymluck (yep…that’s his name) keeping us on top of our recycling game.

People are thinking about waste in a completely different way than they did decades ago.  People all over the world are becoming more aware of how our trash problem is harming the environment and hurting wildlife.  And they are starting to do something about it.

The saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” could never be more relevant!  People are figuring out how to use trash to create energy.  The most common methods right now include burning the methane our landfills produce and burning the actual garbage itself.  Others are figuring out how to turn garbage into biofuels.  As with most of our energy “solutions” nowadays, none of these methods are a perfect fix.  Burning trash can contribute to air pollution.  While trash incinerators also use pollution control to reduce how many toxins they release into the atmosphere, fixing our trash issue is still a matter of fixing the problem at the source.

If we want to fix our trash problem, we have to stop producing so much trash.  But you know the best news yet?  There are plenty of things you can do to help!

Hippie Homeowner Habits

Recycling is a great first step when trying to keep items out of the landfill.  This week, I hope you make it your goal to recycle anything that is relatively easy to recycle.  The first items that come to mind are plastic or glass bottles, aluminum cans, and paper.  On a day-to-day basis, these are the items that a lot of people throw away even though most places recycle them!

You will want to check with your county to see which items you can recycle and how they should be separated.  If you check your county’s website, it should be relatively easy to figure out which items your county takes.  For example, here is the information for Salt Lake County (I don’t live there, but they had good visuals!).

And being a hippie homeowner doesn’t mean just doing these habits at home.  If you think about it, the Earth is your home, so it can’t hurt to see what you can do beyond your front door.  Even if I’m out and about, I try to hold onto my recyclables until I can find a recycling can.  I will admit, this can be tough if you’re traveling abroad (depending on the country), so just do your best.

Going the Extra Mile

Our trash problem has the potential to affect beautiful natural areas like this.

This week, going the extra mile may take a bit more effort.  You may notice that there are plenty of places that still do not have any recycling options.  It may be your office or even your apartment complex.  That doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do.  One of the first things you can do is try to hold onto recyclables until you have somewhere to go with them.  You can even have a designated bin in your car for recycling that you can’t get rid of right away.  If you can’t recycle these items at home, wait until you have a full load and take them to your local dump.  I know I said that we’re trying to keep things out of the landfill, but most if not all local dumps have a place to recycle a variety of items.

You can also take action and contact building landlords or even your county to express the need to have recycling available.  Unfortunately, recycling is not a free service.  Some buildings just do not want to pay for it.  However, you can always try to get other tenants or members of the community involved.  Sometimes, if you bother the people in charge just enough, you can make a difference.  It may not be easy going, but definitely feel free to ask questions if you want to go this route!

In Summary

All of the trash we produce on a daily basis has a growing negative impact on our natural areas, climate, and wildlife.  Thankfully, we can all make a difference when it comes to reducing trash and keeping recyclable items out of the landfill.  Here are my tips for week 3:

  1. Check your county to see which items you can recycle at home.
  2. Be more aware of trying to find a place to recycle items even when you are out and about.
  3. If recycling is limited at home, see what your local dump will take for recycling.
  4. Contact your county and other local agencies to express interest in having easy access to recycling.

This week’s blog post was made possible by my continued efforts to keep the cat off my keyboard.  Despite Gymluck’s best efforts to add a lot of gibberish to this post, I think I have made it legible for you.

Thanks for reading!  Comments?  Questions?  Have some warm, bubbly thoughts about recycling?  Leave a comment below!