Monday, October 31, 2011

Step Five: Find Your Local Recycling Programs

Some people, like me, consider recycling okay within the zero waste parameters, while other people consider it a kind of cheating. I think recycling is okay, as long as the materials are truly recycled, not just downcycled. Glass and metal can be recycled indefinitely, so long as the batch remains uncontaminated. Paper and cardboard can be recycled about five to eight times before the fibers become too short to be reused. I'm okay with paper recycling though, because once paper and cardboard products are completely spent they can be composted.

I try to avoid plastic, as the recycling process is still too complicated to be practical, though I don't beat myself up when I make the occasional plastic contribution to my recycling bin. I do write a lot of adamant letters about how cans shouldn't be lined in plastic, how we should disassemble things with multiple types of material, rather than crush them into smaller cubes, and how less packaging is better than recyclable packaging. The recycling system might not be perfect, but I think it's better to work towards making an imperfect system better than it is to shun the system entirely, so I've decided that recycling fits withing my zero waste parameters.

No matter what you decide, when you're first making the push for zero waste you'll uncover a lot of stuff that you might not need anymore. A lot of stuff can be given away, donated to a thrift store, or sold, but even more of it probably won't be useful to anyone and needs to just be gotten rid of. Sometimes there will be nothing else to do with a thing but throw it away, however, a lot of stuff can easily be recycled, so long as you know where. This is why today we're going to work on finding the recycling centers and programs closest to you.

If you have a municipal recycling program, great for you. If you're not sure, check your city website in the waste management section, or call the number on your waste management utility bill. It's often not required for you to sign up for the service to participate in it. Most cities simply require proof of residency for you to make a drop-off. This can be handy for readers who've decided that recycling isn't part of their zero waste plan, but if you think recycling is okay, now is a great time to sign up for your city's recycling plan.

I realize that not everyone is lucky enough to have a municipal recycling program, and while I strongly recommend that you start a campaign to get one (letter-writing, petitions, and attending city council meetings are all great things to do), in the meantime you'll need to find other places to recycle all your cast-offs.

The first place to go to find recycling centers is This handy website lists recycling centers across the U.S. for everything imaginable. They even allow for readers to submit information about recycling centers that Earth 911 hasn't discovered yet. This makes them a great resource not only to find recycling information, but to share it as well. They also have handy little articles, though I find most of the content to be fairly basic.

If you're having a hard time finding a way to recycle certain materials, try going to a store that deals with similar things. Target stores recycle glass, plastic, and small electronics. Many grocery stores, including Walmart, now take back plastic shopping bags, and most eye centers will take your old glasses back to donate to third world residents in need of corrective eye-wear. A plethora of electronics stores take back batteries for recycling, many thrift stores will take bags of completely worn-out clothes so long as those bags are labeled "rags", and Habitat for Humanity ReStores all across the country will take most kinds of home improvement materials, new and used.

As you go through the steps necessary to create a zero waste household, you'll find that being able to recycle old soda bottles, junk mail, and broken household items allows you to get rid of the stuff and feel good while doing it. The recycling system may not be perfect, but it's often better to try and give something new life than bury it forever in a landfill.

First time reading about a hundred steps to zero waste? Go here for the introduction and index.

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