Recycling the Right Way

Just when we thought we were doing it right….

No - it turns out that a lot of us were just “wish” cycling! You know, you are not sure if an item is really recyclable but it seems like it should be, so in the the recycle bin it goes. But, guess what might happen when you do that - you could just muck up the works.

For those of you who like to use a mnemonic to help you remember something important, here it is: The 7 Rs. That stands for: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Repair, Recycle, and Recover.

Recover is the ultimate goal of recycling. The definition of Recycle is “convert waste into reusable material”. The reason we can afford to recycle anything at all is because there is a market for the end product. But it has to happen at a reasonable cost and putting inappropriate items in the recycle bin increases cost in many ways.

The recycling process is an industrial business, using machinery for processing - so when the wrong kinds of things (trash, garbage, items too small or the wrong shape) get put in with your recyclables, people have to take time to remove it (you know - separate the wheat from the chaff), and if the wrong kind of items do sneak through the screening process, they can clog up the machines and cause down time on the assembly line, which, of course, costs money and makes the end product less marketable. So remember, size and shape of an item matter as much as the type of material it is made of. By the way, excess trash in with our plastic waste was one reason China is now refusing to accept plastic waste from us.

Which is where we come in. If we get this recycling job done right, the process is cost effective and the end product is therefore marketable. But wait! There is a lot more to helping our environment than just doing recycling the correct way.

Let’s start at the beginning - when you buy something. Stop right there and consider the amount, size, packaging, and your real need. Current studies indicate that we Americans throw away enough food to feed half the world and then some (yeah, that is an exaggeration but not by too much), so do you really need that much? Will you be able to consume it before it goes bad? What about the packaging - sometimes we have a choice of packaging - so choose to not buy single use plastic containers or, if that is not feasible, buy food in recyclable packaging when you can. Seriously consider whether you really need bottled water in single use plastic bottles. Could you take reusable cloth bags for bagging your groceries? Refuse to buy too much food and Reduce the amount of waste you generate. Refuse paper receipts unless actually needed and Refuse to use wasteful packaging when feasible and Reduce the amount of plastic you use.

You can sometimes Reuse the containers and packaging that you do bring home rather than just throw it away. When do need to dispose of a food container, learn which items can be recycled and which to throw in the garbage.

I think my favorite example of Repurpose is what artists can do with discarded or broken glass, pottery, flatware, and pieces of metal. They make unusual, beautiful, and useful creations from things we no longer need. In any event, there can be a useful, second life for many of the things we no longer need.

We are fighting an uphill battle in this “throw-away” world but it still pays to try to maintain and Repair things to keep them useful for as long as possible. When you finally have to give up on an item, be sure to dispose of it properly.

Of course, Recycle is our topic here, but there are many ways to accomplish our goal of protecting our environment. Sometimes Recycle can be finding the right place for an item’s new life rather than just tossing it in the recycle bin.

• Good, useable clothing can be taken to a local non-profit for reuse.

• Food waste can be recycled to the garden compost pile. Done right, compost is a gold mine for your garden.

• Electronics, if they can’t be repaired, should be disposed of properly. The North Wake Multi-Material Recycling Facility, 9029 Deponie Drive (off Durant Road) handles all sorts of household items that cannot go in your recycle bin or garbage bins.

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