Each person in the United States produces about four pounds of trash each day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Of that trash, about one and half pounds are recycled. Recycling gives previously used materials new life and cuts down on the amount of energy required to produce items. For example, when you recycle paper, you reduce the need to cut down trees and to plant new trees to replace the ones turned into paper. In the 1970s, there were no recycling programs that picked up curbside, according to the National Resource Defense Council. By 2006, there were more than 8,000 curbside programs. Recycling has become very common in cities and towns across the country.
Not every recyclable item can simply be thrown in a recycling bin and picked up at the curb. Some areas will only collect items such as glass, aluminum and paper. Other places might collect plastic that is labeled #1 or #2 only, even though there are seven different types of plastic. It’s up to you to learn what your trash pick-up company or municipality will and will not collect.
Items that aren’t recycled through curbside programs can be recycled in other ways. Most municipal recycling programs won’t pick up #4 plastic, which is the type of plastic used to make shopping bags. A lot of grocery stores offer plastic bag recycling, though, and will take back any bags you bring in. Some organizations also take #5 plastics, either through the mail or at drop-off locations.
Municipalities often offer special recycling collection days for certain household materials, such as e-waste, batteries, and cleaning products. A number of items that are used every day shouldn’t be poured down the drain or left in the trash, for environmental, as well as safety reasons. For example, motor oil is harmful if thrown in a landfill or dumped down the drain. It can be recycled and reused nearly indefinitely and should always be recycled. Certain types of batteries, such as those that contain lead or other heavy metals, should also be recycled. Some states have strict laws stating that certain products, such as televisions, computers and batteries be recycled instead of placed in the trash.
In some cases, recycling isn’t the best option. Some items, such as mattresses and furniture, can be donated to others and given a new lease on life. Reusing items such as furniture puts even less strain on the environment than recycling. When items are recycled, they need to be broken down, then put back together into a new item; when items are reused, they are given as-is. Along with using fewer materials and requiring less energy, donating and reusing items helps people who might not otherwise be able to afford that item.
Individuals can also get creative and reuse paper, glass, and plastic around the home. An empty glass bottle can have a new life as a vase for a single flower, for example. Plastic soda bottles can be used in the garden to protect new seedlings or can be cut in half and used as funnels. Cardboard boxes can double as storage containers or even toys for young kids.
Plastics and Glass
- Glass Recycling Facts from the Glass Packaging Institute
- 20 Ways to Reuse Old Plastic (and Paper) Bags
- A Closer Look at Plastics
- Reusing Plastic Water Bottles
- Smithsonian Magazine – Cut Your Use of Plastic, Plastic, Plastic
- Tips to Use Less Plastic