Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Just in Time for Earth Day: The Marymuses Recycling Guide

I hate throwing things away. I got it from my dad, who got it from his mom, who got it from living through the Great Depression. However, I also love to organize and keep things relatively tidy (it doesn't need to look like a museum in here, but it doesn't need to look like a trash heap either), which means that I can't keep everything, even if I might be able to use it someday. I need to be able to part with things in a way that is good and and useful and gentle to the earth.

Luckily, I live in a day and age where there are options.

I'd like to start by pointing out that the options I'm going to present to you are not as convenient as most Americans prefer. We live in the land of the convenience store. We want things hot, we want them now, and we don't want to have to fuss with portioning things out ourselves. However, if you are serious about wasting less and recycling (and reusing) more, you have to devote a little bit of time to it. My suggestions are not going to take forever, but they will take longer than you may be used to. I think you'll find, though, that your level of satisfaction at having done so well will far outweigh the inconvenience.

The first step to having less to throw out is to, well, simply have less. I will admit to being guilty of buying things because they are on sale (who can pass up such a good deal?) or because they, ahem, looked really cool. I am slowly breaking myself of that habit. While it is fantastic to pass things on to those who will use them (which I will discuss later in more detail), it is also fantastic to be able to be a bit more selective about things we will pass on later. I feel much better dropping off things of quality which are still in good shape than dropping off a shirt that was so cheap to begin with that it's about to fall apart. Plus, all those dollars I spend on unnecessary items add up. I could do a lot more good by buying less, thereby spending less, thereby having more in my bank account to do something meaningful, like sponsor a child in need.

The second step to having less to throw out is to buy items that are not overly packaged. Those individual yogurt containers are sure nice, and no one will argue that having several flavors in the fridge is kind of awesome, but in most areas you cannot recycle those yogurt containers (more on this later). It's fabulous to have pre-packaged, single-serving size snacks, but there's a lot more packaging in the box of 100-calorie-pack Cheetos than in just one single bag. If you're like most people, you probably have a lot of those small yogurt cups stacked up in your cabinet. Why not use them to portion out single servings of yogurt or fruit that you've bought in larger containers? The bags you get at the store to carry your goods home are also unnecessary packaging; reuse or recycle the ones you have and start bringing your own reusable bags when you shop.

The third step to having less to throw out is to pass on things that others might be able to use as opposed to just throwing them away. I contribute to my local Goodwill store and am also a member of the local Freecycle organization. We've given a number of things we weren't using to others who need them, plus have gotten a couple of good items that we needed. I'm also a big fan of yard sales.

The fourth step to having less to throw out is to recycle like mad. We are fortunate to have curbside recycling. Generally, curbside recycling programs take paper, cardboard, cans (both aluminum and steel/mixed use, such as those that vegetables and soups come in), and numbers 1 and 2 plastics (look for the number in the middle of the recycling symbol). For the rest of my recyclables, I go to a local recycling center that, in addition to taking the items we get to leave on the curb, also takes glass, aluminum foil, scrap metal, batteries, electronics, and styrofoam packaging products. Any of the aforementioned products is set aside for recycling. Even if it's small, like a clothing tag, it is set aside. Everything that curbside recycling will take is put in our blue bin and everything else is organized next to it. I have one paper bag for each color of glass (clear, brown, green), a reusable box for electronic equipment and batteries, and another bag for foil. Larger items are set next to the rest or boxed (as in the case of packing peanuts). I found my recycling center by simply googling my city name and the words "recycling center." In the Kansas City area, you can do a search for your local center by going to Recycle Spot. Enter in your county/area, and it will give you a list of local recycling centers. Click on the name of the center, and you will find a list of items they accept.

The more recyclable containers you choose to purchase instead of things that cannot be recycled, the less you'll send to the landfill. Check your plastics to make sure that they're 1 or 2, as most areas do not take 5 and 6 (such as yogurt, cottage cheese, and margarine containers) (not that I advocate using margarine, but that's a whole other post). We still purchase yogurt and cottage cheese, but in larger containers which we then reuse for leftover storage. My bulk items from Whole Foods (such as rice, whole wheat pastry flour, and hazelnuts) come in bags which I reuse the next time I go.

The fifth step to throwing out less is to compost. This is more difficult if you are living in an apartment setting, but I bet if you ask around a bit, you'll be able to find someone who has a yard or a garden who can make use of your food waste. We compost all our food leftovers, peelings, tea bags, coffee grounds, etc., and that alone has cut down on our trash significantly.

The final step I'll offer on your journey to throw out less is to use reusable or recyclable packaging when you take your lunch (or when your kids take theirs). This is a pretty simple step. For Jarod's lunches, I pack things in plates and bowls and send regular silverware. This is practical for him since his lunch does not have to be compact, but if it did, we would probably invest in an insulated lunch bag and glass containers with lids, such as these. You can often find these items at thrift stores, which is a win-win.

There is, of course, always more you can do, but these are the basics. These are the things that are possible for everyone to do if we will all just make a little more effort to make it happen.

Happy Earth Day!

1 comment:

amy said...

Happy Belated Earth Day, Mary! :) I was super excited when I discovered that in addition to the usual items, LA's curbside recycling also takes 1-7 plastics, glass, plastic bags, envelopes w/ plastic windows, almost anything! It's worth it to check with your local sanitation departments.