1. Use a reusable bottle/cup for beverages on-the-go
You might already have a reusable water bottle, but do you use it all the time? You can put that reusable bottle to use, save money, and reduce waste. By taking your own water with you, you’ll also reduce your chances of purchasing more expensive beverages on-the-go. This will eliminate the one-time use containers they come in. While most cans and bottles can be recycled, they require a lot of energy to be produced, shipped to the bottling facility and then to the store for purchase.
2. Use reusable grocery bags, and not just for groceries
Just like a reusable water bottle, you may already have a reusable grocery bag, though it’s often forgotten at home. Try writing BAGS on the top of your grocery list to help you remember, or keep them in the back seat where they aren’t as easy to forget. Many grocery stores will provide a 5 cent per bag refund so you’ll save a few cents while reducing your usage of one-time-use plastic bags.
3. Purchase wisely and recycle
You can reduce the amount of waste you produce by purchasing products that come with less packaging and/or come in packaging that can be recycled. Not all plastics are recyclable in Delaware, so check labels before your buy. According to Delaware’s Division of Waste and Hazardous Substances website, “Containers labeled with a 1 or a 2 are almost always accepted because they are the highest value resins. Resins 4, 5 and 7 are now accepted in most programs in Delaware.” Plastics labeled with a 3/PVC and 6/PS are generally not recyclable in Delaware. Learn more about recycling programs in Delaware at http://www.recyclerightde.org.
4. Compost it!
Did you know as much as 25% of the items in your trash could potentially be removed from the waste stream andcomposted in your back yard? Your fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds, grass clippings, and leaves can all be composted. While composting requires more effort than the previously mentioned lifestyle changes, it will provide you with a beneficial return on your investment of time and effort. Depending on the conditions, you may have compost in 3 to 12 months to use in your garden. You’ll save on fertilizers and if you grow your own vegetables, you’ll likely see improved yields. The organic matter will also act as a sponge to absorb more water, meaning you might not need to water your plants as much, saving you money and time.
5. Avoid single-use food and drink containers and utensils
Whenever possible, try to avoid single-use coffee cups, disposable utensils, straws and napkins. Some businesses will even give you a discount on your coffee for bringing your own mug. Keep a set of silverware at work along with a plate, bowl and cup that you can wash and reuse. Skip the plastic straw altogether or buy reusable metal ones instead. Remember, a lot of these items are made from plastic, had to be delivered by a truck, and will end up in a landfill once we have used them one time. Anything we can do to reduce our use of these products adds up to make a big impact.
6. Buy secondhand items and donate used goods
Before you go buy something new, consider buying it used which can also save you lots of money. That can mean buying secondhand clothes at Goodwill, used furniture and repurposed construction materials at Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, or searching Craigslist for a deal on a bicycle. By purchasing secondhand items you’ll be supporting local charities in addition to saving items from ending up in the dump.
7. Shop local farmers markets and buy in bulk to reduce packaging
Shopping at your local farmers market is a win-win. First, you’ll be supporting local farmers while also getting fresher ingredients than you might find in the big-box grocery store. Food produced locally doesn’t have to be shipped as far or refrigerated in transit. Local farmers often rely on less packaging and many are happy to have you return last week’s berry basket or egg carton for use next week. You can also majorly reduce packaging waste by shopping at stores that sell food in bulk, but you’ll need to come prepared with your own containers.
8. Curb your use of paper: mail, receipts, magazines
In today’s digital world, most companies offer bills by email, and some even offer incentives to do so. More stores are offering e-receipts, too, which are great because they’re harder to lose if you need to make a return. Consider digital subscriptions for your favorite magazines that you can read on your tablet or computer. Digital subscriptions are often a little cheaper than the hard-copy version, as well.
There are numerous companies that allow you opt out of their marketing mailings; we like the options offered at www.ecocycle.org/junkmail. If you get an unwanted weekly packet of grocery store circulars in your mailbox, talk to your mail carrier and they will stop delivering it.
Reuse is when a product is used again in the same form and for the same purpose. It is one of the best ways to stop waste, and there are tons of opportunities to put it into practice every day.
This page is broken up into general tips and specific examples.
Consider Reusable Products
Single-use items are permanent products that become trash after only minutes of use. Do your best to choose reusable.
- Select sturdy and washable utensils and tableware at home, picnics, and parties
- Use washable cloth napkins, sponges, and dish cloths
- Purchase refillable items.
- Use Rechargeable Batteries
- Take only what you need if you have to use single use items (e.g. take only one paper napkin instead of a handful)
Maintain and Repair Durable Products
Keeping what we already have functioning not only saves money, it saves other resources too!
Research large purchases, such as appliances and televisions, to determine which are the most energy efficient, durable, and repairable
- Maintain and repair appliances, computers, and portable electronics.
- Purchase high quality, long lasting tires for vehicles and bikes. Check pressure regularly and rotate tires to keep them in tip top shape
- Mend clothing and repair shoes, boots, handbags, and luggage whenever possible. LessIsMore.org will be adding more repairing services as time goes on
Reuse Bags, Containers and Other Items
- Bring your reusable shopping bag to the grocery store and beyond. If you do have single use bags, use them again!
- Bring a reusable mug to the coffee shop
- Bring reusable takeout containers with you to restaurants (it saves them money!)
- Pack lunches in a reusable bag with reusable food and drink containers
- Reuse containers and other materials for storage and crafts
- Reuse single-sided printed pages for scratch paper
- Find new homes for clothing and linens, or use them for rags, patchwork, and other projects
Borrow, Rent, and Share!
Many of us have tools and other items that we don’t use on a regular basis. Consider sharing them with your neighbors and friends. Renting is also a great option. Good candidates include:
- Power tools, ladders, and garden tillers
- Boats and other outdoor equipment
- Formal wear
- Party decorations and supplies (tables etc.)
- Audiovisual equipment
Sell or Donate Goods
Many of the reuse pages above list sites where you can resell your goods, but here are some other ideas:
- Donate or sell items to thrift stores or organizations in need
- Sell secondhand items at fairs, swap meets, and garage sales
- Give used items to family members, neighbors, and the needy
1. No bags. Like really, no bags.
Grocery bags dissolve into potentially harmful microplastics and, in the case of ingestion or entanglement, hurt and kill animals. They’re pretty much the worst. Even though these bags are technically recyclable, you must go to a drop-off area to do that, not your curbside bin.
Plastic bags are the number-one contaminant in recycling loads. Plastic bags act as “tanglers,” getting caught in machinery and shutting down the equipment.
In some cases, like in Montgomery County, Maryland, when plastic bags full of recyclables arrive at the facility, workers are not allowed to open the bags, says Griselda Guillen of the county’s recycling center. That means the entire bag, even if it’s full of water bottles, is considered trash.
Though grocery bags may be posterchildren of plastic pollution, sandwich bags, bubble wrap, plastic wrapping and other flimsy materials that don’t survive the poke test — where the plastics are soft enough to push your finger through it — are also prime candidates for commercial drop-off areas, not the residential recycling bin.
This also means you shouldn’t bag your recyclables. Instead, dump them loosely right into your blue bins.
Solution: Buy a couple canvas bags and get some reusable containers.
2. Small things are big problems
Don’t recycle anything smaller than a credit card. That includes straws, bottle caps, coffee pods, plastic cutlery, paperclips, and a million other tiny things that creep into our daily lives. These objects are too small to be sorted and can jam the recycling equipment.
At Montgomery County, Maryland’s Recycling Center, these contaminants can shut down machines 10–15 times a day, says Guillen.
But what about plastic lids and metal bottlecaps? you might ask.
Helen Lee of Alexandria, Virginia’s Resource Recovery Division points out that “if you put the plastic cap back on the bottle, it becomes bigger than a business card, so it would be captured [by the sorting equipment].”
According to the Association of Plastic Recyclers, when plastics are grinded into pellets, the different numbered plastics have different weights and can be separated easily after that.
That’s not so easy for metal bottlecaps, which tend to fall off glass bottles. You can sometimes bring these metal bottle caps to companies that take scrap.
Solution: Be conscious of what you throw in that recycling bin.
3. Make sure it’s clean, empty and dry
Food waste contaminates whole loads of recyclable material, rendering them useless and fast-tracking them to landfills. In the U.S., food waste contaminates 25 percent of our recycling loads.
“The message we try to have residents remember is clean, empty and dry,” says Lee.
But just how clean?
“I always tend to tell people that their recyclable material should be clean enough to use again,” says Howard Lee of Washington, D.C.’s Office of Waste Diversion. “So, if you’re putting things in the bin and you’re concerned about rodents or rats or anything like that, then chances are your recyclables are not clean.”
With that in mind, be wary of advertising at your local fast-food joint. I recently saw a paper taco bowl that read, “Please Recycle. We Care About the Environment.” That’s fake news. You can’t recycle something covered in salsa and beans. You may have better luck composting that bowl, but again, it’s complicated.
You can also recycle pizza boxes… if they’re not covered in cheese and grease. If they are, you can always tear off the clean part and recycle that.
Solution: Just as the rule states, make sure your recyclables are clean, empty and dry. It’ll take seconds and if everyone did it, it would save tons of recyclables going to the landfill.
4. Combined materials are trash
Recycling only works when like materials are together. Unfortunately, items like plastic-coated coffee cups, laminated paper and paper-bubble wrap envelopes from the mail can’t ever be separated, which means they’re trash.
Solution: Try to avoid buying nonrecyclable materials that can’t be separated. And when you can, shop local to cut down on the carbon footprint of your products.
5. Know your plastics
Not all plastics are treated equally. Rigid plastics are recyclable, labeled by resin codes 1 through 7. Generally, the higher the number, the less recyclable it is. Most recycling centers will recycle plastics 1 and 2 without a problem. Past that, it gets tricky.
Furthermore, a lot of plastic just isn’t recyclable curbside. As noted earlier, you can’t recycle plastic bags or films. Additionally, you can’t recycle anything that can tear like paper. That means no cracker bags, chip bags or cereal bags.
“With plastics, it does get so confusing,” says Erin Hafner of Baltimore’s recycling program. “Clamshell containers, cutlery, plastic straws — all that stuff that ends up in the [recycling] bin.” And it shouldn’t.
Solution: Check your city’s recycling website for the number the city takes.
6. Stop wishcycling
When it comes to recycling, one of the worst things you can do is wishcycle. That’s when we optimistically put non-recyclable objects in recycling bins. When we do this, we contaminate whole loads of otherwise recyclable materials.
“A lot of people wish that this material can be recycled, and it seems like it’s made out of the materials that could be recycled, but sometimes it’s not,” says Helen Lee.
Cities have certain thresholds to meet when they send their recyclables to third-party waste management companies. If they surpass these thresholds — in other words, if there’s too much trash mixed into the recycling load — that entire load could end up in a landfill.
So when you wishcycle, you screw up the entire system.
Solution: Don’t wishcycle.
7. Teach yourself
At the end of the day, we can’t know everything. There’s a bunch of stuff we accumulate over our lives — batteries, electronics, paint cans, toys, clothing, wood — and they, unfortunately, all have separate drop off centers or special instructions for recycling.
Solution: Hit up your local recycling website, and teach yourself what you need to know. This article only gets you so far.
Of course, you can change your individual behavior: Clean containers better, only recycle what’s recyclable and most importantly, reduce your overall use.
“[Be] mindful of how you purchase products,” says Howard Lee. “Start with reducing the amount of waste you create. Once you’ve gotten the hang of reducing your waste — maybe not buying so many water bottles — you can start to reuse things that you have and recycle or compost before getting to a landfill.”
But don’t let industry off the hook, either. Manufacturers and lobbyists have created a single-use empire built on this false narrative of recycling as the be-all-end-all solution to our consumption habits. Get mad. Make some noise. Demand solutions, not delays. That materials like plastics are unavoidable in our market economy is not your fault.
Eco Graphic Designs are members of Laurel Leaf Networking.