“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle…” sings Jack Johnson to us in his catchy, albeit brief tune about how we can help the planet. It’s an earworm, and I highly recommend it for listening, if for no other reason than it is almost guaranteed to make me smile, so I assume it will also make you smile! Give it a listen.
So, today, I’m going to give you a little bit more direct action steps that you can take in your everyday life to help take better care of this beautiful planet we live on. I recently asked a reader what they’d like to see me talk about on the blog- something that they would like to know more about. (Yes, I do take requests! Comment below or send me a private message on whatever your preferred social media platform.) I was shocked that their answer was so simple: recycling! Recycling can indeed be a thorny topic, and it made me really take stock of the assumptions I make about my readers. Not everybody has the same level of sustainability knowledge, and sometimes we do need to talk about the basics.
However, I’m going to also talk about the two things that you should try to do first, that good ole’ Jack Johnson knows all too well about. Reduce and Reuse! So, what do those two things mean, and what do they entail? Why are they better than recycling?
The best thing we can do is to reduce that amount of waste we have to figure out how to get rid of in the first place. Reducing our impact means living only within our means, and only meeting our needs. For example, to reduce waste, you may invest in cloth diapers. This reduces the demand for regular diapers, and in the end, reduces the amount of diapers made, bought, and sold, and in landfills.
Ok, so not everyone needs diapers. What about containers and bags? If you invest in reusables, you are reducing the amount of waste that you need to deal with as a result of all those annoying plastic bags we all have floating around our homes. Another option is purchasing a reusable water bottle, and filling it over and over again.
When it comes to grocery shopping, look for options that have no packaging. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables that have no packaging, and try to shop from the bulk bins wherever possible.
These are just some basics- comment below how you reduce waste in your daily life!
Reusing is actually one of the most fun things. Reusing is so easy and fun! Perhaps the most fun is in regards to…shopping! Well, in this case, swapping. Shop at second hand stores to make sure those articles of clothing are getting reused, rather than ending up in a landfill. If you think the article of clothing is unusable, you can still donate it to Goodwill and mark it “textile donation,” they will shred it, and use it to stuff mattresses.
You can also swap items with friends, if you want new-to-you items and you’re squeamish about used. With your friends, at least you know the clothes have been cared for. The same goes for baby or kid’s items- anyone who has had a child probably has boxes and boxes of their old clothes and toys waiting to go to a good home. The amount of waste created by outgrown toys and clothes…can you imagine?
You can also upcycle, which is a form of reusing where you take something old and make it new again. This is when, for example, you take an old torn shirt, and you make it into a reusable shopping bag! This is where your creativity can really shine!
And here we are! Right at the topic requested. If all else fails, YES, you should absolutely recycle. The problem with recycling is that it vastly varies depending on the city or location where you are recycling, and it does take energy (often dirty energy) to transport the recycling to a recycling plant and put it through the process to make something new from it.
Check your municipality to see what they will accept as far as recyclables. It varies depending on where you live! Beyond that however, there are some universal basics of what can and CANNOT be recycled, and I’ll list a few here.
Cannot be recycled:
Pizza boxes: Yes. They’re paper, but they’re also covered in nasty old grease and cheese. You can cut up the parts that aren’t covered in that stuff and then put them in the recycling- that’s fine. The same goes for any other plastic food containers- make sure they’re scraped and rinsed before throwing those in the recycling.
Styrofoam: STYROFOAM IS THE SCUM OF THE EARTH. It can’t be recycled. Burning it releases toxic chemicals, and so does eating out of it- heat leaches chemicals into any food served on it. The only way to get rid of it other than the trash is finding a specialized facility to take it. Reduce how much Styrofoam you use.
Juice Boxes– There is a plastic coating on these that makes them unrecyclable. Check the label of some juice box makers actually make sure that the juice boxes are recyclable.
These are just a few examples, but really the key is to call your city. You don’t even need to call per say. Many city websites have pages that will tell you everything you need to know.
Protip!!! Just because your item has a recycling symbol on it doesn’t mean it’s recyclable. A recycling triangle with a number in it is only indicating the kind of plastic used in this item. HOWEVER, you can check the web to see if your city’s recycling provider accepts that kind of plastic. It’s a tiny clue! Check out the photo below, from veganology.com.
I hope this empowers you to find out more from your city, and gives you some ideas that unfortunately, recycling is a bit more complicated than it should be, and there are a few things you should definitely try first! Any effort is good though, so don’t get discouraged. Go out there and get empowered!