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Becoming a Recycling Pro: Step 3 5

If you’re already a pro at recycling, find out how you can take a few more strides toward living a zero-waste lifestyle.


Recycling is just like any other skill. The longer you spend time learning about it and doing it correctly, the more likely you are to look for even more ways to get better at it, and to keep more material out of landfills.

All of the small actions we take every day are helping to build a world without waste. Generally speaking, there are a few key ways to make your recycling work harder before it even gets to the bin.

What You Buy

You’re probably familiar with the Three R’s by now, and it’s no accident that the first one is Reduce. When you buy and use fewer materials, the natural outcome is that you’ll have less stuff to dispose of.

Reducing consumption is a great first step, but when it comes to the goods we can’t realistically do without, it’s always important to make smart purchasing decisions. We know that sustainability isn’t the only criteria you use while shopping, but before buying any new items, take a second to consider what may or may not be sustainable about it: Find out how the product was made, how it’s used and how you’ll eventually need to dispose of it. Here are some helpful hints (for even more information, check out the Qualities We Value):

  • Ingredients: Depending on the item, you should look for how materials were grown or sourced, and whether or not they use recycled materials (when applicable).
  • Quality Made: This has as much to do with how manufacturers get their energy and how much they use as it does with how workers are treated and compensated.
  • Packaging: The less of it the better, especially because there are so many types of packaging materials that cannot be recycled.

Usage

Just like you’re probably accustomed to taking reasonably timed showers, responsible usage of all types of products doesn’t simply lengthen the life of the items you’ve already purchased, it also ensures that so little ends up going to waste. Here are some elements you should consider:

  • Low Impact: Some products are specifically designed to use fewer resources, like power strips or low-flow showerheads.
  • Longer Lifespan: Items like rechargeable batteries are designed to last longer than disposable ones, which can also save you money (and several trips to the store) in the long run.
  • Assists with Diversion: Certain tools like a bigger recycling bin or plastic bag holder can help you make sure fewer materials end up in landfills each year.

Disposal

If you’re already in the habit of dropping all the materials your hauler accepts in the bin, then you’re on the right track. Diverting even more materials from a landfill requires some creativity and just a little bit of effort:

  • Reusing/Donating: Many materials can last longer than a single use. If you can reuse items like glass jars, it’s just as eco-friendly as donating old clothing and other non-recyclable goods.
  • Composting: Less than 3% of food waste gets diverted from landfills each year. Putting food waste to better use through composting can raise this number pretty significantly.
  • Upcycling: This catchy word refers to all sorts of ways that you can repurpose goods (DIY!) — after all, anything that keeps them from being trashed is OK in our book.
  • Specialty Recycling: Materials like plastic film or e-waste usually cannot go in the bin, but certain companies or brands will accept them at drop-off locations or by mail.

The best way to get started is to treat all of the products you consume, use and dispose of as if they were either bound for the trashcan or the recycling bin. Even if you don’t send them to either one, you’ll start to understand all the myriad possibilities that exist with materials at every stage in their lifecycle.

Give it a shot and let us know what discoveries you make in the comments below.

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  • Roseli Z. 7 months ago
    I've been trying to repurpose everything I can. I cut the top of juice plastic containers, soda bottles etc to store stuff; also, glass jars I up cycle them by painting the lid, the far itself, or other decoration, to store things like cotton balls, bath salt etc.
  • Ann S. 8 months ago
    I donate my old magazines to the nursing home closest to me. My books I swap on line. Not only do I exchange them and get new ones , someone else gets new ones they don't have without having to buy them
  • Tammy B. 1 year ago
    A fun way to recycle those oversized movie candy boxes (whether you buy them there for $5 or elsewhere for $1 and sneak them in, but who would do that?!) is to cut the front off and send as a postcard to kids. The graphics on cereal box fronts work great too. I send these for all sorts of things, like a Red Hot box to celebrate a home run or Good & Plenty to honor great grades. I also make gift boxes (instead of gift bags) from cereal boxes by cutting off the top, punching two holes in each side, and tying ribbons for handles like a gift bag. Use a little recycled tissue paper and wa-la, a unique gift package no one else at the party will bring!
  • Tammy B. 1 year ago
    I take blankets to the homeless shelter, old towels to the animal shelter, give homemade bath salts as gifts in reused jars, donate eye glasses to a local optometrist who gives free exams to men at the shelter, make hygiene bags with hotel soaps, etc for the women's shelter, drop off old computers at Goodwill, sell old DVDs to a local buy-back shop, send in plastic #5 lids to Gimme 5, use my neighborhood website exchange to sell unwanted items (or give them away, like a pile of moving boxes and packing supplies I gave to a military family preparing to move this week!), just got my curbside composting bin which I'm excited to fill with all manner of organic waste, and love upcycling just about anything my imagination can run wild with!
  • Mary S. 1 year ago
    I save glass jars (such as spaghetti sauce jars) to use for storing leftovers, storing loose change, nuts bolts, screws, sewing notions, and much more. I've already purchased the container, used the product, and then I can reuse the container for many other things.
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