America is a consumer driven culture. If it’s new, trendy or publicized we want it. And then we watch a commercial or hear what a friend just bought and we want that, too. As a result, we have a lot of stuff. Clothing is packed tightly in our closet, garages are full and storage units have become mainstream because our homes can’t hold it all. We also want things that are convenient and easy. Some examples include water bottles that we can just grab and toss in the car on the way to work and individual portions of precooked rice in microwavable bowls.
Many of our things are bought packaged in protective plastic or inside a box (or both). We bring them home, tear into our goods and discard the packaging. The plastic or paper that kept your item safe in transit to your hands is now trash. It’s common knowledge that we generate a LOT of waste – an average of four pounds per person per day. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website, about a third of our waste is recycled or composted. I was happily surprised to learn that the percentage being recycled is that high. Yet each week as I see the garbage trucks roaring by and look at the overstuffed trash cans lining the streets it appears we still have room for improvement.
I’ve become somewhat obsessive about recycling at home. I’m definitely not near zero waste, but I love seeing the trash bin almost empty and the recycle bin full. When I finish a bag of frozen vegetables, the plastic goes in recycling. When I empty a box of tissue, the cardboard box goes in recycling. Same goes for paper mail and merchandise tags. It may not seem like recycling a little rectangle of paper will make a difference in the environment. But when you multiply that tag by millions of shirts, pants and dresses they were once attached to, it becomes relevant.
Bottles, cans and paper get a lot of the recycling glory. There’s so much more that we can sort for reuse. Here are some examples:
- Shipping boxes and packaging/padding
- Food boxes, wrappers and bags
- Shopping bags
- Tags on clothing
- Packaging on toys
- Wrappers for personal care items
- Plastic sealed over toilet paper and paper towels
- Tissue boxes, toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls
It doesn’t take much effort to recycle…just a little intention and thought. You don’t need a bunch of bins for each recyclable material or a complex system. Here’s a few simple ways to get started:
- As you open packages, create a pile of the outer wrappings on the counter. Take them out to your recycle bin periodically.
- When you empty a toilet paper roll, put it on top of the toilet. Whatever you use up, put the remaining item aside. Walk around your home once or twice a week to collect recyclables.
- Separate paper and plastic at restaurants that have recycle bins next to trash cans. They’re there for a reason.
- Many cities sort through standard consumer trash to find recyclable materials. See if your city is one of them.
There are many ways to lessen our impact on the environment, and recycling gives instant gratification. Small changes can make a big impact. Go ahead and press the buy button. Just remember to recycle the box it arrives in.