Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Recycling: A Guide for the green Greenie

A great friend of mine recently moved back here from a less Green area of the country, and she expressed an interest in learning to recycle. I told her she came to the right place! It all started while we were visiting the other night; we had a couple beers and caught up. When she finished her beer she went for the trash can and I cringed.

“Don’t you guys love the environment?”
“Don’t you recycle here?”
“I have no clue.”

There was no blue bin with the trash cans or in her apartment so we created a separate paper bag for paper recycling and a trash bag for the rest and talked about how she could get herself a bin and schedule of pick up days/times.

As she put a plastic container into the recycle bag, long overdue to be tossed, I made mention of the number within the triangle & noted that since it was a #6 rigid plastic it was okay. She looked at me like a deer in headlights and said:

“Don’t they have a Recycling for Dummies book for those of us who have no idea what we’re doing but want to learn?”

I told her I’d write a blog post and send her the link! So here it is. I’ll be breaking down what recycling is, how to do it, what they do & don’t take and why you have to separate all of the different items.

Recycling -- What

First off, let’s start with the definition of recycling. The official definition from dictionary.com is:
To treat or process so as to make suitable for reuse.

Pretty simple right? The item that one places in a bin is sent off to a facility somewhere in happy recycling land and by the process of their choosing (melting, boiling, crushing, heating, cooling, grinding, etc.) the material is turned back to its original state of plastic, glass or metal particles or paper pulp so it can be turned back into another milk jug, salsa jar, can of corn or ream of printer paper.

So why can’t we just throw everything we use right into the bin and turn it all back into its original state?

There are two items that immediately come to mind that are not frequently recycled under conventional process -- corrugated cardboard and Styrofoam. So what are they and why can’t we toss them in?

Corrugated cardboard is more rigid and durable because it has accordion folded cardboard (corrugated) in between two layers of flat cardboard (linerboard). It looks almost like a honeycomb when viewed from the side and is commonly used for packing/shipping boxes. It is frequently turned away from facilities because of its toughness (blades for shredding can become damaged) and because an adhesive is used to bond the layers, too much could impact the functionality of the pulp that comes out. I recommend checking with your local facility to find out how they handle this material. Here’s a picture.

Styrofoam is another beast and for those of you who follow GLR you may remember Melissa wrote a very in depth article (The Lowdown on EPS) on it last October. That article explains the material in depth, provides phone numbers and a slew of additional info so I highly suggest reading it. In research I’ve done related to this material it seems the general response is that Styrofoam is too light to ship, too time consuming to compact and too toxic to burn. It doesn’t seem right to throw it away though so once again, contact your local facility to find out if they take it.

Recycling -- Where and When

Most communities in my state have curbside pick-up of recycling. In my town the schedule rotates every other week and we are given special town sanctioned blue bins to place our goods in but every town is different. Here in my state, The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) website is the best resource to find out where to acquire a bin, what day(s) of the week recyclables are picked up and how often.

It’s easy! Go to the website, scroll down and on the left click My Community. Find the town you wish to research in the list and click Go. Scroll down and under the “Get Facts” heading there will be a link to Recycling in my Community. Click that link and scroll down to find your town in the alphabetical list. Any and all information can be found there. Each country, state and town is different so check with your local government offices for the most accurate information.

Recycling -- Who, How and Why

Who? You! Everyone can recycle, even if there isn’t a curbside pick-up in your community it is easy to collect the various goods in a couple bins around the house and pop on over to the nearest facility to drop items off. Sometimes more items are accepted this way and it takes care of the build up on your own schedule. For example, now that we recycle just about everything in our house we end up having more recyclables than trash and for us it would be fine to flip recycle pick-up to weekly while trash could wait every two weeks instead!

The great thing for us in our town is that all our items can go in one bin together and the facilities sort through it but how you sort your items is something to check into. In our old apartment everything had to be separated so we had several bins -- one for paper (reusing paper grocery store bags are perfect for this!), one for plastic/metal/glass and one for all the other stuff (cell phones, batteries, etc which we had to drop off and only on certain days).

So why do I recycle…really? I do it because I feel that any item we create new should be able to function (NOT steaming in a landfill!), in some way or incarnation, for the same number of years that I will be walking around this planet. I feel that if I am going to be here, the least I can do is lessen the blow of the things I do and recycling is one of the most widely available, simplest things to do in order to keep my impact lowered.

Recycling -- The Numbers

While researching I came across this really cool website Green Living Tips and they have an excellent article (not to mention TONS of useful information) on recycling and what the numbers mean.

Not to mention they plant a tree for each new subscriber to the site so you bet I signed up for that too!

Every little bit helps so get out there, do some reading and start looking at the numbers. It may seem daunting or confusing at first but I can assure everyone that once you get used to recycling, you will never want to go back!


Judi FitzPatrick said...

Thanks for a great post, will be so helpful for the newbies. I signed up for that tips email, too. How could I not if they are going to plant a tree.

The town I live in, where you used to live, now allows mixed materials in the bin and they do take corrugated cardboard. We don't even have to cut it into 4' lengths anymore as long as it is folded and fits in the bin. Still don't take styrofoam, but I'm trying not to acquire any so now problem!

Peace, Judi

ecokarenwww.ecokaren.com said...

Believe it or not, I had to read the beginning of the post over in disbelief. I cannot believe that in this day and age, there are towns that still do NOT recycle?!?!???!

I was kinda down lately, feeling helpless about the whole green thing but this post gave me a renewed purpose! Again, you mean, there are places in America that still do not recycle - the fundamental act of being eco-friendly?

I am awake now!

Thanks Jenn. I have to go write my next post.

Jenn said...

Hey that's great news Mum! We are allowed to mix everything here but still can't do corrugated just yet. I'm thinking of contacting them to see what we can do to make that a reality though.

Yeah Karen, I know it is tough to believe but the southwest is famous for it. She was in TX, my sister is in AZ and its the same story. Would love to see all that change! Gotta get over and read your blog today...ugh so much to catch up on! lol