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How to Master the Art of Recycling

Let’s face it. We’re living in a world of excess; excess gadgets, excess food, and excess debt. So, how do you tackle each of these problems? For me, I’d tell my wife to throw out that God-awful iPad she swears by, tell myself to stop eating chicken wings all the time and instead go on a diet, and keep playing the lottery in hopes of, well… winning the lottery. That’s a lot are easier said than done. In fact, I don’t think any of those situations are going to happen soon.

But what’s the one thing we as a community consume on overload? Raw materials. We consume vast amounts of raw materials in our daily lives including paper, glass, aluminum, other metals, and plastic. However, most of that never sees a recycling bin and winds up in the garbage. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports:

In 2012, Americans generated about 251 million tons of trash and recycled and composted almost 87 million tons of this material, equivalent to a 34.5 percent recycling rate. On average, we recycled and composted 1.51 pounds of our individual waste generation of 4.38 pounds per person per day.

That is shocking, and indeed saddening. A recycling rate of one third of what we use isn’t going to cut it. So, what can you do to partake in the goal of making our environment cleaner? Start recycling at home! Whether you’re single, have a large family, own your own home, or live in an apartment, all it takes is YOU to start a new trend and be an advocate of practices that ensure our planet’s long-term viability.

What Can Be Recycled?

This list from the EPA is a good starting point for anyone who wants to find out what can be recycled. Many of your common, everyday items are recyclable. Paper products such as printer paper, tissue and cereal boxes, old bills and envelopes, and junk mail are great things to toss in the recycle bin. Glass containers like food jars, liquor bottles, perfume bottles, and lotion jars are perfect to set aside for reuse. Aluminum objects such as beer and soda cans, metal from soup cans, and even aluminum foil can help reduce the amount of mined ore that’s needed to produce these items. Materials such as yogurt cups, iced tea bottles, and shampoo bottles are just a few of the many plastic containers that should be recycled.

Plan With Your Family at Home

Knowing what to recycle is only half the battle. Having an efficient recycling plan inside your home is the other half. You need to get your family on board with the objective at hand. Much like setting ground rules for chores, a game plan for successful recycling needs to be clear, simple, and consistent. Speak with your family, especially your children, about the benefits of recycling and what daily items need to be set aside. Ensure that these items are tossed in your bin daily, and that it is put out with your garbage for weekly collection. Most municipalities will share tips in community papers on what can be recycled, how you can get involved, and the greater good that comes from it.

Speak With Other Tenants in Your Apartment

If you don’t own a home, involving others in your apartment building is a great way to meet people and make it a better, and cleaner, place to live. Find out if the landlord has a recycling program in place and if not, take the initiative to start one yourself. Tell your close neighbors and have them spread the word. Create flyers and leave one at each apartment, or tack them up in community rooms. Contact your local town and ask if free pickup is included at the building, and if not, consider having tenants take turns with local drop-offs.

Organize a Recycling Event on Your Block

The summer is a great time to be out and about, and what better way to get some exercise and enjoy the company of your neighbors than by organizing a recycling program? You might be an avid recycler who gets miffed when your neighbors consciously ignore the chance to do their part. Encourage them to be active in recycling and speak with friends or new neighbors during summer block parties, when doing yard work, or simply passing by. Consider contacting a local electronics recycling company to set up an event on your street for pickup of old computer monitors, printers, TVs, and other antiquated or broken items.

Finally, Organize a Recycling Drive At Work

While this does not fall in the “at home” category, it is still an important way to get involved. Many companies organize the typical recycling programs where beverage cans and bottles are collected and recycled, sometimes with the returned cash going toward company fundraisers or local charities. Why not take it a step further? Set up collection areas around your building for paper, glass, and plastic that comes from lunches and routine desk items. If your company rents the office space, find out if the landlord would collect these materials on a weekly basis, or inquire as to if your local town would send trucks for collection.

There you have it. A full list of ways to become a recycling champ. While it’s wishful thinking to imagine a day when every recyclable item is indeed recycled, it’s completely worthwhile to do what you can. Educating young children about the merits of recycling, organizing events with family and friends, and most importantly, knowing what and how to recycle will give you a solid basis to making the environment cleaner for years to come. Hopefully, some day that one third figure we are functioning at will be closer to 100 percent.

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