New Year’s Resolution #4 – Recycle

Americans produce a staggering amount of waste: in 2010, we threw away over 250 million tons of trash. But where does all that garbage go? Fifty four percent of household waste in 2010 went straight into landfills, while another 12% was combusted to produce energy. Only 34% of that waste was recovered through recycling and composting – that’s a lot of wasted energy and resources! So this year, our fourth resolution is to help the environment by recycling more.   

Most of the trash you throw in the can will eventually make its way to a landfill, where waste will be compacted and covered with layers of soil. In addition to taking up valuable space and resources, landfills also cause a range of environmental problems. They produce high volumes of methane, a greenhouse gas, and can pollute groundwater and local ecosystems. Eventually, many landfills are sealed off and the land is repurposed as forests or parks. While helpful, landfill reclamation is by no means a perfect solution. Waste is still trapped underground where decomposition will be slow, and any breaks in the landfill barrier will still allow toxins and hazardous materials to leach into the soil, air, and groundwater. When you recycle, you’re helping to keep waste out of toxic landfills.

Because it takes less energy to manufacture products from reclaimed materials, recycling is also a great way to conserve resources like oil, electricity, and water. For example, it takes 30% less energy to make glass from recycled glass products than from raw material, and using recycled aluminum saves 96% of the energy used to manufacture cans from raw ore. In 2010, the EPA estimates that the 85 million tons of waste that were recycled saved 186 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to pulling 36 million cars off the road.

Fortunately, it’s easy to start recycling. Check in your community to see what types of recycling programs are offered. Many cities offer curbside pick-up of basic recyclable items like paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, and aluminum, and those that don’t may have a recycling center where you can take waste. If your city doesn’t have any sort of recycling program, get your community involved in petitioning for curbside pickup and or a local drop-off site. And if you’re already an expert at recycling everyday household products, work on reducing other types of trash. Items like batteries, insulating foam, paint, electronics, and light bulbs can all be recycled through city waste centers, retail stores, or mail-back programs.   

One of the best ways to promote recycling is to support eco-friendly companies, so when you’re shopping look for products made from recycled materials. Also be sure to buy items that you know are recyclable in your area. For example, choose glass packaging over non-recyclable plastics and avoid paper products with any kind of plastic coating. You’ll be reducing the waste that comes from your household and encouraging companies to make their own green choices.

Goals for 2012

• Familiarize yourself with local recycling programs and buy recyclable products.

• Recycle all paper, glass, plastic, and aluminum waste from your household.

• Petition your community to expand recycling access in your area.

• Recycle hard to dispose of items like batteries, insulated foam, paint, electronics, and light bulbs.  

• Support companies that use recycled materials. You can find common products like toysblanketsbags, and tableware all made from 100% recycled materials.

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