Even though we are nearing the end of 2014, recycling has been around for awhile, and we’re undergoing dangerous climate change, some people still do not know exactly how or what to recycle, what they can safely throw away, and what they can compost.
#1 Recycling Rule: If there’s food on it, it cannot be recycled.
If there is food on it and you can easily wash it off without any residue, do so and place it in the recycling bin. If it takes forever to wash off, see if you can remove it without using water since purified water is a valuable resource and it’s important not to waste it. If you have dirty water that you can use, by all means, go for it.
Clean cardboard, paper, paper plates, books, notebooks (but remove the metal spiral first and recycle that separately), and EVEN paper towel and toilet paper rolls can all be recycled. Toilet paper and napkins cannot be recycled – dirty or clean. Napkins are actually biodegradable (but try not to buy bleached napkins) and can literally be thrown outside, in the trash, or in your compost pile/bin.
Anything you can think of that is plastic (including that thing you made with 3D printing) is recyclable as long as it has one of those little triangles on it. I try to use plastic as little as possible because it is extremely harmful to your body and the environment (especially when heated). However, it is impossible to avoid plastic altogether, so use it as little as possible when it comes into contact with your food and be sure to recycle when you are finished with it. We really don’t need more plastic in the ocean.
Food cannot be recycled for obvious reasons (unless you throw it up and feed it to someone else…don’t do that). However, it can be composted. Composting has not been made to be easy at all in the United States although it doesn’t take much effort. My parents have been composting at least 50% of their food for awhile and most of it really consists of throwing vegetable and fruit scraps outside – whether it’s in the woods or elsewhere. It is not scary, it is not toxic, and as long as you do it correctly, it won’t smell either. Composting is a topic for a different post though. There’s too much to cover for it here.
Metal and Glass:
Glass jars, bottles, and smaller glass things can be recycled (yes, even broken glass). The same goes for metals – cans and even clean aluminum foil. However, if it is very large, you may want to seek out a place that purchases glass and metals. You can sell old car parts and larger metal items as scrap metal. Not only are you helping the environment, but you’re making some extra money while doing it.
Another way you can make money is by recycling your glass, metal, and plastic bottles at a designated location to get your 5 cents back. 5 cents seems like nothing, but when it piles up, you can easily make enough money to purchase something you really need. You can still recycle them in a regular recycling bin if you do not wish to get your money back, but it does take about 5 minutes every month or so.
Clothing and Shoes:
Clothing cannot be recycled and really shouldn’t be composted (although it is usually biodegradable). However, if you have clothing that does not fit you or that you do not want, don’t throw it out! Clothing can be donated to many places such as the Salvation Army, independent thrift stores, churches, and certain organizations have drop-off bins to give the clothing to the poor and disadvantaged. Try not to donate to Goodwill or anything associated with Goodwill.* If your clothing is ripped or damaged in any way, cut it up into little pieces and throw it in the trash. Same goes for shoes.
*Ironically, Goodwill is a for-profit organization that doesn’t benefit anyone besides itself. It will take your old clothing and sell it for profit. They do not donate anything to charity directly and their prices tend to be higher than other thrift stores, so they don’t really benefit the poor either.
Electronics are recyclable! Although it isn’t as common or easy in the United States, it is possible! If the electronics still work and you just don’t want them anymore, donate them to a thrift store. If they don’t work, you can donate them to a Best Buy or a designated electronics recycling area and they can recycle them for you.
Cell phones can be recycled just like any other electronic device. Bring them back to the place you bought it (Verizon, AT&T, the Apple Store) and you may receive compensation. If not, Target actually recycles cell phones, Best Buy recycles cell phones, and there are certain organizations that collect cell phones to redistribute them to the needy and poor.
Ink cartridges are very harmful to the environment, but they can easily be recycled at many drop-off areas including Target Stores and many others. You can actually save time and money by buying a refillable ink cartridge. These you can refill yourself. DO NOT put ink cartridges in the trash.
Silicone is not recyclable, but it is biodegradable over a longer period of time. Cut it up into little pieces and throw it in the trash.
Styrofoam is the one thing that is not really reusable. It definitely cannot be recycled, and it take billions of years to biodegrade. NEVER buy or use styrofoam. There are many other options that replace styrofoam such as paper plates, paper cups, and even those cute little cardboard rings around the cup that keeps your fingers from getting burnt. If a company regularly uses styrofoam, let them know that what they are doing is wrong and that they need to switch to paper products. Boycott them. Tell your friends not to use styrofoam. Styrofoam is THE WORST. It goes into our oceans and kills our fish. It piles up in landfills and poisons our waters. Avoid it at all costs. It is public enemy #1.
Anyway, How to REUSE stuff!
You don’t need to be creative and use garbage in your art projects in order to be a good person. You can easily reuse glass jars as pencil holders, food jars, vases, drinking glasses, and anything else you can think of. Reuse old clothing by cutting it up and making something new! Reuse old CDs and DVDs as coasters, wall art, a freaking mobile. Reuse whatever you can as much as you can instead of throwing it in the trash.
REDUCE how much water you use!
It’s no secret that we all use too much clean water. You can try to save more water by turning off the sink while brushing your teeth and in-between washing dishes. Take shorter showers. Minimize the water used in your toilet by placing a water bottle filled with water inside your tank so it uses less water (although I’m not sure how harmful that could be for the water with all of those nasty plastic chemicals floating around).
The environment is important and we each need to individually reduce our carbon footprint in order to help out. If we all work together, we can save the planet. Oh, and in case you don’t care about the planet, that’s um, where you live. A wise person once said that we’re still being selfish by “saving the environment.” The environment will be fine whether we live on it or not. It changes all the time. We are making the earth unlivable for humans and that’s bad news for us.
Do you have any tips or tricks for reducing, reusing, and recycling? If so, leave them in the comments below!
History of Recycling
How to Save Water in the Bathroom
The Trash Blog: Two dumpster divers try to find where “away” is in the phrase “throw away”
Journey to the Plastic Ocean Plastic and the Environment
Animal Art and Garbage in NYC (animalnewyork.com)