According to Austin Carpenter, of Allen County Solid Waste Management in Indiana, the biggest problem in the recycling business is not created by the people who contaminate their bins with greasy pizza boxes or Styrofoam containers. It's the lack of participation by people who have access to recycling services and simply choose to ignore the opportunity.
The biggest misconception in consumer recycling is that it takes a lot of time. In reality, it begins with simple awareness of what community services are available to you, and then a change of habit. Instead of putting junk mail and plastic bottles in the trash, shoot two feet over and hit the recycling bin. Redirecting that airball makes you part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
Did you know that your old car might be worth more in scrap metal than as a trade in? Recycling the aluminum siding on your house can help finance the replacement. Everything from old appliances and farm equipment to pipes, wires, and gutters can be processed into reusable materials and generate cash for your efforts.
What and how to recycle can be overwhelming to the uninitiated. Not participating may seem justifiable if you live alone and don't have a lot of trash anyway. And if the services available only take plastics 1 and 2, why bother if plastics 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 all end up in the landfill? In addition, the high profile cases of fraud involving recycling companies caught under the cover of night at the dump have provided great fodder for individuals who enjoy conspiracy theories and armchair quarterbacking.
There are a lot of subtle intricacies to disassembling products for reusable materials. Indeed, not everything is salvageable. But new technologies such as single-stream collection, which utilizes magnets, electric current, and lasers, have turned materials recovery into valuable commodities for businesses willing to invest in what would otherwise be trash.
So, even if environmental concerns are not where you find your passion, step up your recycling efforts today. It's never been easier!
- Call your local municipality and ask what services are available in your area. Visit Earth911 and enter your zip code for access in rural areas, and specific items such as carpets, mattresses, scrap metal, and hazardous materials.
- Plastics that don't have a number on it are probably composite and cannot be recycled. Items with the three arrow symbol, but no number, mean the product is made from recycled material; this does not mean it can be recycled again.
- Before you place a bag of trash into your bin, open it to find things you can pull out; bathroom and office trash adds up!
- Make a goal to generate more recycling than trash.
- Make conscious choices before you purchase; support manufacturers with products that use packaging made from recycled materials and/or packaging that is recyclable itself. Buy less stuff, and you'll have less trash.
- Most big box stores have specialty recycling for plastic bags, cell phones, and ink cartridges. Keep a box in the trunk of your car and unload it when you visit these retailers.
- Americans send 300,000 tons of plastic bags to the landfill each year. Why use something for a few minutes that can take 1000 years to decompose?
- Use that same box for recyclables that you generate when you aren't at home. It is not yet common to see bins in parks, restaurants, or businesses, so haul it home. If you don't feel called to dumpster dive for aluminum, fine. But at least take responsibility for what you use.
- Take advantage of amnesty days for hazardous wastes like paints, car oils, tires, and batteries.
- In Allen County, dial *311 to have a recycle bin delivered for free to your home. The no-sort bins accept plastics 1-7, paper, glass of all color, and metal cans. Curbside pick-up is biweekly at no additional cost to your existing trash service.
You don't have to hug a tree or ditch your car to positively impact our environment. Recycling isn't difficult, so just do it.
Photos by Tony Frantz