Recycling in my home is a must. Everyone knows “the rules” and our set-up is simple, but if you’ve ever wondered about the wonder of recycling and if your efforts are well worth the effort, then take a look at these facts I discovered via Earth911 and you’ll see why it matters…
(… it matters… it really, really matters…)
- Aluminum cans – more than 50% of cans are recycled and once placed in a recycling receptacle, they are often back on store shelves as a “new can” within 60 days! Because of its durability (and the efforts of many), approximately two-thirds of aluminum ever produced is still in use today!
- Glass – it can be recycled indefinitely! 80% of recovered glass is turned into new glass containers with a turnaround time of about 30 days!
- Magazines – only 20% ever gets recycled. What a waste! They can’t be recycled into new magazine paper but they ARE recyclable – they get turned into newspaper, paperboard and writing paper.
- Newspaper – it’s incredibly easy to recycle and the 24 billion newspapers circulated worldwide annually(!) can be recycled right back into another edition to hit the newsstand!
- Plastic bottles – only 2 out of every 10 plastic water bottles is recycled… and Americans buy about 28 billion water bottles each year. The interesting thing is that 96% of plastic bottles produced are “recycle #1 and #2”… and these are absolutely recycled everywhere!!!
- Paper – approximately 40% of solid waste in the US is paper products! I wrote a post dedicated to all the things you need to know about paper recycling (since it seems to be the one with the greatest potential for confusion!), so check it out here! But without question, RECYCLE IT!
I honestly think that NOT recycling is inexcusable. An estimated 75% of Americans have curbside recycling and most of the remaining majority has at least some access to a recycling facility.
If you ever doubted your recycling efforts… don’t. If you ever thought about short-cutting recycling… don’t. If you haven’t started a dedicated recycling effort at home… DO!
The other day my dear friend, Jenn, contacted me looking for some advice about purchasing paper. Knowing that all of the information spewed on the package of a simple ream of paper – content percentages, certifications, etc. – can get overwhelming, I decided to share my answer with everyone and clear up the confusion.
It’s first important to understand what all of the potentially confusing terms mean, so here goes…
- Recycled content – simply means that the paper has been made from some recycled content that has been reprocessed. The important thing to look for is the percentage. The claim of “recycled content” can mean that a mere 1% is recycled, so don’t make any assumptions based on the use of these words… you are looking for a quantifiable percentage.
- Post-consumer – this paper was previously a consumer item that has been recycled into a new post-consumer paper fiber.
- Pre-consumer – this paper was previously a by-product of paper manufacturing that has been recycled into a new pre-consumer paper fiber.
- Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper – this certification simply assures that the paper is made from new fiber that comes from a sustainably managed forest. This does not mean it has any recycled content unless it says so.
So, which one do you choose?
Here are my thoughts… choose the paper with the highest percentage of post- and/or pre-consumer content. Yes, 100% is absolutely the best. You may also find a combination of both, and whether it is post-consumer or pre-consumer, it doesn’t matter… it has been recycled regardless and the only difference is where the recycled content originated.
Given the choice of “50% post-consumer” or “30% post-consumer/30% pre-consumer”, go for the 30/30 blend because the combination actually means that 60% of the content is recycled. Add the percentages together for the percent of total recycled content.
FSC certified sounds lovely but, in reality, it’s still new paper… meaning trees (albeit from a sustainable forest) have been cut for its production. However, if you cannot buy 100% recycled content, it is definitely better to choose something with the FSC certification (so you at least know the forest is sustainable) and with at least some percentage of post- or pre-consumer content.
Confused yet? 🙂
Bottom line, it’s the total percentage of recycled content that matters… the higher, the better. If your wallet (or your company’s budget) can afford it, 100% recycled content is 100% the best.
By now, the gifts should be purchased and the wrapping is underway! So, while you’ve certainly paid special attention to what you’ve selected, how you “present the present” also needs special attention too.
The average household output of trash actually increases by 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, due in part to wrapping paper, packaging, boxes and all of the waste that results from the holidays. Gasp! I fully intend NOT to be one of those households and will recycle everything in sight, but while you can manage what happens with the waste from the gifts you receive, you can’t guarantee what the recipients of your gifts will do…
So before you unroll yards and yards of wrapping paper, ribbons and massive bows… halt!… and consider these better ways!:
- Buy recycled wrapping paper if you absolutely MUST wrap with paper (yea, I understand that kids love to unwrap!)
- Use, save, reuse, reuse and reuse gift bags. They can have an amazingly long life. Try to choose uncoated paper though… it simply recycles better when it finally comes to the end of its use.
- Put the gift in a reusable bag. You can often score a reusable bag for less than the cost of a gift bag, and then it becomes a gift in and of itself!
- Use part of the gift as the wrap. Scarf? Towel? Basket? Bowl? Wrap it around or put it inside.
- Wrap with fabric scraps and biodegradable raffia. Simple as that!
- Skip bows and opt for berries, pinecones, evergreen clipping, twigs or a real flower instead. These natural embellishments can even make brown craft paper look festive!
- Before you toss out this year’s wall calendar, use the images for wrapping smaller packages.
- Use old holiday card photos or images to create your gift tag. You have ‘em, so use ‘em!
- Reuse, reduce, recycle. Save the materials you receive to be reused (gift bags, bows, ribbon). Reduce the amount of materials you use for your gift giving. Recycle all of the paper and packaging from your gifts and make sure they go in the bin, not the trash can.
- (You can also choose not to wrap anything it all! My mom told me “in her day” her Christmas gifts from Santa weren’t wrapped! They appeared under the tree “au naturale!” Hmmm… makes you wonder how and when Santa changed his policies!)
This will all be over before you know it! Take a deep breath, grab your green supplies and see if you can join me in avoiding that 25%!
I received a great response to my recent post about recycling paper. Recycling always seems to be a great mystery, as so many cities and municipalities have varying rules. When you consider that the average American produces 4.5 pounds of trash DAILY (75% of that IS recyclable), we certainly want to make the right decisions.
It’s often hard to compile a “grand list” of everything you can and cannot do, but the best resource I can provide is earth911. Simply enter your area code on the homepage and you will (hopefully) find your city or recycling resource to answer specific questions.
But, in the broad sense, I hope to help dispel some myths about the “real” answers for recycling… some may be a big surprise…
- Paper – refer to my prior post… I think I covered it all!
- Glass – rinse out the original contents as best you can. Don’t worry about labels since they’ll be removed in processing. You CAN recycle the metal caps(!)… most recyclers will accept them. Do NOT attempt to recycle treated glass, like plates, drinking glasses, windows, etc. This glass is, unfortunately, contaminated due to the special “treatment” they have received.
- Metals – every can should be hitting the recycling can! Soup, soda, veggie cans (even the top you’ve removed)… they’re all recyclable. Even wire coat hangers, aluminum foil, pie tins… include them all! And a new revelation to me… aerosol cans, as long as they have not contained a hazardous waste. I sincerely never knew they could be recycled, but just be sure they are EMPTY. That is the key. If your recycler does not accept them, they will be quickly weeded-out, but it’s worth a try!
- Plastic – most plastic bottles and jugs (with necks narrower than the body) can be recycled, just be sure to remove the plastic caps. They are a different type of plastic and can cause contamination in the recycling process. Number 5 plastics are often questionable. This is one where you should definitely refer to your local recycler, but remember that there is a use for Number 5’s!… don’t count them out and send them to the trash can too quickly! They are also good candidates for the reuse category, although maybe not for food items, due to the plastic-leaching issues.
Take these tips, memorize them and soon your 75% of daily trash will find its way to the proper destination… the cherished land of “Recycleville!”
Not long ago I wrote a post about whether or not pizza boxes can be recycled. I quickly realized that this is only scratching the surface of a topic that often leaves us scratching our heads.
So while we all likely understand the fundamentals of a paper recycling, there is also some uncertainty about the details. Here are a few things you (may not, but) SHOULD know!
- DO NOT let the paper get wet. Since recyclers purchase paper by weight, the entire lot may get rejected if they see wet paper. Check your weather before it goes to the curb unless you are certain the rain won’t get in!
- No food! Dirty paper plates, napkins, paper towels, etc. are, unfortunately, trash… or should go to compost. But please, not in the recycle bin – they will quickly cross contaminate the other contents.
- Do not worry about little things like small paper clips, plastic envelope windows, staples, labels, metal envelope latches or even notebook spirals. Unlike food matter, they separate easily in processing and can be removed from the batch.
- Watch the adhesives! Heavily glued (sticky) items can ruin batches of recycled paper. Don’t toss in those “complimentary” address labels and other stickers. Post-It Notes are fine but if an envelope has a heavy self-stick flap, tear it off first.
- Allow tape in moderation. Some tape here and there won’t hurt, but if a box is wrapped in yards of shipping tape, remove it as best you can. Paper tape is A-OK!
- Don’t shred paper unless you must – most recyclers don’t like accepting shredded paper because it’s a challenge to sort. If you are a “shredder”, contain it in a paper bag first (or it can be composed!).
- Skip the heavy-dye, saturated papers with deep, dark colors or fluorescents. It’s difficult to bleach them back to a usable form.
- No plastic or wax coated papers (like paper cups), but glossy papers (like magazines) are acceptable.
- Consider dropping your paper at a local paper retriever site (at schools, churches or other non-profits…like this service in my area). You can be assured that your paper is being recycled AND it can benefit an organization by helping them earn money.
Remember, the EPA estimates that 40% of solid waste in the U.S. is paper products… shameful! But paper can actually be recycled up to seven times, and it is easier and cheaper to make pulp from recycled fibers than from wood… awesome! And one more tidbit to share:
Each ton of recycled paper can save 17 trees… and those 17 saved trees can absorb a total of 250 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each year!
I hope you never look at paper the same way again… paper recycling rules!