3 Simple Tips to Throw Away Less and Recycle More
Reduce what you Use to Begin With
The average American throws away 1600 pounds of garbage each year. I have noticed that many people don’t recycle as much of their waste as they could because they think it is too much of a hassle. But the real hassle is the millions of pounds of recyclable material that is clogging up our overburdened landfills when it could be reused. If all you have are garbage cans throughout the house then everything you are “getting rid of” is going to end up being looking like garbage and get thrown away. Recycling your own waste is all about putting a system in place so that recycling is the most convenient solution. Here are three simple tips to making recycling the simple choice in your household.
This is of course the most obvious tip but it can also be the hardest one to implement. The first step is to look closely at what you throw away: food and product packaging, plastic wrappers, junk mail, broken toys or household items, food scraps, leftovers, used paper towels, and whatever else you don’t need. How many of those things are recyclable materials? Think about how you set-up your buying habits to cut down on retail packaging.
When you are out shopping consciously think about a product’s packaging. Here’s a few things you can try.
- Buy fewer packaged foods and more fresh produce.
- Don’t use the clear plastic bags in the grocery store produce section unless you have to.
- Keep reusable shopping bags ready in your car and don’t forget to use them.
- Buy grains, seeds, and nuts in bulk to drastically cut down on packaging.
- See if you can find a used product that meets your needs instead of a brand-new item.
- Do you need to own this product or could you borrow one from a friend?
- Use washable rags for clean-up instead of paper towels.
Compost Food Waste
A lot of what ends up in the garbage is often food waste. At our house we try our best to eat all of our leftovers and not let our fresh ingredients go bad before using them. Still there are plenty of veggie and fruit scraps from stems, seeds and peels. Instead of throwing this in with your garbage start a compost bin. I keep a medium sized container with an easily accessible lid on the counter by the sink. Any scraps I have during cooking or after we eat can simply be scraped into the container. Every other day or so I dump it in the compost pile in the backyard. If you eat meat you should avoid putting meat scraps into your compost as it is bound to attract attention from your local wildlife who might scatter your compost pile all over the place.
Now as far as your outside composting goes there are a couple of options. The most low tech is to just build yourself a simple wooden container. If you are short on space or don’t want to build anything, you can buy a ready to use composting barrel. Make sure you get one that is easy to turn so that you can keep the contents stirred up. If you want to go full steam ahead with a complete composting system you should create at least 3 separate bins to allow you to mix your compost up more easily and breakdown into usable garden fertilizer more quickly.
I’ll write a more comprehensive guide to composting when I start the series of posts on gardening later this summer but for now you can refer to this composting guide. The most important thing is to keep a good mix of dry ingredients (like leaves, hay, or shredded papers) so that your compost doesn’t get too wet. This will also prevent it from getting stinky.
Have a Dedicated Recycling System in Place
Some people are lucky enough to have curbside recycling service that takes everything and does the sorting on their behalf. For the rest of us the biggest hurdle to overcome is sorting our recyclable waste into separate bins based on their materials. Your exact system will differ based on the guidelines set forth by your local service. I know a lot of curbside recycling services only give you two little bins and won’t allow you to put more out. If this is the case for you, I would recommend looking for a local recycling drop-off center and just take a load there every other week or as needed.
Make a Central Location for Recycling
The easiest thing I find is to designate one primary location in the house for sorting your recycling (we keep ours in the laundry room). Then keep one small garbage can for waste that is not recyclable. Now make the rest of the “trash” cans in the house into dry recycling containers for paper only. I find that the few random cans throughout the house usually end up collecting paper from a magazine or wrapper. If it’s a material other than paper then it needs to go to the centralized recycling station. You don’t want to put any food scraps or anything wet or otherwise “yucky” into the recycling containers. Your recycling station should be located centrally where you are likely to use it and can access it conveniently. Now you have everything presorted and ready to go to the recycling center or to the curb.
Make The Best Solution the Easy Solution
The problem is that “throwing away” stuff is just too easy and we don’t think about what happens with it all afterwards. Imagine taking all of your garbage and burying it in a hole you dug in your yard. How big of a hole would you need for a week’s worth of garbage? What about a month or a year? By reducing what you use to begin with and recycling and composting as much of your waste as possible you can really cut down on your own household’s contribution to the local landfill. The amount of trash we produce on a daily basis is clearly not sustainable for our planet’s resources. If you don’t already have a recycling plan in place, set one up today.
What Do You Recommend?
I’d love to hear your own recycling tips too. What do you do to throw away less and recycle more?