The Five Rs of Environmentalism: Recycle

In this installment of our blog series on The Five Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Replace, Refuse, we are focused on ways to recycle to minimize your impact on the environment.

If you don’t recycle, you can start now and make an immediate impact by sending less stuff to a landfill.

Why Recycle?

Recycling is the single best thing you can do to minimize what ends up in a landfill. Remember that every plastic thing in your life will outlast you by hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Plastic, overall, does not biodegrade. It may break down into smaller pieces, but those infinitesimally-small pieces will exist for thousands of years into the future. These microplastics are increasingly connected to hormone disruption in animals and humans, and are increasingly found in waterways worldwide. As an aside, those exfoliation beads in face washes and scrubs often contain these microplastics, which end up in rivers and lakes where fish mistake them for food and ingest them. The Great Lakes are in trouble from this specific pollution.

Recycling Tips:

Since each solid waste facility has its own specific limitations on what can and cannot be recycled, recycling can be confusing, so it’s best to check with each individual provider. If curbside recycling is not available where you live, you might be able to take it in bulk to a recycling facility.

  • Glass can always be recycled, so be sure to always recycle glass, not only to keep it out of the landfill but because it is dangerous when broken.
  • When recycling food containers, be sure to rinse food residue from them before putting in the curbside bin. Plastic with food stuck to it is trash, not recyclable.
  • If pizza boxes are stained with grease, they are no longer recyclable and should be put in the trash or composted.
  • We don’t often associate the bathroom with recycling, but we should. Put small “trash” cans in the bathroom that are dedicated for bathroom-related recyclables, such as empty toilet paper tubes and plastic shampoo or mouthwash bottles.
  • Recycle as many parts of your lunch trash as possible. McDonald’s bags are recyclable if not grease-stained, and many restaurant to-go boxes are recyclable plastic. Unused paper napkins can be put in paper recycling, and even some paper cups can be recycled if rinsed out.
  • When electronic devices (vacuum cleaners, cell phones, etc.) are no longer needed, donate them or recycle them responsibly, because they can leach heavy metals that are toxic to the environment and to us.
  • Batteries and light bulbs (specifically compact fluorescent lights) are also highly toxic and should only be disposed of according to your local solid waste authority and NEVER put in the trash.

Finally, Styrofoam™, or polystyrene, (usually) cannot be recycled. You’ll find polystyrene in coffee cups, some fast food drink cups, packing peanuts, insulation, and many takeout containers. The EPA considers polystyrene to be carcinogenic, and New York City and San Francisco are two major cities that have banned the distribution of single-use polystyrene. This is some nasty stuff that we can easily avoid using if we make up our minds to do so.

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