Wondering how to recycle more? Here are a few ways to learn about how you can recycle as much as you can locally, and become a better friend to the environment:
Ever-changing and mostly for the better!!
Recycling used to be simpler. Some 25 or so years ago, a blue or green box earmarked for recycling was dropped off in your driveway by your trash company; typically with an accompanying list from your municipality outlining what could go in it. Generally, it was the simple stuff like paper, bottles, cans and some plastics. Soon after, larger receptacles began showing up at the work place and other public facilities. Paper went in one; cans and bottles in another. Then the supermarkets offered “plastic or paper”? Paper bags were recycled at home and plastic bags returned to a bin at the supermarket. Later, electronics, with their varied internal materials, began to proliferate. Computers had about a 4-5 year ‘life’, and TVs not much more. Electronic recycling became both a critical and monumental challenge.
All said, the recycling business is booming, and it is more inclusive than ever. The processes to generate the reconstituted materials are vastly improved, and the number and type of products made from these materials has grown exponentially. Consider the following:
PLASTIC BAGS – As an avid recycler, I know that mixing the wrong materials during reprocessing can result in a contaminated batch – wasting the material and adding time and cost to the re-manufacturing process. That’s one of the big reasons why there are many rules governing recycling. However, those rules can and do change. For example, while I’ve been diligent about placing only the shopping bags in the return bins at the supermarket, guess what? I recently discovered that the following items can be recycled in the bins along with the standard-issue supermarket bags: newspaper bags, dry-cleaning bags, produce bags, bread bags, cereal box liners, frozen food bags, wrap from paper products like towels and toilet paper, plastic stretch/shrink wrap, zipper-type bags, and so on. (Bags should be clean and dry, and remember to remove plastic handles or zippers.) In short, the current industry sorting processes allow for the ‘mix’ of materials.
ELECTRONICS – Recycling and disposal options were limited primarily because it was both difficult and costly to separate the assorted plastics, metals, composites and toxic materials (like lead and mercury) within the devices. Back then, for example, if the 1×2 inch plastic manufacturer name plate got mixed in with the plastic housing, it would contaminate the entire batch of reprocessed material. Today, however, the remanufacturing processes are greatly improved, including the capability to separate and filter materials to prevent contamination. And while you might have been charged a fee to recycle your electronics a while ago, most of it is free today (with the possible exception of CRT monitors and TVs). In addition, there are many more options to dispose of these items. In Western New York, the city and counties sponsor ‘electronics’ recycle days once or twice a year, as do many other large municipalities. Some allow for periodic drop-off. SunnKing now has about 20 locations, and Best Buy will accept most items. Check the web-sites and/or call. As always, use the earth911.com website for assistance.
INDOOR COMPOSTING – Food waste is the largest segment of all municipal solid waste. Yes, it’s readily biodegradable but it takes up significant space in landfills and releases methane gas, a major contributor to Global Warming. Why not consider composting your food scraps? Contrary to opinion, you don’t need a large lot. It can actually be done in a compost container on a deck or porch, or even in an apartment entrance or kitchen. You can buy an attractive, air tight compost pail with a carbon filter to eliminate odors for $50 – $75. In Buffalo, you don’t have to wait for complete composting to occur. A bucket of fresh or partially composted food scraps can be exchanged for a bucket of composted fertilizer at the EC Community Action Organization. Call Mike Lee at 716-881-8150. Or, just off load the scraps to your composting neighbors or to other urban agricultural programs. (Call first to make sure scraps are accepted.) If you’re so inclined, try vermiculture to accelerate the process. That would be the use of earth worms.
The point to all of this is simple: The entire process of recycling is continually improving but changes are not always readily apparent. Periodically check your municipality’s web site for changes, or call them direct. Use http://www.earth911.com, or the Sierra Club Niagara Group web site http://niagarasierraclub.wordpress.com/recycle-corner/ and related links. Or just use your internet browser if you’re checking out a change. Most importantly, adopt the mindset that there’s something positive you can do with an item before “throwing it out”. When you can, reuse. If not, then recycle. Use the trash can as a last resort.
TRASH DAY RECYCLING
All of us are familiar with the recycle box provided by our trash hauler, and most of us separate waster from recyclable items. However, here are some things you should know:
- The recycle programs vary between municipalities and trash haulers. An item that’s recyclable in a neighboring municipality may not be in yours. For example, yogurt and similar food containers, even though they carry a #5 recycle label cannot be recycled in the towns of Lancaster and Alden.
- Recyclable items should NOT be placed in plastic shopping bags or tied up with string. The bags and string can jam the sorting machinery.
TIP: Your municipality web-site or city/town/village offices will have a list of items that will be accepted for recycling, including how to prepare them if required.
So you visited your municipal web-site and you know what will be picked up on recycle day. Now what about everything else? The following web-sites will tell you what to do with a wide range of items – many that customarily end up in the trash because we’re not aware of the options available to us. Become familiar with the items on the following lists. Understand that some of these items will have to be taken somewhere in your community, or sometimes mailed/shipped, to be properly recycled.
- www.earth911.com – Log into the site. Then key in the item in question along with your zip code. The site will advise if the item is recyclable and where to take it locally, or elsewhere if there isn’t a local option.
- http://www.ppgbuffalo.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/how-to-recycle-in-buffalo-niagara.pdf is a link to an article entitled How to Recycle in Buffalo-Niagara. There are a great many items on this site that can be kept out of a landfill.
- Recycled items/materials are often made into something else, which means energy is expended to create the new item. Whenever you can, reuse or repurpose the item in its original form and extend its useful life.
- You might resurface a kitchen countertop rather than purchase one that’s pre-made. If you decide to replace it, acquire a new one made from recycled materials. Then create another workspace with the old one in your garage or basement, or give it to a friend or relative.
- Buy reusable bags for groceries and other shopping. They’re about a buck apiece and will last for years.
- Certain hazardous items, like medicine and paints/solvents, aren’t recycled but need to be disposed of properly. Use the web-sites to determine what to do with them.
- PRE-CYCLE – Think about what you’re going to do with an item when you’re finished with it before you acquire it. Do you really need it? Is it recyclable? Is it packaged with recyclable materials?
- Buy recycled goods. The list is endless – countertops, decking, cabinetry, clothing, greeting cards, paper, and so on. TEN THOUSAND VILLAGES, a retail outlet, sells some amazing, useful, “fair traded” gifts and crafts, many made with recycled cans, juice containers, newsprint, scrap metal, and other materials. And you’re helping lift these artisans out of poverty.
Adopt the mindset that everything can be recycled or reused until proven otherwise. Use the available web tools to help determine that.