Normally my job consists of working to affect public policy to promote recycling in our community. But I realize that for people not “in the business,” the recycling they care most about takes place at home.
So, here’s how I apply my professional recycling knowledge around the house.
First, I reduce and reuse as much as possible. Packing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Reuse bread bags — or the bags from cereal. Cloth napkins? I’ve fallen in love with them. Using them is much more enjoyable than paper napkins, and they take almost no space in the laundry.
How to clean a sticky peanut butter jar? If you don’t have a dog to lick it — I have a very happy dog — then a good swipe with a spatula will get it clean enough to recycle.
Now that most waste haulers take glass, cans, plastics numbered 1 through 7, paper and cardboard, you can recycle pretty much all the packaging you bring into your house. This includes milk jugs, pop cans, beer bottles, soup cans, cereal boxes, yogurt cups, cracker trays, corrugated boxes, and plastic bags. Since my waste hauler began collecting plastics beyond #1 and #2, I put almost nothing in my trash anymore. (Check with your service provider/drop-off location manager to learn exactly what items they take.)
You’re probably already putting those obvious items out at the curb. But wait, there’s more. Plastic and metal lids are recyclable. Plastic caps can be screwed back on the empty container, while metal caps can go in the bin separately. You do not have to take the paper labels off cans and jars. But it’s good to remove them if they come off easily, as it makes the recycling system more efficient. The paper labels can be recycled, too.
Away from the kitchen, there is more paperboard to be found in the packaging of toys and electronic gadgets, as well as toilet-paper tubes and tissue boxes. (Remove any plastic liners that peel off easily.) And while you’re in the bathroom, don’t forget the bottles that shampoo, soap and cosmetics come in.
You can make recycling these items easy and convenient by having recycling containers on your second floor and basement, in addition to your primary recycling station in the kitchen, garage or utility room.
Don’t forget your office – or that place by the door that’s a magnet for all things paper. Catalogs, newspapers, magazines and office paper can go in your recycling bin. If you recycle at drop-off locations, find out if your local school or church has a paper-recycling bin, which often generate revenue for the host facility. We save up paper to take to my kid’s school, benefiting the environment and the school with that small effort.
Back to the kitchen – and into the yard. A huge amount of waste can be diverted from landfills by composting kitchen scraps. In fact, 14% of our waste stream is food waste. Keep a container on your kitchen counter or under the sink in which to put coffee grounds, banana peels, apple cores, veggie peels, egg shells and other biodegradable waste. (Meat, oils and starches do not compost well.)
Then put the kitchen scraps in a compost bin – which you can make or buy. Or you can find a dry shady spot in your yard, pile up some leaves, branches and twigs, and then add your kitchen scraps. Before long, voila! You have rich dirt to use around your trees and shrubs. You can even compost indoors. For more detailed instructions on various types of composting, check out the EPA’s article, “Create Your Own Compost Pile”.
For everything else, visit indianarecycles.org. Type in your address to find out where to recycle numerous other materials, from electronic to tires to eyeglasses. This site lists hundreds of recycling drop-off programs around the state.
With a little organization and a few well-placed receptacles, recycling can be easy.
And there are numerous other ways to reduce waste — and save money. Please share your waste reduction tips on the IRC Facebook page.