As communities grapple with the expense and environmental challenge of processing garbage, recycling has become a key solution. Although it’s not new, more materials can be recycled and more towns offer curbside pickup. The problem is that multiple bins can overflow as containers and papers collect over the week. As with any organizing task, dealing with recyclables takes planning. Luckily, there are more ways than ever to sort whatever your community recycles, including newspapers, cardboard, bottles, cans, plastics, glass and more.
Benefits of Recycling
The average American discards seven and a half pounds of garbage every day, much of it recyclable, according to the National Recycling Coalition (NRC). With landfill space at a premium and growing demand for recycled products as raw materials, recycling as much rubbish as possible is required in a growing number of towns across the country.
Recycling is an extremely environmentally friendly enterprise. Often, recycled materials cost less for manufacturers; using recycled aluminum cans requires 95 percent less energy than using virgin aluminum, for example, according to the NRC. Recycling reduces greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution, conserves natural resources, protects wildlife and reduces the need for landfills and combustors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the NRC.
Assess Your Town’s Recycling Rules
Recycling regulations and options vary by area and are still in flux as waste management costs rise and recycling options increase. Even if you already recycle, check your municipality’s recyclables list because it may have grown longer or changed.
Your town’s approach to recycling will determine how to collect and sort your recyclables. If you have curbside pickup, as more and more do, you may or may not have to sort by type, such as glass, plastic, aluminum and paper. To make it easier, many towns are allowing “commingling” in which you put all materials in one bin.
While glass and aluminum can generally be recycled into the same-quality material, plastics are less hardy. Most will be turned into different materials like fleece or ingredients in composites. Plus, not all plastics are created equal. Most containers have a recycling logo with a number from 1 through 7 stamped inside. Almost all recycling programs accept 1s; fewer take 7s.
There are special rules for hazardous waste and electronics. Some towns have centers or days set aside for disposing of paint, cleaners and other hazardous materials. Most stores selling computers, electronics and printer inks also recycle them. “Talk to your local pharmacy about disposing of medicines,” says Robertson. “We can’t just flush them down the toilet.”
To find out about drop-off centers in your area, visit Earth 911 and enter the type of material and your ZIP code. Frequently, there are details about recycling in the information pages of your local phone book or on your town or county’s website, and you may want to stop in or call your town’s Board of Health, which often handles garbage disposal and recycling.
Organizing Your Recycling
It may have been easier to throw everything in one trash bin, but those days are gone—which means dealing with many bins until trash day. To get organized, think about not only what your town accepts and how it accepts it but also where and how you use materials until you’re finished with them.
“I have people think about the retention policy of everything they have in their home,” says Robertson. “I often have people set up a mail center with a shredder and a paper recycling bin. If you like to have access to magazines and newspapers, you can have a decorative bin next to the reading chair.”
Space under the sink or in a mud room is often handy for recycling bins. To prevent odors and discourage critters, rinse food or drink thoroughly from bottles, cans and plastic containers. While your town may provide one big blue box for curbside pickup, you may want to organize recyclables in smaller bins until trash day. At home goods stores and on Web sites, there are a variety of bins and recycling systems to fit your space and keep materials sorted.
If you don’t have curbside recycling services, set up larger bins outside. “Transfer everything from your smaller bins in the house into the large ones in the garage, and put a date on the calendar to go to the recycle center,” says professional organizer Christa Patchen Wagner, owner of Savvy Solutions in Seattle.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Experts from coast to coast note that “recycle” is merely the third R in the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Reduce—what the EPA calls “source reduction”—comes first for good reason, say recycling and organizing experts.
“Recycling is not a ‘get out of jail free card,’ ” says Peter Walsh, a decluttering expert who has a weekly XM156 radio show, is a regular on Oprah.com and is the author of How to Organize Just About Everything, It’s All Too Much and Does this Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat? “When we buy something we assume responsibility for it—the manufacturing process, the resources that went into it, the labor costs, the recycling cost, the energy required, the shipping to get it to our door. Cutting down on the front end before worrying about the back end—I don’t think one can exist without the other.”
Standolyn Robertson, owner of Things in Place in Waltham, Mass., and president of the National Association of Professional Organizers, agrees that buying anything should be deemed an investment. Pay attention to packaging, for example: Instead of buying yogurt in six packs of little cups, serve it in small reusable containers for a school lunch box. Bring tote bags to the grocery store rather than using the store’s plastic or paper bags.
“We constantly have to remind people to reduce,” says Anne Reichman, director of Earth911.com. “Everyone starts at recycling, but it’s really the tail end of an overall strategy.”
Credit: Renovate with Tommy Mac