Trash has already caused widespread damage to the planet’s ecosystems, and it’s just growing every day. Americans produce an average of almost 5 pounds of waste daily, and only about 1 pound of that is sent in for recycling. Landfills are filling at an alarmingly fast rate, so it’s time to take waste reduction and management more seriously!
Today, many organizations are making an effort to reuse and recycle as much waste as possible. Nothing is off the table when it comes to what can be recycled, and how. As we have seen with the printer cartridge recycling scheme, the possibilities are untold. This is not only because they see recycling as a viable business opportunity, but also to help save the environment. As consumers, we need to understand our role in this process, and how we can maximize our efforts to help them out.
Here are 5 of the most commonly asked questions about recycling and waste management:
Q1. What Are Recyclable, Pre-Consumer and Post-Consumer Materials?
Recyclable materials are products, packaging and other materials that can be recycled into a new form. Recycled materials may form part or all of a new product, or simply sold as raw material for use in different industries.
Pre-consumer material is what’s leftover or discarded when something else is being produced by manufacturers, such as obsolete or damaged parts, factory trimmings, etc. These are ideal for recycling into something new.
Post-consumer material is what’s returned by consumers and recycled into something else, after serving the purpose for which it was originally intended. Buying post-consumer recycled materials helps drive demand for recycling in communities.
Q2. What Materials or Products Can Be Recycled?
Almost everything we use can be recycled or reused, including:
• Paperboard packaging (milk/juice cartons, cereal boxes, etc.)
• Corrugated cardboard packaging
• Magazines and newspapers
• All kinds of office paper
• Bound books and phonebooks
• Pamphlets, brochures and other mail
• Clear, brown and green glass bottles
• Aluminum cans, foil and bakeware
• Tin/steel cans
• Plastic containers or bottles rated 1-7
• PET and HDPE plastic
• Plastic grocery bags
• Copper wiring
• Incandescent, LED and CFL lightbulbs
• Consumer electronics such as laptops, TVs and cellphones
• Office equipment such as faxes, printers, toner/ printer cartridges, etc.
• Disposable and rechargeable batteries
• Car batteries and tires
• Wooden pallets
Not all of these items should be put into a recycling bin, however. Some may require special processing or collection methods, so you should check what is accepted by your local recycling or waste management program. Also look into solutions for recycling organic waste, which can usually be turned into compost.
Q3. What Needs to Be Thrown Away Instead of Recycled?
Here are some examples of items that cannot be recycled, or are very expensive to recycle:
• Any plastic which is not rated 1-7
• Disposable plastic cutlery
• Plastic lunch bags/Ziploc bags
• Plastic/metal caps and lids
• Plastic overnight mail envelopes
• Carbon paper and waxed cardboard
• Glass contaminated with food, dirt, etc.
• Ceramic ovenware, dishware or decorative items
• Pyrex and other heat-resistant glass
• Glass from mirrors or windows
Some of these materials may be recyclable at certain centers, so you should look into the options before throwing them away.
Q4. Why Do Some Materials Need Special Attention?
Certain materials may be recyclable, but require specialized equipment or processing, which may not be available at your local recycling center. You can look for programs in other areas or solutions for reusing this waste, but the most effective way to keep them out of landfills is to reduce their use as much as possible.
Here are some examples of materials that require special attention or processing:
• Electronic waste
• Aseptics (Tetra Pak containers)
• Smoke or fire alarms/detectors
• Thermometers and medical equipment
• Large appliances (microwaves, refrigerators, etc.)
• CRTs (cathode-ray tubes) from TVs/computer monitors
• E-waste contaminated with sludge or liquids
Q5. What is the Positive Impact of Recycling?
We already know that recycling waste helps to keep garbage out of landfills, but the benefits don’t end there.
Manufacturing new goods also takes a heavy toll on natural resources, while energy consumption is very high for production and transportation processes as well. As such, reducing consumption by reusing or recycling materials has a huge impact on the environment. It helps to preserve our resources and reduces pollution as well.
Effective waste reduction and management takes place at three basic stages:
• Collection – With proper sorting and collection, recycling centers and consumers can ensure that most recyclable waste is actually recycled. Sort and dispose of waste according to your recycling program’s guidelines, and keep it as clean as possible.
• Manufacturing/Processing – Today, the market for recycled materials is growing, both locally and internationally. Recycling companies need specialized equipment such as trash compactors, but there are many support programs to help them set up.
• Buying – When you buy recycled goods and encourage others to do so as well, you’re providing a huge boost to organizations and companies that focus on recycling. Buy in bulk or locally as far as possible, to minimize packaging waste as well.
Compared to the cost of new production, the energy impact of an industrial waste compactor or other recycling equipment is minimal. Reducing garbage from the waste stream is something we all need to focus on, before the entire planet becomes one giant landfill!