I let Earth day come and go last month without any big hoopla, but it has definitely been on my mind. I want Zoe to grow up being a good custodian of the earth. She already has a fantastic relationship with nature; she loves flowers and trees as well as all manner of critters. Now, I’ve got to instill in her the importance of the three R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle. For today, I’m just going to write about recycling. We’ll tackle some of the other R’s in future posts.
When I first moved to Ohio in 1997, I was shocked that you couldn’t bring cans and bottles back for the deposit money. Saving cans and bottles in a big bag, then bringing them back to the store to get a chunk of change (or even some dollars if you had enough collected), was part of life in NY where I grew up. Then I learned that here in the midwest, you could still recycle the bottles and cans, but not only did you not get paid/reimbursed to do it, you also had to pay someone else to come pick them up. I was a bit turned off by the idea of paying for it, so I didn’t sign up for recycling at that time and I’m afraid my cans and bottles (and other recyclables) started going in the trash. Yuck.
Fast forward to when we moved to Columbus in 2005, and my parents first came to visit us in our new home. Mommers asked where our recycling bins were and when I told her we didn’t recycle, she nearly had a heart attack. That’s a capital sin to someone living in California! So, at her urgent request, I looked into our local recycling program again. I still balked at the cost of having it picked up at the house, but I did begin collecting our mixed recyclables and taking them to the bins at the nearby fire house. We’ve been doing it ever since and I feel so good every time I take a big batch of recyclables to the fire house. Sure it’s a slight hassle, but it’s so worth it to know that all of our giant bags and boxes of recyclables aren’t going to clutter up a landfill somewhere.
I’m not an expert and I’m no uber-greenie by any means, as my pitiful little confession above shows. Still, here are my best tips for recycling for beginners if you’re not yet doing it, along with some interesting links and videos that may entice you to give it a whirl.
- Start small if recycling seems overwhelming. Put an empty box in your laundry room and start rinsing and placing empty jars, bottles, cans and small boxes in it. When it’s full, transfer it to a giant black plastic garbage bag (or bigger box) in your garage. See how long it takes for you to fill the big bag in your garage. The more you recycle, the faster it will fill up – and the less garbage you’ll have to drag out to the curb. I remember a time when our garbage used to be overflowing each garbage day, but now our trash can is usually only about half full. That’s because we’re recycling instead of throwing away! It’s a fantastic feeling.
- Figure out where your closest recycling drop-off location is. Here’s a list of recycling bins in central Ohio. Tip: they tend to fill up on weekends, so you may want to make this a Friday night habit. It’s frustrating to get to the bin and find it full, and you can’t just leave your recyclables outside the bin because that’s considered dumping/littering. Also, remember to always break down your cardboard boxes because that’s what causes the bins to fill up so fast (and unnecessarily). It’s good stress relief (and just plain fun) to jump up and down on cardboard boxes and squash them flat – just be sure to wear jeans and good solid shoes so you don’t end up giving yourself a cardboard cut! Ouch.
- These Recycling Myths and Facts were eye-opening for me. For example, did you know the national recycling rate is only about 30%, and the U.S. EPA has set a goal of 35%? This doesn’t surprise me, considering how I probably still wouldn’t be recycling myself if my Cali-green Mommers hadn’t shamed me into it. This makes me feel even better about being a family that recycles.
- There are some very cool toys for kids made out of recycled materials. One of my favorite brands is Green Toys, available from Amazon.com, which makes toys completely out of recycled milk jugs. Zoe has both their working dump truck and pretty but functional tea set, and she loves them both. I love that they are safe, BPA free, made in the USA and just plain fun.
- Curious about exactly what’s recyclable and what isn’t? Here’s the list of acceptable materials – and here are some other good reminders about recycling.
- I’m sure you’re already taking your grocey store plastic bags back to the store and popping them in the recycling bin. Those aren’t allowed in with your “regular” recyclables because the bags can gum up the machinery and conveyer belts. But maybe it’s time to take things one step further here and stop using those grocery store plastic bags? Here are 25 great reasons to just say “no thanks” when they ask you “paper or plastic?” – and go with 100% reusable bags instead. I keep several of these bags in my car and try to remember them every time I run into a store.
- I love not having to sort our recyclables – I can just lump them all together (within reason, as noted above). Have you ever wondered how they sort the mixed recyclables once they get them? Here’s a video that shows just how it’s done. It’s pretty cool.
- The other great thing about recycling is that not only are you saving all that clutter from going into a landfill, you’re also saving energy. The EPA has a tool called iWarm that helps you understand the energy saved by recycling small quantities of common household products, rather than landfilling them. The energy savings are translated into the equivalent amount of electricity, and then shows you approximately how long that amount of electricity will operate a variety of household appliances. There’s even a cool interactive iWarm widget you can embed onto a blog or website, if you’re really into this sort of thing.
In my mind, recycling is a lot like giving blood – it’s a super easy way to give back, contribute something and feel good about yourself. It takes so little, yet does so much.
So, what have I missed here? Are you recycling, and what else would you add to convince others to start recycling too? I look forward to your comments below.