Recycling Should Take the Back Seat
There are six R words that I absolutely love: Rest, Relaxation, Resonance, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
In this post, we’re going to focus on the last three- but you know we’ll definitely be diving into the others in different posts ;)
The 3 Rs- we’ve all heard it, sometimes we even practice it, but, more often than not, it’s just an abbreviation for an ideology we only wished was practiced by all. So many of us feel like- “well, someone is doing it and that’ll be good enough” or “I’ll do it sometimes- it’s about progress, not perfection...right?”.
Yes, it is about progress, not perfection. But, let’s also not forget that “results come from what we do consistently, not what we do occasionally” (thanks for these reminders, Marie Forleo <3).
While we don’t need to be perfect about the RRR practices, we should be conscious of our choices in consumerism, with consideration for everything from production to post-consumption. This combined with an actual effort to reduce, reuse, and recycle can go an incredibly long way.
This doesn’t need to be overly complicated or take up all your time.
There are some simple ways you can reduce, reuse, and recycle without even thinking about it or changing your regular habits too much. Let’s take a look!
- Skip the produce bags. So what if a couple of things roll around in your cart for a bit. You’re going to throw that bag away as soon as you unpack your groceries. So, is it really necessary?
- Opt for purchasing items that have recyclable, reusable, or compostable packaging; or, better yet, no packaging.
- Take your own containers to buy bulk items in the supermarket.
- DIY. The more things you make at home, the less waste you’ll produce. We don’t always have time for this; but look at your daily practices and consumption and see what items you could make at home and store in a reusable container =D
- Buy compostable materials from somewhere like BonnieBio. They have compostable produce and waste bags, as well as bioplastic wrap for food (like saran wrap), and more. I even re-wash the “plastic” wrap as it’s so sturdy. It saves money, and reduces unnecessary waste. There are also some brands on Amazon that have compostable zip-lock style bags for food storage.
- When you order online, have your orders combined to reduce packaging. Sure, that may mean you wait an extra day or two for an item; but is that really going to impact your life that significantly? Sometimes the answer is yes- that’s ok. But when it’s “no”, select the “combine my orders” button on sites like Amazon.com and know you’ve practiced REDUCING without any effort.
- If you do get an extra delivery, re-use the shipping box.
- End of a product life? re-use the container for something else. I like to reuse bottles for keeping cold drinks on hand; or reusable takeaway containers instead of buying new Tupperware. This saves money and REDUCES plastic pollution =D
- Take a reusable coffee cup to get your morning (and afternoon ;) ) fix. No one thinks this is weird. In fact, in Australia, it’s SUPER common.
- Reusable shopping bags. When I lived in the EU, it was weird if you didn’t have a reusable bag. You have to pay for each grocery bag. I’ve seen this same system being implemented throughout the US in recent years. Keep them on your coat rack, or in the car so you don’t forget them!
- Keep a recycling container next to your trash bin. You don’t need to think about anything except moving your hand an inch or two to the next bin. Be sure to check with the recycling systems for your area. Some places are only equipped to recycle certain materials. Make sure you rinse out your recyclables, as dirty containers will just go to the landfill. You don’t need to scrub them; just a quick rinse will do!
You can generally recycle glass, metals, non-soft plastics, and paper (that doesn’t have a film. If it’s a paperboard takeaway container, drink carton etc- these usually have a liner to keep things from leaking which makes them un-recyclable).
Dirty containers and paper (i.e. greasy pizza boxes or soiled paper towels) cannot be recycled and should go into the compost, if possible.
One lovely lady, Maria, of the One Bag Wonder blog, has created an ebook you should check out. In it, she outlines some great ideas for how to reduce your household waste to one bag of trash… a year… WHAT?!
I must admit that I have not reached this level of efficiency and (nearly) zero-waste yet. But that’s what we’re talking about- progress, not perfection. If you can implement even some of these practices, or start with one to commit to and work your way up, you will have done your part in helping the planet on our journey to *TOGETHER* reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Her blog, as well as her ebook, are FULL of ways to make simple changes in your lifestyle that have a HUGE impact.
Now that we’ve covered the basic tips, let’s take a look at the reality of recycling.
When I was first introduced to the lifestyle of recycling, I was living with a Czech family just outside of Prague as an au pair (nanny). They were ON it. I’m talking glass organized into recycling bins by COLOR. That’s some next-level sh!t for a young American in 2012. I was so impressed and inspired by this level of mindfulness and care for our individual contribution to waste.
We also had a compost bowl that would get dumped daily into an outside pile. They had a beautiful wide-variety garden, so this made sense.
However, when I moved to Italy for the same type of gig, they had no garden, but they were still composting. I began to think about this more.
Here, we had a drawer that opened under the kitchen sink to accommodate multiple bins- one for trash, one for compost, one for paper and plastic, and one for glass.
When I moved to Dublin for college, I went to the second-hand shop- St. Vincent de Paul’s (Vinny’s, as we called it), and the woman bagged my items in a reusable cloth bag...for free.
I stood there baffled thinking... I don’t even have to buy a reusable bag? I literally have NO excuse not to take these to the market. That was eight years ago- I still have that bag.
I was beginning to notice a trend: Europeans are on the BALL when it comes to recycling.
It’s no wonder that now we see more and more of these same practices being adopted throughout the US.
But, while Europeans have been practicing this for many many years; the US is still fairly new to the whole process. No longer is Asia accepting our literal SHIPments of plastic waste, but- they’re looking to ship it back and make us deal with our own problem.
Did you know that we were on the right track in terms of a recycling infrastructure nationwide until the early 90s; but we changed course and opted not to deal with our own mess?
Now, we’re in this situation that is actually going to cost MILLIONS of dollars (your dollars, I might add) more than we would have originally been looking at had we just stuck to the original system.
Because profits drive decisions, we went from responsible recycling to shipping our mix of clean and contaminated recyclables to China once the industry leaders realized there was money to be saved- and even earned- by outsourcing.
This resulted in single-stream recycling (one bin for all recyclables) and included materials that were unrecyclable (ie. straws, takeaway containers, thin plastics, etc).
Unable to recycle a large percentage of this material, China proceeded to dump it into the oceans and waterways at the alarming rate of 3.5 million metric tonnes per year.
When we take a second to consider these implications, we can see that this method:
- Polluted the oceans with garbage and plastic waste.
- Increased carbon emissions by shipping 4,000 containers/day from the US to China.
- Created shanty towns in affected areas in China.
- Reinforced an uneducated recycling culture in the US (Humes, 2019).
However, while the decline in demand for our waste overseas has had an impact on our recycling dilemma, a Q&A between the nonprofit, Recycle Across America, and Bill Maher reveals that the actual reason for the “recycling collapse” is down to inconsistency and ambiguity. He says:
“The universal confusion about recycling projects a message of unimportance and prevents recycling and closed-loop manufacturing from thriving.”
Where recycling is possible, many areas have only limited capabilities- which, obviously means loads of recyclable items get sent to the landfill.
This issue makes it more and more complicated to know what can and cannot be recycled. So, what happens? We either throw up our hands and say “screw it- it can’t be done” or when in doubt- we toss it in the recycling and smile that we’ve “done our best”.
Sadly, while we can wish this to be true, what happens, in reality, is that that entire bit of actually recyclable materials get sent to the landfill because the machines have detected something un-recyclable and it contaminates the entire recyclable batch.
Let’s talk about multi-material containers.
Think about that hand soap with a pump top. That is composed of plastic and a metal spring. This means it’s unrecyclable. Even though plastics and metals are generally recyclable, these pieces are unable to be separated. And even if you did get them apart, they’re too small for the sorting machines; meaning they get jammed in the mechanics and slow the process or break down the machines.
Takeaway containers and drink cartons have a waxy or plastic liner on them to keep fluids from leaking through. This makes the paper unrecyclable. You’ll see this with a lot of kraft and eco-friendly looking containers. Do not be deceived. (*Note*: some natural wax liners such as those used in Propriis skincare packaging, is compostable =D ).
Metal lids use liners, whether foam or plastic (often both), to create a seal between the container and the lid so nothing spills. These liners make the lids unrecyclable.
Dropper bottles have tri-material lids, usually, which are composed of plastic, glass, and silicone or rubber. While you can easily deconstruct these lids, they are too small to be recycled. They are great for re-use if you can find something to fill them with!
The best thing you can do is to check your area’s recycling capabilities. You can easily find these in a quick Google search. They’ll generally even provide a list of what to throw in the recycling bin and what belongs in the trash.
When in doubt- throw it out.
Recycle Across America has a great article that outlines the general tips for responsible recycling. You can check it out here.
Alright, let’s sum this up:
- Opting for items in reusable, recyclable/recycled, or compostable packaging, or no packaging
- Minimizing shipments from online retailers
- Taking reusable bags/containers shopping and skipping the produce bags
- Taking a reusable cup to get coffee (or other drinks)
- Reusing containers
- Making your own products/food
- Buying compostable kitchen plastics such as bioplastic wrap and storage bags.
- Make sure you’re only recycling what your city is able to.
- Don’t recycle multi-material pieces, small caps*, or packaging with liners and adhesives.
*You can recycle small plastic caps if they are screwed onto the bottle.
The best solution is to reduce and reuse as much as possible with recycling in our back pocket. If we make mindful purchases that allow us to utilize the first two options, this minimizes the need to recycle in the first place. Remember: even recycling comes with its environmental price tag.
Want more ideas for how to live your most sustainable life? Check out this post from our partners over at One Tree Planted- and remember, every product you purchase from Propriis plants a tree!
For more ideas on financing eco-friendly home improvements that make a difference, check out this awesome article!
I hope this has given you a simple roadmap to get started on or to continue your RRR journey. A little mindfulness goes a long way <3
If you know someone that could benefit from these ideas (I know this can be a very overwhelming topic), feel free to share!
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In the comments below, tell me what practices you use to reduce, reuse, and recycle! There’s always room for more ideas and inspiration on this topic B)
If you have any insight into the world of recycling and how we can all participate more responsibly, let us know!