According to the Environmental Protection Agency, less than half of the household waste eligible for recycling actually makes it into recycling bins and centers. Considering the amount of trash that the U.S. produces each year could cover 82,000 football fields in six feet of compacted garbage, it’s easy to see making recycling a priority is important for the environment — and our lifestyles, if we want to maintain open space and natural resources.
Many households fail to recycle, or don’t recycle enough, because they do not have an efficient system in place for doing so. It’s simply easier to toss items into the garbage. However, by developing a home recycling program and making it easier for all members of the family to recycle, you’ll be doing your part to help the Earth. When you learn what you can do to decrease air pollution, the amount of material in landfills and conserve resources, you’ll see it’s much easier than you expected.
Step One: Learn What You Can Recycle
The basis of any successful home recycling program is knowing what can and cannot be recycled. Not every municipality has the same policies and capabilities, so items that can be recycled in one area may be prohibited in another.
Start with your local waste management department. Most city websites include lists or charts outlining what can be recycled and how to go about doing so. You may be able to request a curbside recycling bin that will be picked up with your weekly garbage or you may need to bring the recyclables to a center for sorting. Pay attention to the materials your city accepts; for example, in some areas, you can only recycle #1 and #2 plastics, while other areas will take all plastic items.
You also need to follow your city’s requirements for cleaning and sorting items. In general, you’ll be required to at least rinse most items before putting them in the bin, but in some areas, you might have to remove labels (recycle those in the paper bin!) and lids. You may be prohibited from recycling certain items that have food or other residue on them, such as pizza boxes, or have restrictions on the size of recyclable items.
Step Two: Create a Recycling Center
Many people cite a lack of space as a reason for failing to recycle. It’s true, you’ll need a place to sort and store your recyclables, but when you consider the environmental impact of the items you throw away, you’ll see that carving out some space in the garage or kitchen is worth it.
Place recycling bins in the areas where you produce the most recyclable items; in most homes, that is the kitchen and home office. To save space, you may have one bin to toss everything into so you can sort as required on pickup day. If you have the space, perhaps in a basement or garage, use dedicated bins or boxes for each type of recyclable. Although you can purchase containers designed for sorting and recycling, simple bins or boxes work as well.
Step Three: Educate the Family
While in time, you’ll become adept at easily identifying recyclables, when you’re starting out, you’ll need to educate yourself — and your family — on what goes in the bin. Have a day where you research and identify the items that can be recycled. If you have kids, encourage them to ask questions and ask before throwing anything away.
In fact, it may be helpful for the kids to create a chart of recyclable items to post near the trash can, reminding them to stop and check before throwing anything in. Include pictures of items that should be recycled or symbols to look for to help them determine whether the item belongs in the trash. Bring the kids along to the recycling center when you sort your household waste to help them learn more about how to properly recycle their waste.
You may also encourage the family to consider ways to reuse items before discarding them. Jars, cans and boxes can all be used in craft projects, for example, or reused for storage. If you can’t use everything, consider donating them to a school or senior center. Many schools will use jars, paper towel tubes and other items for art projects or other purposes.
It’s virtually impossible these days to avoid producing any garbage in your home. But by developing a family recycling program, you can reduce the amount your home adds to landfills — and do your part to keep the Earth healthy and clean.
About the Author: Parenting blogger Rebecca Morrison has been teaching her daughters to recycle since they were toddlers.