A man pours his recycling into a bin, he has followed his recycling rules in his area.
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Reduce, reuse, recycle (correctly)

Trash to Treasure: Recycling Rules and Waste Reduction Tricks

Siboney Winter
November 15, 2023

Proper recycling and waste reduction is a critical component of our sustainable future. Each state in the United States has adopted unique approaches to waste management, food waste reduction, composting, and the elimination of single-use plastics. Our diverse landscapes and communities call for creative strategies when it comes to tackling food waste, reducing single-use plastics, and everything in between.

Trash Talk: What's the Deal with Recycling?

Proper recycling in your communities is crucial. But most of us don’t totally understand how to do so properly in our areas. The bad news is that in some places, this could mean whole loads of recycling go into the landfill because they haven’t been properly sorted or cleaned. Bummer! Also, what is recyclable in your city or municipality has probably changed since you learned these rules as a kid.

In general, the following three rules are true.

  1. Recycle bottles, cans, paper, and cardboard.
  2. Keep food and liquids out of your recycling.
  3. No loose plastic bags or bagged recyclables.

However, it’s a bit more complicated than that. For example, a used pizza box is an example of cardboard that is not recyclable because it will have grease stains on it. Your best bet is to watch out for the mailer your waste management provider sends out telling you both when pick-up days are and what exactly is recyclable. Usually, these contain helpful graphics that make it simple. I tape mine above my recycling bin so I don’t have to think about it. You can also find these online and print them out (here is an example from the city of Chicago). Notice there are portions that include additional instructions like the fact that cardboard boxes need to be flattened first.

Reducing Waste in the First Place

Instead of recycling items, it’s better to not need to use them in the first place. We've got tips and tricks to simplify the way you cut down on waste without breaking the bank.

Waste Reduction Wisdom

1. Sip Sustainably

Grab your reusable bottle or cup, not just for the gym but for life on the go! Keep one in your car, and you'll save money on expensive drinks while reducing waste. Bonus: Some coffee shops even offer discounts when you BYO mug.

2. Ditch Disposables

Say no to single-use food containers and utensils. Consider investing in a reusable straw and keep a set of silverware at work for wash-and-repeat action. It not only reduces waste but keeps your food fresher for longer with reusable meal prep containers.

3. Secondhand Chic

Embrace the secondhand shopping trend! Not only are you reducing waste, but you're also supporting local charities. Hunt online for secondhand treasures and give items a second life.

4. Go Digital

Make the switch from paper to digital. Opt for digital receipts, online newsletters, and e-books. They're not only eco-friendly but harder to lose than paper receipts. Additionally, many paper receipts are coated in BPA, which can be harmful to your health.

5. Shop Local, Buy in Bulk

Farmers' markets are your eco-friendly BFF. You'll get fresh, low-packaging produce, support local farmers, and save on transport costs. Bring your own reusable containers for a sustainable win-win.

Reducing food waste

Now that we've covered some of the best non-food waste reduction practices let's dig deeper into the major culprits behind our staggering food waste. Understanding these factors will not only help us combat waste but also contribute to a more sustainable and mindful approach to the resources we have at our fingertips. So, let's turn our attention to the most significant food waste issues and explore how we can make a difference.

Someone scarping food into the trash

We've got some eye-opening facts to share about the state of waste in America. While the world tosses out a staggering 2.5 billion tons of food annually, the U.S. leads the pack, throwing away an astonishing 60 million tons or 1,320 billion pounds of food every year. That's roughly 325 pounds of waste per person, equivalent to each of us trashing 975 average-sized apples! Food is the heavyweight champ in our landfills, accounting for a whopping 22% of all municipal solid waste.

But wait, there's more to the story: the price tag of all this discarded food is a staggering $218 billion, which equals a jaw-dropping 130 billion meals.

So, why do we waste so much food?

It's a mix of factors. Over 80% of Americans toss perfectly good food because they're mystified by expiration labels. While many around the world struggle with food shortages, we have an abundance of affordable food sources. We're known for our impulsive food purchases and a preference for take-out over cooking at home. Leftovers often go unnoticed, and food scraps head to the trash when they could be composted. Unfortunately, composting isn't part of our usual routine, leading to bulging landfills.

The good news is that change is in the air. Several states are taking steps to curb food waste and promote food recovery. Legislators in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont have passed laws to limit the amount of food waste sent to landfills. Vermont even went a step further with its "Universal Recycling Law," effectively banning food scrap waste. The result? Statewide food donations shot up by a remarkable 40%.

Wasted food production in the U.S. generates greenhouse emissions equivalent to 37 million cars. Continuing on this path of food loss could spell environmental disaster.

What Next?

As we embark on this journey, it's clear that there is no one-size-fits-all solution but rather a rich tapestry of sustainable practices. By understanding and embracing these variations, we can all contribute to the collective effort to protect our planet, no matter where we call home.

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