Recycling WTF: The 2 Forgotten Rs
When I started researching this post I thought I was going to write about the basics of recycling- rinse out your containers, take the lids off, don’t put it in a plastic bag. I knew that about 80% of what is even sent to recycling facilities is not usable and I also know the feeling that one little thing won’t make a difference. READ: I don’t feel like carrying this empty can anymore but the only option is a trash can. And, while that is still true, there’s something more glaring than that. I’ve forgotten about the other two "R"s in the equation - Reduce and Reuse.
Of course recycling is important, but the bigger impact is to not have to toss it in the first place. The most effective way of reducing waste is not creating it at all. DUH.
So I took inventory on the things that I throw out on a regular basis and considered how I could reduce.
Here are my top five:
- Opt for reusable flatware instead of single-use: I eat at least two meals a day at the office every day and therefore use my fair share of plastic utensils. If I bring my own flatware from home to the office and use it instead, I could be saving roughly 540 plastic utensils per year.
- Get a mug or thermos and dump the disposable coffee cups: We can discuss my coffee addiction on another day, but, every day, I buy at least one cup of coffee. Conservatively, if I switched to a reusable cup or mug, I would save at least 365 papers cups from the trash.
- End the collection of plastic bags and trade up for a tote: Most cities now charge a fee/fine for requiring a plastic bag, yet I still have a cabinet full of unnecessary plastic bags in my kitchen. If I diligently switched to only using reusable bags for one year, I’d save about 365 plastic bags. And that’s a conservative estimate with the assumption that I only use about five plastic bags at the grocery store per week and maybe two more for miscellaneous errands.
- Get better use out of your linens: While I typically dry my hands with a kitchen towel, it’s safe to say that I use a few paper towels at home each day. I live with three others so we go through about three rolls per week mostly because we don't always have dish towels readily available and washed (because, grown up things). If we, as a household, reduced our paper towel dependency by half, we’d save roughly 78 rolls of paper towels from the trash each year- about $80 in annual savings.
- Go paperless: I would guess that I throw out 80% of the mail I receive without even reading it. Of the 20% I do read, about 5% is actually meaningful (I’m looking at you, Grandma and Pappy). The other 15% are either bills or messages from my utility, cell phone or bank providers. While I can’t stop every single company from sending me mail, I can go paperless with all of my communications with my providers first. Note, this usually means more than just switching to paperless billing, which I do already. Most companies have a second request process to stop receiving all communications via the mail. If I make this change, I’d eliminate about 180 pieces of mail each year - including the envelopes and the few sheets of paper within them.
Just these five personal reductions would eliminate 1,528 units of waste. But, since I’m not one to set myself up for failure, if I can only effectively make half of these changes, that's still a significant difference.
Stay tuned for Part 2: Reusing Beyond Mason Jars You Didn’t Actually Make Jelly in.