November 15th is America Recycles Day. Who knew? I did! And isn’t that why you come to read this blog? So you can learn about new days to celebrate your shades of green? Besides, this is a day all for you to clean up your act – environmentally speaking anyway.
For 11 years, millions of Americans have taken a stand every year on this day, pledging to increase their recycling habits at home and work and to buy products made with recycled materials. Have you taken the pledge yet?
In 2007, more than 63 million tons of municipal wastes were recycled, a mild increase from the year before. But we can absolutely do better. In the same year, it is estimated that only 60% of Americans had access to curbside recycling programs. While those of you in the Northeast and Midwest have relatively extensive access to recycling, those in the South have been left in the dust. Southern states have the least accessible recycling programs in the United States. Take the next step and organize a recycling program in your area if there isn’t already one.
Most people know that recycling programs generally accept paper, glass, some plastics, and aluminum. But many of these programs are increasing the variety of plastics and other items they are willing to take. If it has been a while since you visited the website of your municipal program’s website, take a minute and look at the list of items that they accept. Some municipalities are accepting nursery flower pots, cat litter plastic buckets, and even the lids of bottles and containers (did you even know that lids weren’t always accepted?).
Recycling is about more than just emptying a container and putting it in a bin, though. Recycling also includes disposing of hazardous wastes and compostable items appropriately. Before you throw away those medications, half empty cans of old paint, and old pesticides, check with your local government to see if they have a facility which accepts them. We might think landfills are out of sight out of mind, but what seeps into the ground underneath them can sometimes end up in our waterways and groundwater – water we may be using for drinking.
If you already recycle your basics, take the next step and seek out ways to compost your organic materials. True, not everyone has a backyard ready for a composter, but if you do, take advantage. By separating out your food wastes and yard clippings into a compost pile you can create soil rich in nutrients. For all those apartment dwellers, consider seeking out a space where you can start a communal compost pile or make friends with a house-dweller who will lend you some land. Or, if you are really into it, consider purchasing an electric composter suited to apartment living.
Recycling is one of the easiest ways you can help reduce your carbon footprint. Did you know that by recycling one aluminum can, enough energy is saved to run a TV for three hours? Reusing and recycling the materials we use not only saves energy, it also saves raw materials and helps generate needed resources to make other new products.
So how many of you recycle outside of your home? Raise your hand. Not too many I see. There is a simple reason for that – there are just not enough municipal programs which provide public recycle bins so residents can recycle-on-the-go. Only a handful of cities have bins on street corners, and I am always flabbergasted when I’m visiting a city that does. Without recycling-on-the-go programs that are accessible and eye-catching, we won’t ever be able to get all those disposable water bottle drinkers to recycle! If your city doesn’t have an on-the-go program, take the initiative to bring recyclables home with you in your trusty reusable bag. It’s simple to grab a coke at the local convenience store, drink it on the go and throw the bottle in your bag so it can be recycled when you get home.
Better yet, if you live in one of the eleven states that have passed bottle bills and offer container deposits, take your bottles and cans back and reap the financial benefits. The best part of living in Vermont (a bottle bill state) was throwing a party and making a few bucks off all the empty bottles and cans. It’s important to note though, that these programs would be significantly more effective if they kept up with inflation. For the most part there have not been any significant increases in the deposit amounts and most of the laws were enacted and implemented in the late 70s and early 80s. Without updates to these laws and broader implementation in every state, the effectiveness of bottle bills can only reach so far.
Take a moment to think about your recycling habits and make some goals for the coming year which can encourage you to reduce, reuse, and recycle more. Write your recycling resolution for 2009 in the comments section below.