Urban Living: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

by Courtney Christensen

These days, recycling isn’t a new or strange concept. Most people recycle and it’s even considered a civic duty, a necessity. While homeowners likely have recycling pick up and can put their bins on the curb, people who live in apartments usually have to put in the extra effort of taking their recyclables to the nearest drop-off site (during business hours). Making small changes to your lifestyle can make recycling easier on you (and on the staff at recycling centers).

Reduce

Perhaps the biggest change you’ll need to make is to reduce the amount of non-recyclable (and recyclable) items you use. The less things you throw away, the better.

  • Trade paper plates and cups with reusable plates and mugs.
  • Use food storage containers instead of Ziploc bags.
  • Dry your hands with a hand towel instead of a paper towel.
  • Switch to paying your bills online instead of receiving a monthly paper bill.
  • Buy rechargeable batteries instead of standard ones that need thrown away.
  • Take tote bags to the grocery with you instead of bringing dozens of plastic bags home.

Reuse

Do a quick search on Google or Pinterest and you’ll find thousands of DIY projects using recyclable materials like aluminum cans and soda bottles. There are even more ways to reuse things at home.

  • Choose products packaged in recyclable materials when making purchases.
  • Utilize plastic grocery bags as small trash can liners for your car or bathroom.
  • Donate gently used clothes to thrift stores, and while you’re there, treat yourself to something “new”.
  • Search Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace for secondhand furniture, vehicles or electronics you want before buying them brand new at the store.
  • Glass is very Repurpose glass jars for food, craft, or tool storage.

Recycle

Recycling’s not complicated, right? Separate paper, plastic, and glass from the rest of the trash. Unfortunately, it’s a bit more involved than that. The good news is that most cities use a method called “commingled” recycling meaning you don’t need to separate your items into different containers. It’ll be sorted later by the recycling center. The bad news is that not everything made of paper, plastic, and glass can be recycled.

  • Clean, clean, clean. Before you put items into the recycling bin, make sure they’re clean. Swish and rinse bottles of liquids before replacing the cap and putting it in the bin. Anything with caked-on food or other substances should be cleaned as much as possible before being recycled (or just thrown away altogether).
  • Keep hazardous waste away from other recyclables. This includes things like batteries, paint cans, and fluorescent light bulbs.
  • You also should keep styrofoam and electronics separate. Glass bottles of different colors (green, brown, and clear) should be put in separate bags inside the bin.
  • Plastics are assigned numbers to denote their type and recyclability. You can find the numbers on the bottom of the containers. Plastic types #1 and #2 can be reused for many purposes. #4 (bags), #6 (egg cartons), and #7 (mixed plastics) aren’t biodegradable and may not be accepted by your local recycling center. Plastic #5 is food safe (sour cream and yogurt containers) but is typically not recycled because the process is more expensive than creating it new. Try to reuse these containers at home instead.

Want to step it up?

Try your hand at doing some high-level recycling.

  • Use grey water. While costly, you can reconfigure your pipes to use bathwater and sink water to flush your toilet or water your plants.
  • Make a compost pile. Take any compostable foods and put them in a compost bin to use as vitamin-rich soil for your garden.
  • Collect rainwater. Most places have a rainy season. Collect that rainwater in barrels to use in later, dryer months for your lawn or garden.

Recycling can be challenging, but it’s our job to keep landfills clear from as much non-biodegradable items as possible. With landfills generating millions of tons of trash every day contaminating our air and ground water, and the 14 billion pounds of trash dumped in our oceans every year, it’s no longer an option to recycle. It’s necessary for everyone from individuals to corporations to do their part.

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