A Small Town Girl Learning How to Recycle

OK, I can admit it: I’m a little late to the party on recycling. OK, way late to the party on recycling. And as taboo as not recycling has become in our society, I know I’m not alone. According to the EPA, in 2008, Americans generated about 250 million tons of trash and recycled and composted 83 million tons of it. That makes a 33.2 percent recycling rate. I thought we were doing better than that. After all, we’ve had 40 years of Earth Day observances now to raise awareness.

So what’s my excuse? The opportunity just wasn’t easily accessible where I grew up, and that’s a problem not unique to my small town. So for the Earth Day blog entry, I thought it would make sense to write about the basics of recycling, because not all of us are fluent in the language of recycling yet. But we want to be. I think this is a good first step.

To me, the big intimidating one seems to be plastic. Plastics have numbers from #1 to #7 imprinted in them inside the chasing arrows triangle. The numbers were introduced in 1988 by the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and are resin identification codes. They are a way to tell what kind of plastic the item is made from. According to The Environmental Magazine column Earth Talk, polyethylene terephthalate (PETE) items are assigned the #1. The lower the number, the easier an item is to recycle.

I could make this post even longer than it already will be by telling you about each type of plastic, but I think this chart from the American Chemistry Council tells you everything you could want to know better than I could.

Then there’s glass. Glass is 100 percent recyclable and can be reused time and time again. Most programs only accept glass containers because other items like light bulbs and drinking glasses are often treated with chemicals. Glass is separated into four colors: clear, blue, brown and green. It has to be separated by color to make sure new glass isn’t created from a mixture of colors.

Now the other type of basic recyclable is the one that I think a lot of us find easiest. That’s paper. Being that where I work is newspaper office, it makes sense that there are several blue bins throughout it for the paper to be tossed in. But I still wonder about what types of paper can be tossed in. I usually throw it all in there, hoping I’m being helpful. I’ve heard that the glue on envelopes or stamps on them can defeat the purpose of putting the envelope in there. Also, just today I was once again wondering about the usefulness of including glossy paper.

So here’s what I found out.

Paper’s fiber isn’t quite like glass, lasting forever. It gets weaker over time and generally has a lifespan of about seven “generations.” The Consumer Recycling Guide says white office paper is the highest grade. Newspaper is also valuable because it’s so uniform. It’s OK if the paper has staples in it and even envelopes with the plastic windows are accepted now (What a relief!), but get rid of rubber bands and stickers. Like plastic, there are several categories that paper can fall into. Newspapers should be alone. Glossy papers, fliers, phone books and computer paper can be together. Corrugated cardboard goes on its own, and plastic-lined drinking cartons are accepted at some places now. Nothing with food on it is a go though.

So! There you have it. There’s so much to cover about recycling and it can seem intimidating, but I think this is at least a springboard to get deeper into it. Now, I need to make an effort to recycle all that I can. The hardest part will be doing it without a curbside service, so it should be interesting. Earth911.com is a great resource for finding recycling resources near you, curbside or not. If you have any tips for a newbie recycler, please toss them my way! I’d love to try them myself and share them with others.

Look for future posts with more detailed info on recycling specific types of items.


One Comment Add yours

  1. jana says:

    jacquelyn, thanks for posting the link to the chart by americanchemistry! for the longest time i thought #6 and #7 were non-recyclable. also thanks for the info about recycling at whole foods elsewhere on your blog. though they do not represent my personal heaven and i haven’t been there in weeks, recycling option would be a major step on their way to redemption 🙂

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