Recycle RIGHT and REFUSE are two R’s that my daughters and I learned about on a recent field trip to our local recycling facility. Earth Day 2020 seems like a good time to pass on the concepts we learned.
You’re likely familiar with the green sign of three arrows pointing to each other in the shape of a triangle. It’s a symbol to remind us to Reduce – Reuse – Recycle when we can. Recently my girls and I attended a presentation hosted by our local recycling center. We learned about two more R’s to include: recycle RIGHT and REFUSE.
The presentation was stuffed with interesting information, and we got a quick peek at the piles (mountains!) of recycling that travel through our local processing center daily. It was amazing!
For our area, we have one large recycling container in which we put all of our recyclables. Every two weeks it gets picked up and taken to a recycling processing center. At the center it is sorted and smooshed and sold to businesses who can then use the recycled material in their products.
Everybody’s system will be a little different so be informed on how recycling works in your area.
In case you need a reminder, or just because it’s a fun way to celebrate Earth Day, try your hand at this 10-question quiz. Do you know how long it takes for these items to decompose? Some of the answers may surprise you.
Recycling is a good option, but it’s only effective when done correctly. So what does that look like and why the emphasis on recycle RIGHT?
Our instructor was intent on changing our mindset from “recycle!” to “recycle RIGHT!”
What’s the difference?
It means not everything goes in the recycling container. If you’re in doubt, it is worse to put it in the recycling than to just to throw it away.
Why? Doesn’t that sound backwards?
At our recycling center, they haul 10 garbage trucks DAILY to the landfill of products that can’t actually be recycled.
When we RECYCLE RIGHT, even though it might be more painful to do initially, we cut back on the number of trucks that need to spread their pollution back and forth between the recycling center and the landfill each day. It also minimizes the cost to the processing center so that they can continue operating at full capacity.
That’s a tough one to swallow, but it’s a good one to remember so that we engage with the other R’s on the recycling symbol – reduce and reuse!
Recycling and Your Community
It was a fascinating presentation, and one that I recommend you look into for your community. See if your recycling center has any educational or community outreach efforts or online information.
We learned about the recycling business and restrictions for our area. I’ve included four of the biggest takeaways from that presentation but remember that each processing center is different.
Four Ways to Recycle Right
Check with your local recycling authorities about what works and what doesn’t for your community. You can use these as guidelines for having that conversation.
Recycling Right in our area means:
Do Not Ever Ever Put Plastic Bags in General Recycling
Our presenter emphasized this over and over and over again. Don’t put plastic bags in the recycling container. Don’t put your recycling in a plastic bag to put in the container. Just don’t do it.
The plastic bags wrap around the spinning gears, damage the machines, shut down the facility, and cause employees to lose income. Not ideal in any way.
Instead, take plastic bags (including Amazon delivery bags, dry cleaning bags, and Ziploc baggies) to a retail center that provides plastic bag recycling.
Nothing Smaller than a Credit Card Goes in General Recycling
Nothing smaller than a credit card goes in the recycling. Why? Because when our center recycles glass (which is not something every center does, so check first) it gets the best money for its packages when the glass is in its’ purest condition.
Shredded paper, tiny pieces of cardboard, or small plastic lids in our containers at home mean that they will be small enough to fall through the cracks when the glass is sorted. Paper and plastic lids in the glass bundle reduce the bundle’s value. That reduces the amount of money the facility can earn when it sells the bundle. No good.
Not All Plastics are Equal
This again goes back to the value of the bundle. Many of the plastics that I’ve assumed are recyclable because they have the little symbol on the bottom of them are actually not usable.
Plastics are similar to food products – they can receive a designation if they are made primarily, but not completely, of one type of plastic. This could mean that the recyclable symbol with the 4 in the middle actually means that most of the product (maybe 51% is made of that type of plastic) and the rest of it is mixed plastic.
To create bundles of value for those purchasing recyclable materials, our presenter made sure we understood the plastics that could be used. If it has a top spout that is narrower then the plastic’s base then it works. Shampoo bottles, soap containers, laundry detergent bottles, etc.
Those items that are the same at the top as they are at the base, or that are wider at the top such as take-out containers or yogurt cups, are a no-no.
This is really where the “recycle right” hit me hard.
Again, check your recycling authority for what types of plastics are usable in your processing centers and recycle accordingly.
Support Eco-Conscious Products
When we purchase products that are using recycled material, then we support the recycling economy.
Our recycling processing facility bundles recycled material that has been sorted and sells it to groups and industries that take the bundles to make something with them.
These industries purchase bundles and create products (supply) so long as there is an economic reason for them to do so (demand).
When you buy something made with a “made from recycled material” label you put money in that company’s efforts which allows them to buy more recycled material from processing plants. That keeps the processing facilities in business and gives us an outlet for our recyclable goods.
How to Refuse
I’ve talked about recycling RIGHT – meaning, to recycle correctly. Now, I want to mention the other “R” that our presenter introduced: REFUSE.
This was my first time hearing about the REFUSE option. I’m new to applying it, but the connection makes sense.
If you’re offered a plastic toy or promotional item, you can say “No, thank you.”
When you’re offered a plastic straw, you can say “No, thank you.”
You can say “No, thank you,” and bring your own reusable bags when you’re shopping.
When we refuse that which we don’t need, we have less that we need to recycle or throw away later. It also sends a message to the people making the products that they are not a worthwhile investment for them.
Five R’s: How are You Doing?
So if we include the five R’s together we end up with: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Right, and Refuse!
I feel good about the direction we’re going for Recycle Right. I’m focused on implementing the ideas I have to “refuse” and “reuse.” All part of living with intention.
Which one of the R’s are you pretty good about? Which one would you like to use a bit more? Let me know in the comments. This is an ongoing lifestyle shift for me, and I love hearing new ideas!
Until next time!