Recycling may have been your first taste of what it means to help create a better planet. And for good reason: recycling goods not only reduces pollution and landfills, but it also saves energy, conserves resources, and even creates jobs. But while your everyday recycling efforts may feel like old habit by now, you still need the occasional update to keep up with best practices. Here are a few facts about recycling today that surprised us, taught us something new, and sometimes delighted us. And as always, be sure to consult your local recycling guidelines to make sure you’re in the loop on the available options in your area.
Recycling solutions now exist for more items than you think.
Smart, eco-minded organizations are out there and ready to recycle some of your most unexpected items. For instance, did you know that the crayons in your child’s playroom never biodegrade? Thanks to a program called The Crayon Initiative, they can be melted down and remanufactured for art programs at children’s hospitals. And after you enjoy—and recycle—a bottle of wine, an organization called ReCORK can take the cork and turn it into other sustainable products. The same goes for items like carpet (a carpet reclamation facility will do the trick), old or unused sports equipment, and yup, even cigarettes.
Avoid “Wish-cycling” when you can.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been in this scenario: When it’s time to dispose a used item—a takeout container, an empty cleaning product, for example—you look at it and think, “Huh, this seems like it should be recyclable…I’ll toss it in our blue bin and hope for the best.” If so, you’ve experienced the common act of “wish-cycling,” or potentially placing non-recyclable materials into a recycle bin. While your intentions are good, you may be contributing to one of the biggest issues waste management faces today. When sent to a recycling center, non-recyclable items can damage equipment built for sorting only certain recyclables. And fixing the machinery is an expensive, time-consuming act that includes having to send any contaminated items off to the landfill. Overall, the upkeep can make recycling less affordable—and less appealing for the local governments funding it. So, in an effort to secure the recycling efforts around you, when in doubt about an item, it’s smarter to throw it out (though as per our first tip, we always recommend doing some sleuthing first).
You can recycle water.
There are plenty of ways to use the H2O in your home more than once. It’s possible—and safe—to reuse “greywater,” or water from sinks, dishwashers, baths, and washing machines that may contain traces of dirt, food, and milder household cleaners. If you own a home, you can invest in a system that redirects this usable wastewater from the sewer system and into an irrigation system for your yard or garden. However, this type of recycling doesn’t have to be that complicated: it can be as easy as reusing water from your daily activities. For example, if you’ve boiled pasta or have extra tea in a teapot, you can reuse the leftover liquid (after it’s cooled!) in the garden instead of pouring it down the drain. And if you’re changing your pet’s water bowl, add the used water to a thirsty houseplant instead of the sink.
Glass and aluminum are recyclability superstars.
There’s a smart reason to reach for items contained in aluminum or glass: both materials can be infinitely recycled without a loss in quality or purity. In fact, it takes less energy to recycle these materials than it does to create glass or an aluminum product for the first time using raw materials. You’ll need to know how to best recycle them, though. It’s more straightforward for aluminum—found in items like drinking cans, foil, cans of pet food, and cookware—which can simply be placed in a recycle bin. Glass needs more attention. Check local regulations for your options, but know that in general, it’s best to not place heat-resistant glass, drinking glasses, glass objects, or window glass in blue bins, as they have different chemical properties and can damage the furnace while being melted at a recycling facility.
Can you “freecycle” it first?
Before an unwanted or used item hits the bin in your home, ask yourself if there’s someone else out there who might want to reuse it. If so, join a community that’s willing to take it off your hands (and out of landfills) for free. For almost two decades, The Freecycle Network has helped people connect locally to hand off items for free, as have similar groups like Trash Nothing and the “free stuff” section on Craigslist. You’ll be able to give away anything from baby toys and books to craft supplies, old electronics, and furniture…and maybe even score something free for yourself.
Bottle caps, lids, and tabs, oh my.
There is a lot of discussion—and confusion—about what to do with the tops on beverage containers and plastic bottles. And while we always encourage sustainable, reusable bottles (and even have a favorite), it’s good to know the latest thinking on how to recycle these items. When it comes to aluminum cans, some people believe the tab is the only recyclable part. But, in fact, the entire can should be recycled—and tabs should stay intact and in place to make sure they get through the recycling process. And as for the plastic caps on plastic bottles? The best practice is to empty the bottle, crush it, and then replace the cap before you toss it in a blue bin. It simply ensures the caps won’t slip off conveyor belts during the recycling process.
Recycling doesn’t end at the recycling bin.
The looping arrows of the internationally recognized symbol for recycling say it all: Recycling materials is meant to be a cyclical, ongoing act. Being a thoughtful recycler isn’t just about your collection bin…it also includes consciously placing products made of recycled materials into your shopping basket. It’s the essence of recycling—and it’s an easy way to help your community, the organizations dedicated to producing recycled materials, and, ultimately, the health of the planet we all share.
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