America Recycles Day, an initiative of Keep America Beautiful, is celebrated each year on Nov. 15. Here at Keep Arkansas Beautiful, we encourage all Arkansans to reduce, reuse and recycle every day!
Recycling in everyday life is something that everyone can do. In fact, the recycling participation rate continues to grow each year, making this simple activity one of the easiest ways to help your local community conserve resources and eliminate expensive land-filling. While the practice of recycling is relatively easy (find the bin, pitch it in!), many are still left with questions: “What can I recycle?” and “Where do I recycle specialty items?” – all of which are valid questions, but with many answers depending on where you live and what items your community will accept for recycling.
Here is a simple guide on why you should and how you can expand your daily recycling habits:
Beginners Recycling: Paper, Metal, Plastic
According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the average American throws away 3.5 pounds of trash each day, much of which could be recycled and reused. Did you know that approximately 1 billion trees’ worth of paper is thrown away (instead of recycled) each year in the U.S.? Land-filling paper creates greenhouse gas emissions but recycling can make a huge difference. In fact, a single run of the Sunday New York Times can save approximately 75,000 trees!
As for metals? Americans discard about 2.8 million tons of aluminum each year, of which 100% is recyclable but only about 67% actually is. Recycling steel, aluminum and tin cans can save 95% of the energy used originally to produce them.
Image from http://recycling.world-aluminium.org
Then there’s plastic: easy to recycle, but hard on our environment to make in the first place. Plastic is lightweight and flexible, and it requires an extraordinary amount of fossil resources to manufacture. Americans recycle more than 33.6 million tons of plastic each year. Recycling plastic is fairly convenient, as long as you know the general rules: there are seven types of plastic and all of them, except one, is easily recyclable. The one that’s not? Number 6, aka Styrofoam. Plastic grocery and produce bags are recyclable, although not typically in your curbside recycling, but many retailers offer drop-off boxes for such bags. The first trick to successful plastics recycling is making sure the item is clean, according to Waste Management. In general, acceptable plastics include milk jugs, water and soda bottles, and shampoo/conditioner/body wash bottles. Remember this simple catchphrase: Bottle, jars and jugs.
Image from http://cityrecyclers.net
The one thing you need to make recycling easy in your home is intention! Create your own recycling station by labeling three bins for “paper,” “metal” and “plastic.” (Some communities offer single-stream recycling, so separating recyclables is not required.) And, keep your recyclables clean. The smallest amount of food residue in that recyclable to-go container can spoil an entire bundle of recyclable goods at the recycling station.
Intermediate Recycling: Donation Stations
Large items – such as working appliances and furniture – shouldn’t be land-filled; they should be donated! Thrift stores and charities are always looking for household goods that can be reused, repurposed, resold. Clothes and shoes should also be donated instead of tossed in the trash. Many charities place boxes or “banks” in retailer parking lots and other central locations for easy drop off of clothes and shoes. Remember that land-filled paper that emit greenhouse gases? Clothes can too.
Image from http://homeguides.sfgate.com
Advanced Recycling: Electronics, Batteries
Still a recycling beginner? Don’t despair. First, learn the lingo. Recyclable electronics are called “e-waste.” E-waste items include computers (monitors, peripherals, etc.), cell phones/smartphones and wearables, laptops and tablets, portable music players, traditional telephones and answering machines, fax machines, copiers and desktop printers, and home AV equipment. Second, learn where to go. ADEQ provides an easy-to-use map to guide you to the nearest e-waste collection center.
Image from http://ewastecollective.org
Goodwill Industries is a recycling and donating one-stop shop! They accept clothes, furniture, appliances and household goods; they also take electronics. Goodwill will wipe your electronics of all your personal data (if you haven’t already done that before recycling) then refurbish the item for sale in the Goodwill thrift stores or recycle the item. Either way, that e-waste is diverted from the landfill! And, a bonus: Goodwill’s e-waste refurbishing and recycling program creates jobs and job-training for the un- and underemployed.
Household, button and car batteries are other recyclables requiring special consideration. Nearly all car batteries can be recycled through most automotive retailers. Household and button batteries can be recycled at Radio Shack retail stores. Contact your local Solid Waste District for more advice and best practices on recycling batteries.
Making the easy choice to recycle can make an enormous impact on your community, our state and the world around us. Please think twice before throwing away that soda can or water bottle. Recycle that weekly newspaper and all that junk mail. Start with the simple recyclables and build up to more advance recycling techniques. Consider recycling it before you throw it in the trash. Learn more about recycling in Arkansas and find a few resources at KeepArkansasBeautiful.com.