How do you manage your trash and recyclables? Do your neighbors recycle? How convenient is it for you to keep up with recycling in your own life?
This winter I've been in Wellington, Florida, where I do equine diet consulting for BioStar. I've rented the same house in a subdivision for the past four years. Every Friday night, people in the neighborhood wheel out garbage cans, and put out recycling boxes: one for paper, and one for plastic and glass.
I eventually noticed that my housemate’s and my recycling boxes tended to be more full than our neighbors. Curiosity got the best of me, and one morning I followed the garbage truck down the street to count how many bags of trash were in the garbage cans at each house. The average number of trash bags in the garbage cans was 5. Out of 22 houses on our street, only our trashcan had one kitchen trash bag in it. Granted, we are only two people, not a family.
I then perused the recycling bins by walking my dogs down the sidewalk on each side of the street and looking into the bins for a quick reconnaissance and estimation. In the plastic bins there were beer cans, milk jugs, and soda cans. A surprising number of homes didn’t have their paper recycling bin out for pickup, with the exception of a few houses that had an Amazon box or two. I have walked my dogs passed these homes many times, and I know the houses that have dogs, and yet kibble bags and canned dog food were not in the recycling bins.
The Recycling Ninja:
I've considered myself a fairly conscious recycler because in the early 1970's my mother helped to start a recycling pick-up center in our town. We recycled newspapers, magazines, cans, and glass. The recycling center was all-volunteer, and she worked there several days a week helping people unload their recyclables into specific tractor trailers for the weekly pickup. My mother made sure her kids followed her rules on recycling.
I thought I was pretty well trained in recycling, until I shared this house with my friend, Allison, whom I refer to affectionately as The Recycling Ninja. Allison recycles everything: little pieces of paper, every tiny bit of plastic no matter how small, the aluminum-backed seals on toothpaste tubes, gum wrappers, the paper and aluminum seal on supplements. When we had a party, she collected all the used cocktail napkins and put them in recycling.
Her diligence to recycling reminds me that there's always more we can do to reduce what ends up in landfills. I realized that I can get kind of lazy about recycling; not the obvious recycling stuff like cardboard boxes, cans, and plastic bottles, but the things I can tend to forget, like used envelopes, paper shipping labels, plastic seals on beauty products, foil packets of bath salts, metal wine cork wrappers, metal tops from sparkling water bottles, empty toilet paper rolls, plastic seals on supplements, Girl Scout cookie foil wrappers, empty lip balm containers….the list goes on and on.
The US generates more than 254 million tons of municipal solid waste each year. Only 34.6% of this waste gets recycled. Compare that to Germany that recycles 65% of their waste and South Korean, which recycles 59% of their waste.
We can take comfort in the fact that recycling in the US is way ahead of Turkey where 99% of all trash ends up in landfills. However, according to the Solid Waste Environmental Excellence Protocol, the US is on pace to run out of room for landfills within the next 18 years.
States with the fewest tons of waste per person are Idaho with 4.1, North Dakota, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Arkansas, Maine, and West Virginia.
States with the highest amount of waste per person: Nevada with 38.4, followed by Pennsylvania, Colorado, California, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Delaware.
you can see how your state measures up here.
The average person in the US produces 4.4 pounds of trash per day, which translates to 1606 pounds of trash per year, equivalent to the weight of a cow. But that same amount of trash in cubic feet is the height of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
The waste of a family of four on average is 17.4 pounds per day, and 6351 pounds per year, or the weight of an Asian elephant and equivalent in height to the Golden Gate Bridge.
The annual weight of trash for the US is 254 million tons, or 1.2 million blue whales: which is enough trash to the read the moon and back 25 times.
It is estimated that Americans waste a pound of food per day per person. About 150,000 tons of food is tossed out in US households each day. Rotting foods in landfills releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
The Center for Biological Diversity published a report that showed only four of the largest grocery chains in the US have specific food waste reduction commitments. Walmart achieved the highest grade -- a B, while Aldi US was the worst. Trader Joe’s, Target, and Whole Foods did poorly, with a D ranking.
It's ironic that as much food waste as we produce, we still have families who don’t have enough to eat.
Composting is one of the best ways to reduce landfill food waste. And now there are composting sites where you can take your compost if you don’t want a compost pile at your home. Some churches have even set up composts for their community gardens. There are neighborhoods that have set aside space for growing vegetables and composting.
Composting home food waste not only reduces methane in landfills, it also provides the soil biome with important nutrients and food for healthy microorganisms and fungi.
We are busy, we multi-task, we have families, jobs, children, pets, aging parents, mortgages, bills, friends in crises, and so on -- so it's not surprising that throwing a piece of plastic in the garbage takes less time than taking that plastic to the recycling bin.
My housemate and I came up with some solutions for busy people:
- We hung three small plastic bags in the kitchen: one for cardboard/paper, one for plastic, and one for glass. We reuse these plastic bags over and over again. By the end of our stay in Florida the bags will go into recycling.
- We use a large Tupperware bowl with a lid for compost, which Allison takes to her farm.
- I've taken to hanging one plastic bag in my bathroom, for empty toilet paper rolls, bath salt containers, shampoo bottles, and the like. It's amazing at the end of a week how the wastebasket is mostly empty, but the recycling bag is not.
Having the convenience and time-saving of recycling receptacles in the room makes awareness and remembering to recycle a lot easier. Then it becomes one trip to the recycling bins in the garage, not 20.
Innovations from waste:
In addition to recycling, innovation in upcycling is happening all around us, as many companies upcycle plastic into new products like shoes, sunglasses, outdoor furniture, toys, fleece jackets, insulation for sleeping bags, carpeting, yoga mats, swimwear, skateboards, frisbees, backpacks, and jewelry.
Nearly all of our collections are made from up-cycled materials, keeping usable items out of landfills, and creating unique, artistic, and memorable alternatives.
• Garden Sculptures • Spoon Jewelry • Airline Bags • Firehose Bags and Belts • Flip-Flop Animals • Plush Critters • Circuit Board Jewelry and Art • Peace Jewelry • Clocks • Guitar String Jewelry • Climbing Rope Dog Toys • Halibut Rope Rugs • and MORE
We've also found some fun new products that are coming to Changing Tides soon!
Join us in being mindful about recycling!