The phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” is one crafted with intention. It is an instruction or hierarchy of priorities when thinking about the waste we create. We should start by reducing our production of waste. We should then reuse any waste we can. Once it’s served its purpose we should recycle anything that can be.
When we start taking a hard look at the amount of trash each of us produce, it’s easy to see that reducing our consumption is the best way to reduce our total production of waste. But at the end of the day, when we have the amount of trash we create laying in front of us, we need to dispose of that trash correctly. However, this isn’t something to be rushed and given little thought because things like misplaced recyclables can lead to contamination of an entire batch of recyclables.
As discussed in the previous blog in this series, the photo above shows 1 day worth of trash accumulation for me. Throughout the day, we make quick judgments about where we think our trash belongs. I would imagine you often want to reach for the recycling bin whenever possible, but the reality is that about 50% of our waste ends up in a landfill.
Despite our best efforts, most of us use products that don’t have much value and the cost to benefit ratio results in them ending up in a landfill. The amount of our waste that ends up in a landfill is likely inflated due to the contamination mentioned earlier. When you and I put items that don’t belong in the curbside-recycling bin like food scraps or plastic bags it can end up contaminating the entire lot of recycling. It ends up being too expensive for waste processors to separate the good from the bad and it all gets sent to the landfill. This is why it’s so important for us to be educated in what is recyclable and what isn’t, but we’ll get into more depth on that on a later blog post.
After my day of trash collection, I went ahead and separated everything into its appropriate place. I was refreshed to see that a large portion of my waste from the day could be recycled curbside, which is on the far left. Front and center you’ll see my compostable waste. We are also lucky to live in an area that offers composting so I was able to turn everything from my banana peel to my paper towels and coffee filter into a valuable resource. If you don’t have a compost facility near you, I highly suggest you start a compost of your own. It can be really rewarding!
Unfortunately I was still left with a good chunk of waste that I needed to go through store-drop-off for recycling or had to go to a landfill. In fact nearly 4lbs of my 8.2lbs of waste ended up getting sent to the dump. Things like the freezer gel pack for my meal delivery kit add up quickly, which is a reminder of my need to reduce my waste production.
The upper left corner represents the plastic products that cannot be recycled curbside. These items don’t work well with standard recycling equipment and need to be brought to store-drop-off locations. Things like plastic grocery bags are a great example of this. But rest assured, that I reuse the heck out of them first!
In my next few blog posts I will give you much more information about exactly how and why this plastic is treated differently, the difference in all the plastic you see, how to tell the difference, and why its such a problem when we recycle incorrectly. But until then, make sure you are thinking twice before tossing anything into that recycle bin.