Our modern world is reliant upon continual production and consumption, a fact that can escape us during the hustle and bustle of everyday life. And even when we do become aware of how much we buy and use, we still don’t quite grasp the reality of where our stuff come from and what happens to it. Much of what we produce ends up in landfills, and the finite resources harvested or extracted to make the products we use are wasted.
But there is a solution: Recycling! It’s one of the best means available to abate the hazards of our “throw it away” mentality. The concept is simple: instead of tossing reusable materials in the trash, we collect them and reprocess them into more consumer goods.
Given that recycling is such a pervasive concept in our society, you’re probably wondering why I’m treating it as an introductory topic. Since everyone needs a little refresher course now and then, I wanted to create a little primer so we can go over some basics together.
1) Many consumer goods are either recyclable or already made with recyclable materials. Multi-material items made of combinations of metal, plastic, and paper goods – think packaging and consumer electronics – can be taken apart into recyclable components.
2) Recyclable plastics are typically marked with a recycling symbol and a number that indicates what type of plastic it is. To know if a type of plastic is able to be recycled in your area, check the restrictions given by your local recyclable waste collector. Always check online for more information, as many cities and recycling centers post this information digitally.
3) Always clean recyclable items before placing them in recycling bins. While recyclables undergo a rinse at collection facilities, leaving food waste in a jar, for example, can keep a whole batch of recyclables from being processed.
4) Most paper products are recyclable, including magazines and milk containers. In the past, these items had to be thrown away (typically because of the ink content), leading to common misconceptions that persist today. However, pizza boxes and other paperboard containers soiled with grease and food still cannot be recycled. Basically, if the food container can be rinsed clean, it can be recycled.
5) Steel, iron, and aluminum (even aluminum foil) that are staples in consumer goods can be recycled through your usual collection service. Other items like brass, copper, and other useful metals (along with very large and heavy items) can be taken to local scrap yards for recycling. Some scrap yards will even pay you for the materials!
6) While most of what you throw away may fit into the usual recyclable categories, there are a wide variety of services that will recycle your trash for you. Consumer electronics, wood products, chemicals, and even food scraps are all collected by companies for recycling. A simple visit to your preferred search engine will point you to where things can be collected.
7) The recycling industry is good for the economy. In 2011, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries reported over 450,000 jobs nationwide, including a very robust materials industry And in another 2011 report, the National Resource Defense Council concluded that, if our country could start recycling 75% of our waste, it would create 2.3 million new jobs by 2030, while also reducing pollution.
Not sure about recycling in your area? Call your local Homeowner’s Association or city government to learn about the options you have to start recycling in your home or business.