If all else fails (meaning that you can’t reuse or repurpose items), recycle. Recycling involves collecting goods that have reached the end of their lives and processing them, their parts, or some of their parts, into the raw materials from which new goods are made.
Ever wonder just how green recycling is compared to producing new goods from scratch? Consider this fact: Recycling steel, aluminum, copper, lead, paper, and plastics can save up to 95 percent of the energy it takes to produce new goods from these materials.
Recycling doesn’t just help reduce the amount of trash that heads to landfills and incinerators: It also reduces the amount of greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere. Although the recycling process consumes energy and therefore emits some greenhouse gases, those gases are still less than what would be emitted by a combination of machinery at landfills and incinerators and by the manufacturing processes used to create new goods that would be needed if the recycled goods weren’t created. According to the EPA, in 2005, recycling prevented the release of 79 million tons of carbon into the air — about the same as would be produced annually by 39 million cars.
Because recycling isn’t as green as reusing or reducing (which don’t emit greenhouse gases), you should try to reduce and reuse first and foremost. Glass can be recycled into bottles, for example, but it has to go through a manufacturing process to get there, and that process uses energy. In an ideal world, the energy would be generated using renewable sources such as wind, hydro, and solar power so that the recycling process is completely green, but in the real world, that’s not usually how it works.
Despite the drawbacks, recycling an item is far better than throwing it in the trash. And as states and cities increasingly develop and encourage waste-reduction strategies, recycling will become an even more important part of daily life.
Identifying What you Can Recycle
Not everything can be recycled (yet), but you should be able to put out at the curb or find recycling dropoff facilities for these six main categories of household waste:
- Paper: Most paper is recyclable, including newspapers, cardboard, phone books, packaging, magazines, catalogs, and wrapping paper. If you have a garden, you also can turn most paper into compost.Some recycling facilities and pickup services take paper products, such as milk and juice cartons; others don’t. These cartons are made of cardboard sandwiched between very thin layers of plastic, so not all the material is recyclable. Check with your local recycling facility or service provider before you haul your waste for drop off.
- Plastics: Most plastics are recyclable, but recycling rates for plastic tend to be low because of a lack of facilities. Each plastic product has a Plastic Identification Code — a triangle with the number 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 inside it. The code usually appears on the bottom of the plastic product. Most recycling services and dropoff facilities accept plastics with codes 1 or 2, which includes beverage bottles and containers used for milk, juice, and body-care products. Click here for the details on the Plastic Identification Codes and the products they’re associated with. Click here for the details on the Plastic Identification Codes and the products they’re associated with.Check with your local service provider or dropoff facility about which plastics it takes for recycling, and if you can, buy only products in plastics with those numbers. If the local provider doesn’t accept plastics, try to reduce the plastic that you buy and reuse what you already have.
- Glass: Most household glass can be recycled over and over again — you usually just need to rinse or wash out food containers and remove paper labels. In fact, glass is easier to recycle than plastic, so if your local service provider or dropoff facility doesn’t recycle plastic, buy the product you need in a glass bottle or jar if one’s available. Recycled glass has a whole variety of uses, but mainly it’s used to create new glass containers. Glass items, such as car windshields, cooking dishes, and light bulbs, aren’t usually accepted by local recycling systems. These items may not be recyclable in your area, or you may need to take them to a special dropoff point. Check with your service provider or local government’s waste office to find out whether a special dropoff point is near you. ....read more