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The idea of reducing our waste can be overwhelming, but most of us don’t recycle everything. We can often drastically reduce our waste just by switching where we pitch our trash. According to a 2009 EPA report an estimated 7.1% of all of the plastics we produce, 62.1% of all paper products, 25.5% of all glass and 20% of all aluminum are recycled. In other words, we can reduce our carbon footprint by hardly changing anything.
So why don’t people recycle more? Here are four major barriers to recycling.
People don’t understand why it’s valuable. The pro-environment people say that landfills produce methane and contaminate the groundwater with leachate. The pro-landfill people say that the methane is burned to create green energy (methane is a better fuel than many other types) and that the landfills are so far removed from groundwater they will never leak.
Here’s my logic.
- No material resource is limitless.
- Items that can be recycled are resources.
- Buried items cannot be reused in the future.
- Therefore we should avoid burying resources.
But I think this brochure from EcoCycle said it best, “Recycling saves resources, prevents pollution, supports public health, and creates jobs. It saves money, avoids landfills, and best of all, it’s easy.”
There may not be containers in the right places. It’s usually a given to have some kind of recycling in the kitchen, but do you also have a container in your bathroom or office? It has to be super easy, or we won’t do it.
The one of the left is compost, the one on the right is trash. I confess we’ve been using pull ups at night with my 2 year old. This is about two weeks’ worth. I’d like to switch to a cloth version, but am using my cloth stuff for the baby and am hesitant to buy more because I keep thinking he’ll stop needing them soon.
I really like these wire bins from Amazon. They’re inexpensive and my kids have jumped on them, worn them as hats, and rolled them around and they’re still in good shape. I also think they look nice and they’re metal (easier to recycle when they are no longer fit to be garbage cans).
We also have a 13 gallon recycling bin in the kitchen that fills up every few days. I put recycling in front to make it easier to recycle and harder to use the garbage.
You may not have a large enough container outside. I’m not sure on what universe that little box is enough space, but it definitely is not large enough for us. When we first moved we checked to see if our company was okay with a recycling toter, and invested in one at Home Depot. In the past I’ve thrown away recyclables because we were out of room in our recycling bin. It’s better to have a huge recycling bin and a tiny garbage.
You can also buy one on Amazon, but it was cheaper at Home Depot.
I love that we can keep it outside and nothing gets wet and I also love that it’s easy for my kids to take to the curb. We fill up one of these weekly (and are working on reducing that).
Not knowing what is actually recyclable. Every recycling company takes different things and so it’s easy to live with myths about what can and can’t be recycled. The best thing to do is to post your company’s information sheet somewhere in your home so you can refer to it and recycle everything you possibly can for free and with minimal effort.
Since there’s so much variation I compiled a list of acceptable recycling items for the major garbage collection companies in Rochester (most are printable) for you to print out and hang on your fridge. If yours isn’t listed, a quick Google search usually comes up with a printable flyer.
Our company takes a lot more than I thought they would, like aerosol cans. Also there’s a lot of debate over things like pizza boxes – which it turns out are completely recyclable but turned down by some companies because people leave food in them.
Tip: Make recycling easy and putting things in the trash harder. I’ve found that using reusable garbage bags means we’re really motivated to compost because we don’t want food scraps to get the bags nasty. It also means people stop and ask “where does this go?”
Now our recycling rate is pretty close to 100%. What are your barriers to recycling?