Recycling saves energy and money, conserves natural resources such as water, trees and minerals, reduces pollutants and reduces the piles of garbage and trash in landfills. For example, manufacturing a can made from recycled aluminum uses only 5% of the energy required to produce a brand new one. Recycling is a win-win proposition. And it is something everyone of us can do, even in rural areas where recycling centers are more difficult to access than in urban centers.
Actually, the first step in the cycle is to REDUCE. Here are some ways to do that:
- Buy products with little or no packaging and buy the largest size you can use (this reduces trash and saves money!).
- Reduce your junk mail. Go to www.catalogchoice.org and you can opt out of a lot of junk mail.
- Reduce your use of disposables:
- Take your own mug to the coffee shop (recent studies show Styrofoam leaches chemicals into hot liquids).
- Pack the kids’ lunches in reusable lunch boxes.
- Take reusable bags to all stores where you shop, not just grocery stores.
- Use cloth instead of paper napkins and paper towels.
- Use cloth diapers rather than disposable ones (before you reject this, give it a try!). There are biodegradable disposable diapers on the market today as well.
- Buy and refill your own water bottle rather than buying bottled water (a big trash and money saver!).
- Reduce your consumption by buying only what you really need. We all purchase too much stuff that we can do without.
The second step is to REUSE
- Glass jars and plastic containers can be used for pantry storage and leftovers.
- Turn old clothes, tablecloths, etc.into rags.
- Buy at garage sales and consignment shops.
- Hold a garage sale.
- Repair what you can rather than tossing an item and buying a new one.
- Use junk mail as scratch paper
- Buy reusable rather than disposable products such as cameras, razors, dishes, cups, utensils, pens, and lighters.
After you have reduced and reused, you still are faced with trash. The idea is to have as little of it as possible end up in landfills. Recycled trash becomes the raw materials for new items, saving energy, water, the environment, and money. And it supports and protects U.S. manufacturing jobs.
Household items which you can recycle are:
- All paper items (junk mail, boxes, magazines, envelopes, food boxes, newspapers, phone books)
- Bottles and cans (aluminum, glass, metal, and plastic)
- Plastic storage bags
- Plastic bags can be recycled at most grocery stores.
- Electronic equipment (cell phones, computers, monitors, printers, toner cartridges). Regardless of where you take this stuff, you need to know where it will ultimately be recycled. When you recycle, ask if the end recycler is a certified “E-Steward.” Information can be found at www.e-stewards.org.
- Batteries, both chargeable and non-rechargeable, and compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs)
- Automotive oil and filters, antifreeze and car batteries can be recycled at many service stations.
HOW TO RECYCLE
Okay, that’s what you can recycle. Here are some tips on how to recycle and make it a part of your family’s routine.
- Find a convenient place to collect recyclable items. Since most recyclables come from the kitchen, that might be a good spot.
- Check the bottom of plastic items for the type of plastic they are. You will see this symbol with a number in it from 1 through 7. Plastic types 1 and 2 are very easy to recycle. Type 4 and 5 are not always recyclable, but are becoming more acceptable. Types 3, 6 & 7, which includes Styrofoam as type 6, are costly and difficult to recycle because dangerous toxic gases are released in their incineration. The best thing for consumers to do is to be aware and try to avoid purchasing type 3–7 plastics. All release toxins in their production, use and disposal.
- If you don’t have “single stream recycling” (which means all recyclables go into one bin) available to you, you will need to sort the items at the recycling center. You might want to “pre-sort” by having bins for each type of recyclable at home—one for plastic, glass, paper, etc. (Note: Westmoreland County has 3 single-stream recycling sites).
- Keep an attractive basket near where you sort mail, into which all the junk can go.
- Identify a container to collect used batteries and CFLs for hazardous waste disposal. Many recycling centers have special containers for this sort of waste.
- Compost yard waste.
Be a SMART SHOPPER!
In addition to looking for the symbols on plastic, consider the paper products you are buying. Ancient and endangered forests are being destroyed to make toilet paper, facial tissues, paper towels and other disposable paper products. We can each have an impact by making smart shopping decisions.
Look for products that have a high recycled content, including high post-consumer content (these are fibers recovered from previously used paper). And buy products that have not been treated with chlorine to make them whiter. Chemicals end up in our air and water and are toxic to people and fish. So look for products that are chlorine-free (PCF or TCF). Here’s a quick reference list of good choices, and a list of no-no’s.
Paper products which have 100% recycled content, 80% post consumer content, and are chlorine-free are:
- Earth First
- Earth Friendly
- Green Forest
- Natural Value
- Seventh Generation
- Marcal & Small Steps are 100% recycled, 60% post consumer content and chlorine free
Products with no recycled content and which are bleached with chlorine are listed below. These products use virgin materials (trees) and contain chemicals.
- Paper towels – Bounty and Viva
- Toilet paper – Charmin and Cottenelle
- Facial tissues – Kleenex and Puffs
- Paper Napkins – Bounty and Kleenex
According to the National Resources Defense Council, if every household in the U.S. bought just one recycled product in each of the above categories, we would save more than 1,800,000 trees!!
Everyone should know not to trash up our beautiful countryside and roadways. It’s unhealthy, ugly, a threat to waterways, animals, fish and fowl. And litter includes cigarette butts! They are not biodegradable and take many years to decompose. Meanwhile, their chemical content leaches into soil and water and are a threat to wildlife. Cigarette butts have been found in the stomachs of fish and birds. Nothing could be easier than NOT throwing trash and butts out the window!!
AN EFFORT WORTH MAKING
Recycling in some rural areas, such as parts of the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula, is made more difficult because facilities are not readily available. In more urban areas, households are provided with single-stream recycling bins which go to the curb on trash day. If we are without that convenience, we need to make a greater effort. I hope you agree that it is an effort worth making.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is a habit you can easily get into that, after a bit, will become second nature. Get the whole family involved. It’s a great way to educate and make our children more aware of the world around them and how they can impact it, for ill or for good. This is the right thing to do for the environment our children and grandchildren will inherit, for our health and for our economy.
Speaking of our children, I have recently become aware of a pilot program called the Regional School Recycling Initiative, spearheaded by the Northern Neck Soil & Water Conservation District. Several counties on the Northern Neck have come together to support a program for single-stream recycling in our schools. The force behind this campaign is Faye Andrashko, the Education/PR Manager for NNSWCD. According to her, at least 75% of school waste is recyclable. “School recycling programs around the country are seeing significant costs savings to local government through diversion of solid waste disposal costs,” Ms. Andrashko told me. She gave as an example the experience in Virginia Beach where schools in 2010 saved $10,000 per month through their program!
The main objective of the pilot program is to teach and show children about healthy living and true conservation of our natural resources through recycling. It will also serve as a quantifiable demonstration of the environmental and economic benefits of single-stream recycling for the participating counties.
The launching of the pilot is facing two hurdles: finding a single-stream recycling vendor willing to service all of the counties, and financing. Ms. Andrashko is confident both challenges will be overcome. Corporate and small business donations have been made, but more is needed. Enough support may also lure a vendor to participate. If you would like to contribute, or learn more about the initiative, please contact Ms. Andrashko at firstname.lastname@example.org or 804-333-3525 ext. 113.