Where to Start

the journey to reducing waste

By now I’m sure we’ve all seen the chasing arrows and slogan "reduce, reuse, recycle", but the 3 R's are not all created equal. Most of the emphasis is often put on the recycling but that is the least effective of the three. That is in large part due to some common misconceptions about recycling. Not all things are recycled equally, some materials like paper, cardboard, glass, and aluminum are recycled well. Others, such as plastic, contaminated goods, biodegradable plastic, etc are not. I want to spend some time going over why some materials are better for recycling than others, and some tips and tricks to help! Making environmentally friendly choices does not have to be difficult or life changing, so hopefully this will help motivate you to get started.

Many people think that by simply putting their recycling in the proper bin, it is being taken away and properly recycled, and why wouldn’t they? For a long time, that is what we were made to believe, that as long as we sorted the recycling properly, like plastic water bottles and aluminum cans, that it would be broken down and we could feel good about doing the right thing. Recycling is still the right thing to do, so I do not want to come across as too negative, and things like recycled plastic bottles are better than virgin plastic, but I think it is important to shed some light on the process and what we can do to improve it. Currently, only 5-6% of plastic waste is actually recycled in the US, and of that, almost all is still sent overseas for other countries to deal with where it often just ends up in landfills, oceans or gets incinerated. Some of this comes down to understanding what plastic types your locality accepts for recycling and that any plastic is properly cleaned of food waste. Other materials have a much higher recycling rate, like aluminum, paper, and cardboard. These materials have a much better recycling process in part because they can be used again more effectively than plastics. The best way for us to help the recycling process is to find ways to lower the amount of recycled waste we produce.

Now that we have covered some of the basics around recycling, I think it’s a good time to talk about reducing, reusing, and when applicable: refusing. Changing the way we live can feel very intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! One example of reducing and reusing that is now fairly common practice is bringing your own reusable bag to the grocery store, these bags are a great alternative to the plastic bags that take lifetimes to break down. There are many ways to make subtle changes that can have a major environmental impact without drastically changing the way we live, and we think that this is a great place to start for everyone. Another great way to reduce waste is to refuse the item in the first place, for example, many online ordering sites now allow you to refuse plastic utensils with your order which is a great step in the right direction. #SkipTheStuff

If you are still with us, that is great! We know that getting started can be very intimidating and that there is an overwhelming amount of information on the internet. If you are feeling lost or don’t know where to begin our Novice Navigator blogs will contain lots of simple tricks to avoid generating waste. As you progress and dedicate more time / effort to living a zero-waste life, we suggest you try tips and tricks from Casual Commuter and Avid Adventurer blog series.

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