Part 5: Your Guide To Recycling And Composting
By Kait Spielmaker
The 411 on Recycling
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. A phrase most of us learned in elementary school. Recycling is great in theory but it is very tedious task that most Americans don’t fully understand. Countries around the world would sell much of their recyclables to China to be processed into new material. During the last year, China laid out much more stringent rules on what they would accept from recycling centers around the world. So exactly what can you recycle? The answer is not definitive. Most cities have their own rules and regulations so it is important to know material accepted for recycling where you live, especially since it may have changed in the last year due to China’s strict mandate.
What Can Go in Your Recycling Bin?
Not knowing can be harmful because recyclables that are contaminated will end up at a landfill. Plastic grocery bags, single use coffee cups, and greasy pizza boxes, unfortunately, cannot be recycled.
People want to feel a certain gratification and feel like they’re doing something good and for many people that may mean putting everything in the recycling bin. According to the New York Times, about twenty five percent of all recycling is contaminated and sent to a landfill. Waste Management has seen its fair share of bowling balls roll down the conveyor belt with other recyclables.
A lot of what we dispose of in our recycling bins is piling up in recycling centers with no where for it to go. A advantageous way to alleviate some of this problem is by reducing the packaging you purchase with the intention of recycling it. I have begun thinking of the 3 R’s in order. First I reduce, then I’ll reuse and as a last resort I will recycle, but I am focused on breaking away from the dependency on recycling.
The 411 on Composting
Okay, so what about composting? Composting is great if you have a garden or a yard where you can keep your compost bins. I have neither. In fact I don’t have any gardens on my block.
I used to throw unconsumed food in the garbage and not think twice about it. It’s organic matter that will break down no matter what, right?
This is a tough pill to swallow but food scraps that end up in a landfill usually don’t get enough oxygen to decompose properly and in turn the process of breaking down emits methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is approximately 30 times more toxic than CO2.
Why Composting Makes a Difference
According to the EPA, landfills are the third biggest contributor to methane emissions in the US, behind natural gas and livestock. Guess what makes up the largest percentage of waste in a landfill? That’s right, food waste. The USDA estimates that 30-40 percent of food supply ends up being thrown out. That equals to about 133 million tons of unconsumed food. The resources being utilized to process this food (water, energy, land, transportation) can also be factored in when considering this waste.
This is where composting comes in. Options are plentiful when deciding what fits best in your routine and budget. If you have a yard or neighborhood garden, then your work is done. Services such as composting curbside pick up will do the work for you if your schedule is tight.
Gardens, farms, or even schools within your community are a great option too, they always need compost and most will usually take it off your hands for you. Call around your community and find one that best suits you.
Similar to recycling, different places accept different material so it is important to know when making arrangements.
Composting is not only great for the environment but it is an interactive way to get involved in your community and be a part of something good.
Final thought: Aside from composting, everyone should be focused on wasting less food. Make a conscious effort to buy only what you realistically know you will eat. When you go out to a restaurant, try not to over-indulge so you end up leaving food behind.
Kait Spielmaker is a Michigan native who relocated to Phoenix in 2018. She is an employee and regular contributor to Green Living Magazine. She is an avid hiker and is working on her master’s degree in Sustainable Tourism at Arizona State University.