How to Avoid Recycling

Too busy to recycle? Skeptical of the whole recycling thing? Here are a few handy tips to help you avoid recycling.

Originally published September 9th, 2019. Updated April 17th, 2021.

Most Americans recycle but many still prefer to avoid recycling.

For some people it takes too much effort to sort items or separate trash from recyclables.

Some areas require the separation of paper, glass, metals, etc. into separate bins or bags.

Many cities and towns have gone to “single stream” recycling. This allows people to put all recycle items into a single bin.

While this is the easiest way to recycle, some people still can’t or wont recycle.

Some areas do not have recycling programs at all. I don’t have the numbers, but I think this is becoming less common.

Some people are philosophically averse to the whole idea of recycling.

Recycling Today

Recycling is not a new concept and has been used in agriculture for eons.

During World War II my mother told me they recycled everything, as her mother did during WWI.

An EPA fact sheet1 released in 2016 shows that 34.6% of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) was recycled or composted in 2014.

While this is up from single digits as late as 1980, it still means that almost two-thirds of our MSW is land-filled or incinerated.

This report does not address how much of our trash ends up in the environment.

It would be great if we could recycle 100% of our MSW, but even 50% seems a lofty goal.

We have seen in the news how several countries that used to accept plastic and electronics for recycling no longer do so.

In Massachusetts the only glass recycling facility recently shut down due to lack of demand. With more microbreweries using cans instead of bottles, no one needs all of that glass.

With persistently low recycling rates and increasing difficulty processing these materials, it seems that the best option is to avoid recycling.

Check out this article for a global perspective on recycling.

How to Avoid Recycling

How do we create less trash and recyclable materials in our daily lives?

And how to do this without putting much effort into it?

Even if you are an enthusiastic recycler, not all materials can be recycled. Many items that are recycled still leave waste that cannot be re-used.

Here are a few ways that you can make a difference.

How to avoid recycling at work

If my workplace is typical, I’d say most people are avoiding recycling already. But not in a good way.

I work in Cambridge, MA also know as “The Republic of Cambridge.” While the citizens of Cambridge may be good recyclers, I’m dubious of the efforts of the people who own the building I work in.

Let me note that our building is “LEED Certified”2

While the building owners have clearly labeled some barrels for trash and some for recycling, that seems to be all that they do.

Most of my colleagues can’t tell the difference between the clearly labeled recycle and trash barrels. I see trash in the recycle bin and recyclables in the trash daily.

The people I work with are highly intelligent. If the building owners made some effort at education I have no doubt that my colleagues would catch on quickly.

I see the same thing at races. Most races recycle nothing. When they do have separate barrels, most runners can’t tell the difference. Or don’t care.

Runners recycle,recycle anything

A few years ago one race hired a company to provide barrels for trash, recycle and compost.

Even with someone stationed at each disposal location, people still asked questions. Others tossed their banana peels into the recycle bin and wandered off.

Much like the people I work with, the runner demographic tends to be college educated and earn above median incomes. People who should know better.

What can we do at work?

The first thing is to actually use the correct barrels to dispose of your trash. Very little effort is required to make this change. That’s not avoiding recycling, but it is common sense.

Second, bring your own utensils.

cup, glass and utensils; recycling My company actually gave all employees a ceramic coffee mug several years ago, but still people use paper cups.

You can bring your own coffee mug to work. Most of us have more than we can use at home.

If you work 200 days a year and have two cups of coffee a day, that is 400 cups a year. Most of us drink more coffee than that, so our impact may be even greater.

If 500 people in my building did this, we would save 200,000 cups a year. And that’s only two cups per day.

You can bring a drinking glass to work.

Besides coffee, most of us have several glasses of water at work, or we grab a bottle of something out of the vending machine.

If 500 people switched to a re-usable glass, we could avoid recycling 200,000 cups and plastic bottles each year. Probably more than that.

Plastic utensils. Most of us use a plastic fork or spoon at least once a day at work. Some people use a plastic spoon each time they get a cup of coffee. Some people use a plastic straw or wooden stir stick.

Either way, all of these items end up in the trash after a few seconds of use.

If on average each person uses 4 plastic utensils per day, 200 days a year and 500 people switched to real silverware we could avoid recycling:

4x200x500 = 400,000 single use plastic utensils annually.

Here is the simple solution for work: bring your own drinking glass, coffee mug and eating utensils.

Individually these may seem like small changes, and they are. But they require no special effort and over time they will make a difference.

The next time you go to the grocery store look for a 400 pack of paper coffee cups, plastic cups and a box of 400 eating utensils. These are not small packages.

Things we can do at home

The vast majority of our waste is created at home. Think of all of the food packaging you throw away every day, and packaging of all kinds. How many single use items do you throw away everyday at home?

It’s difficult to reduce the amount of packaging we bring home. That’s how our food and other items are sold to us.

I for one do not want to bring home meat in a paper bag. Prices would go up if we had the butcher wrap our purchase in paper like they did in the old days. And the food probably would not stay fresh as long either.

The only way to avoid recycling here is to buy less or look for products that use less packaging.

A friend commented that his wife saves the plastic bags you get in the fruit and veggie section of the grocery store. She puts the food away and puts those plastic bags back into her re-usable shopping bags.

This got me thinking that we could avoid those bags all together by just putting the food into the shopping bags.

Some grocery stores provide hand held scanners. As you select your items you scan them, put them in your bag and avoid the store’s plastic bags.

Re-usable bags seem to be the easiest way to avoid recycling here. I recently listened to an NPR broadcast where the guest said you need to use those nylon shopping bags 20,000 times to make their carbon foot print equivalent to the foot print of those throw away bags.

But I’m talking about reducing your recycling burden. Carbon foot print is another article.

Composting If you have space in your yard, composting is easy and sanitary. You can find all kinds of information on how to compost on the internet, so I won’t go into that.

Here is a good article on how to get started with composting.

Some argue that it is better to use a commercial composting facility as they collect the methane produced by compost. If your town has a commercial composting facility or collects gas from the land fill, that’s great.

In Eastern Massachusetts, all of our trash goes to an incinerator.

Gardening Again, if you have space gardening can be fun and help you avoid recycling. If the food comes out of the ground in your back yard, there isn’t any packaging to recycle. You can use your compost to build up the soil in your garden, so you don’t have to worry about disposing of your compost.

You can even use some household items in the garden. Seedlings can be started in yogurt cups.

Re-use or Upcycling is another option. Upcycling is the process of reusing waste materials without breaking them down into their base state to create a product of higher value or quality.

Check out this interesting article on recycling versus upcycling on an industrial scale.

Glassware Most of us have more glasses and mugs than we can possibly use. If you are starting out and need these items go to a yard sale. You can pick up glasses for a five or ten cents.

We use some jelly jars for water glasses. They look fancy and then we don’t have to recycle them.

Take-out Containers Americans are eating out and ordering in more than ever. Most take-out containers end up in the trash. Most cannot be recycled or have no economic value to the recycling company.

So what to do? When we get sturdy plastic containers we use them to store left overs. They are food-grade containers so why not use them to store food?

We also use them to collect our composting materials. Compost can make your Tupperware containers groady over time. If a take out container gets groady, no big deal.

They may not last as long as Tupperware, but we get multiple uses out of them and we avoid buying more containers.

You can also tell a restaurant that you don’t need plastic cutlery and packets of ketchup with your takeout order.

Some restaurants allow you to bring your own containers and some coffee shops let you use a re-usable mug.

How do you Avoid Recycling?

So here are a few of my ideas on how to avoid recycling.

Do you recycle?

Do you have any ideas that you’d like to share?

Recycle well my Friends,

Andy

1 https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-11/documents/2014_smmfactsheet_508.pdf

2 https://www.everbluetraining.com/what-is-leed

https://happydiyhome.com/diy-compost-bin/

RECYCLE TODAY! TOMORROW MIGHT BE TOO LATE

https://matmatch.com/learn/process/recycling-vs-upcycling-processes-and-materials

Drinking on the run

going green, ecology
How do you fold a plastic cup?

Has anyone figured out how to fold a plastic cup?

I often run through water stops during a 5K or 10K race. In an effort to try and drink the water instead of wearing it I always pinch the top of the cup. This usually keeps most of the water from splashing out and I can get one or two good gulps.

When I get to a water stop and they are handing out plastic cups this becomes impossible. The rim of a plastic cup is rigid and can’t be bent without breaking the cup.

I’m not the most athletic or coordinated guy on the course, so maybe it’s just me who can’t run and drink from a plastic cup. Has anyone figured out a good way to do this?

Paper, Polystyrene or Plastic Cups?

I poked around the interweb to see if paper cups are any better for the environment than the plastic cups. I read several articles and was surprised to find that paper cups can cost 2.5 times more than plastic cups. The reason is that paper cups consume more resources to be made.

A study by Canadian scientist Martin Hocking shows that making a paper cup uses as much petroleum or natural gas as a polystyrene cup. Plus, the paper cup uses wood pulp. The Canadian study said, ‘The paper cup consumes 12 times as much steam, 36 times as much electricity, and twice as much cooling water as the plastic cup.’ And because the paper cup uses more raw materials and energy, it also costs 2.5 times more than the plastic cup.

Source: http://mnsgreenliving.blogspot.com/2012/07/paper-polystyrene-or-plastic-cups.html

So Styrofoam cups use as many resources as paper cups to make, and both use about 2.5 times as many resources to make as plastic cups. This blog post goes on to say that many paper cups cannot be recycled because they are lined with plastic or wax.

From an environmental point of view that seems to be an issue. If the goal is to use fewer resources and have less of an impact on the environment then plastic cups seem to be the best alternative.

From a runners point of view, plastic cups are less than optimal as they are difficult to drink from while running. In the winter when wearing gloves, plastic cups are slippery and difficult to hold onto.

So, what to do?

Here in the Greater Boston Area most of our trash goes to an incinerator. I’m no scientist but I think burning paper with wax is better than burning plastic cups or paper cups lined with plastic.

At home we should all be using glasses to drink from. Not disposable cups or, god forbid, bottles of water. Race directors can help by using un-lined paper cups, which can be recycled and are easier for a runner to drink from.

At a race, most cups only hold water for a very short period of time. There really isn’t an issue with the cup dissolving before a runner grabs it, takes a drink and un-ceremonially tosses it into the road.

drinking on the run, boston marathon
HP Water Stop at the 2006 Boston Marathon

At the Melrose Run for Women, we fill cups from gallon jugs of water. The cups get tossed but we recycle the plastic gallon jugs. At The Hartford Marathon they give each runner a Hartford Marathon water bottle at the end of the race. It is plastic, but because it is a water bottle, it can be used hundreds of times. I still use mine. Hartford also has a huge bubbler that dozens of runners can drink from at the same time.

We make choices every day. If we make better choices, each of us individually can make a difference.

Run well my friends,

Andy

Your Footprint

Are you a runner? Calculate your footprint, learn what you can do to reduce your footprint and what races are doing to go green.

Like most sports, in running you leave more than your footprint behind.

Like almost all human activity, running has a considerable carbon footprint. On race day this impact is seen in the piles of paper cups near water stops. Or the trail of GU packs and other running trash left along the road.

The biggest environmental impact of running is from things you may never have thought about.

In a 2008 Runner’s World article Jason Stevenson wrote about a study the magazine did on an average runner’s environmental impact from travel and clothes, as measured by CO2 emissions. Here is what they found:

GEAR (Source for all gear-related carbon figures: Economic Input-Output Cycle Assessment (EIO-LCA), Green Design Institute, Carnegie-Mellon University.

  • Running socks, 3 pair of synthetic socks per year: 89 lbs CO2
  • Running shoes, 3 pair of shoes per year: 430 lbs CO2 (According to a Runner’s World survey, the average participant purchases 3.1 pairs of shoes per year.)
  • Running shorts, 2 pairs per year: 99 lbs CO2
  • Running Tights, 1 pair per year: 79 lbs CO2
  • Running shirt:, 1 per year: 48 lbs CO2
  • Washing and dry running gear, 1 load per week: 225 lbs CO2 (source of laundry figure: Hans Fedderke)

TRAVEL

GRAND TOTAL: 5,449 lbs CO2

While each of us is different, this study provides an eye-opening example of a typical runner. I have never driven more than two hours to a race so I can cut out the destination race (4,080lbs CO2) from my total impact. I don’t get new shorts, socks and tights every year, but like most of you I do get lots of running shirts every year. I probably got 20 shirts last year. The supply chain to get those 20 shirts to me produced 960lbs of CO2 based on 2008 Runner’s World numbers. (48lbs x 20 shirts).

And while most of us do not fly 1,500 miles each way to a destination race most of us do drive 20+ miles round trip to a lot of local 5K and 10Ks. Many of the 20 races I ran last year were within 10 miles of my house or I took public transportation. I had three races where I traveled over 200 miles round trip. Using Google Maps and rough numbers I came up with 1,450 miles or 72.5 miles round trip on average last year.

Using 2008 Runner’s World numbers: 333lbs of CO2 from 384 miles equals 0.87lbs of CO2 per mile driven. My 1,450 miles at 0.87lbs per mile totals 1,261.5lbs of CO2. These are rough numbers. Click HERE to read the full Runner’s World article and to visit the web sites referenced to help you figure out your footprint.

Quickly estimate of your footprint

Go to Google Maps and figure out the distance to each of your races last year and double that number to get your round trip number. Add up the mileage for all of these races and multiply by 0.87. This will give you a rough CO2 emissions number. You can be more precise by using the mileage your car gets and by calculating exact distances. It’s up to you, but the back of the envelope numbers are pretty easy to pull together.

Then look at how many shirts you got at races or bought on your own last year. What other articles of clothing did you get? I put this table together using the Runner’s World info. You can plug-in your quantities and figure your own impact.

Item Co2/item Qty Total Co2
Socks 3 pair 89lbs
Shoes 140lbs
Shorts 49lbs
Tights 79lbs
Shirt 48lbs
Grand Total

My footprint looks like this:

Travel – 1,261.5lbs

Clothes/shoes – 1,329lbs

Total estimated CO2 emissions for 2012 – 2,590.5lbs.

This is a rough number but it’s a larger footprint than I would have imagined.

What can you do?

Another 2008 Runner’s World article by Scott Douglas, “Going Green,” had these tips for reducing your footprint from running:

  • Drive to run only when necessary.
  • Carpool to races.
  • Use running as transportation.
  • Purchase carbon offsets for the miles you drive to run.
  • Wear your current running clothes until they’re no longer functional.
  • When it’s time to buy new gear, consider ones made of natural fibers or sustainably produced polyesters.
  • Find a second use for all of your shoes you no longer run in.
  • Drink tap water, filtered if preferred, instead of bottled water.
  • Buy sport drink in powder form to reduce packaging and shipping.
  • Try making your own sport bars.
  • Wash your running gear in cold water with earth-friendly detergents. Hang to dry. Green virtue aside, they’ll last longer this way. 

I think Scott presents a lot of good ideas but some are not practical for most of us. I’d love to run to work but the roads are treacherous and I don’t have time to make my own sports bars. I do drink tap water, car pool too many of my races, recycle my old shoes and try to take care of my running clothes so they will last a long time. You can probably find a few items on his list that you can use to reduce your environmental impact. To read Scott’s complete article click HERE.

Finding a second use for shoes can be a challenge. I have several pairs of “yard” shoes by the front and back door of my house. If I’m mowing the lawn or working in the garden they are great. But how many pair do I need?

Here are some options for when your house starts to look like a used running shoe store.

You can donate them to Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program, which recycles the shoes to help surface new tracks and for other uses. Other programs include Soles4Souls, Shoe4Africa, or One World Running, that give shoes to needy people. I’m a little skeptical of the environmental soundness of shipping used running shoes to Africa. It would probably take less energy to make them there and it would make local jobs. But, it does make me feel a little bit better when I toss my shoes in the box at Marathon Sports.

A 2011 Runner’s World article by Jenny Hadfield, “Nine Ways to Run Green for Earth Day,” listed nine ways to be green on and off the road. Check it out HERE. She had some great and practical ideas.

How races are going green

Many races are going green and many have had green initiatives for years. When was the last time you used a paper registration? I’ve used paper registrations in the past to save processing fees. But I’ve found that if I plan ahead and take advantage of the early registration discount I often save more than the cost of processing.

On-line registration – eliminates all of the paper and all of the energy used by the Post Office to transport it. As a bonus to you, often you get an immediate confirmation of your on-line registration.

Race day transportation. Many races, including the BAA Boston Marathon use biodiesel, natural gas or other low-impact fuels to transport runners and spectators. The BAA uses natural gas, hybrid and electric vehicles to transport race officials, members of the media and photographers in the lead procession to cut down on exhaust and noise.

To off set the carbon produced by all of the buses that take runners from Boston out to Hopkinton on race day, the BAA purchases carbon off-sets. Some races have gone to 100% bicycle power to move food, water, garbage, staff and emergency workers. Other races insist on alternative fuel vehicles.

plastic cup, your footprint, green running
How do you fold a plastic cup?

Water cups. Every runner has gone through a water stop and then tossed their cup. Most cups are tossed in the road and a volunteer picks them up. Even if the race director uses paper cups they still end up in the trash.

For runners it is easier to pinch and drink from a paper cup than it is from a plastic cup. However, paper cups may actually have a larger carbon footprint than paper cups.

Some races have runners carry their own water bottles with them and then refill them at the water stops!

At the ING Hartford Marathon finish they have a 40-person water fountain, or as we call it in New England – a water bubbler (pronounced bub-la). They estimate that they save 10,000 water bottles each year and have been using the bub-la since 2007. Hartford gives out a reusable tote bag and a full reusable water bottle at the end of the race.

Those reusable items are not only good for the environment; they are good for the sponsors. ING sponsors Hartford and I still use the ING water bottle and tote bag. My wife re-uses some of the other tote bags I’ve received to take things to work.

Swag bag, water bottle, your footprint
Swag bag and water bottle from ING Hartford Marathon

The ING Hartford Marathon is a national leader in green racing. They also use biodegradable paper at all events, recycle at all events, have environmentally friendly purchasing policies and a 5-year greening plan in development.

No matter how hard a race organizer works to run a green operation, ultimately it is up to us runners. I see lots of trash in recycle barrels and recyclables in trash barrels at every race I go to. This has to stop.

The Hartford Marathon Foundation produces over 30 races annually: everything from 5Ks to Triathlons. Their efforts to RUN Green have a significant impact.

In 2008, Runners World published their 10 Greenest Races list and Hartford was #6. The greenest race in 2008 was the Austin Marathon. Austin used 100% on-line registration, solar-powered and bio-diesel power generators, bio-diesel support vehicles, recycling stations and compost bins throughout the course, they donated discarded clothing to charity and had a farmer’s market at the finish line. The Portland Marathon (#8) also uses bicycles for support vehicles and instead of finisher’s medals they hand out tree seedlings.

The Canmore Rocky Mountain Half Marathon, 10k and 5k is amazing. Check out this list of environmental greenness:

  • Recycling virtually everything, resulting in a waste-free Start/Finish zone.
  • 100% disposable water bottle free.
  • Winner medals made from 100% recycled glass, made in North America.
  • Runner’s swag made from recycled materials.
  • Brewing BC roasted coffee.
  • Operating support-bicycles along the race course, as opposed to carbon generating support-vehicles.
  • Administering a paper-free registration process.
  • Serving only BC fruit & locally made baked goods.
  • Providing our volunteers with shirts made from 100% organic cotton, Made in Canada.
  • Printing all promotional posters and brochures on 100% recycled paper.
  • We exclusively use compostable cups* sourced from renewable materials.
  • We have an environmental assessment completed every year by Bow Valley Waste Management.

I hate to travel over an hour for a 10K or 5K, but I could go to Alberta to run this half marathon. A winner’s medal made from recycled glass? They don’t say what the average Joe gets for a finisher’s medal. I think they should all be made from recycled material. It’s not like they need to hold up a bridge! Runner’s World ranked them #4 in their 2008 article.

Ultimately this is all up to you and me

We can car pool to far off races or we can drive alone. We can throw compostable plates and utensils into trash barrels or we can throw them into the compost barrels that the race sponsors provide for us.

Race organizers are not going to take us by the hand. Many of them have made the effort but we need to do our part as runners, as adults. If we can run a 5K like big boys and girls, than we can surely tell a recycle barrel from a trash barrel. And BTW – the trash barrels at races should be almost empty. Right?

Over 38 million plastic water bottles go to the dump every year in America alone. The average American uses 167 plastic water bottles each year. The average runner could probably use double that number, but should be using none.

My little contribution

At many races, including The Boston Marathon and the Ready Set 1st Run on New

Mylar blanket, green running
Mylar blanket from the ING Hartford Marathon

Year’s Day in Lowell, they give out those Mylar film blankets. When you are hot and sweaty after a race those thin little sheets can be a life saver. But they are another one of those one-use throw away items. We have all done it.

In the trunk of my car I keep a box with a few things I might need if I break down, such as a pair of gloves and some tools. I also have one of those Mylar blankets all rolled up in a

Mylar blanket, swag
Mylar blanket folded

rubber band. It doesn’t take up much space. If I broke down on a cold winter night it would help keep me warm. If I saw an accident it could help someone who was in shock. I’ll probably never use it, but I thought it was a good way to re-purpose the item and keep it out of the trash. I avoid taking those blankets at races now.

Your little contribution

It is up to each of us to be smart about our actions. In our daily activities and in our training we need to be smart. If you have the will power to train for and finish a race than you have the ability to reduce your carbon footprint.

In life and in running there are things you can control and things you cannot control. The things that you cannot control you can take steps to mitigate their impact: you cannot control the weather but you can be prepared for a range of conditions. The race director may not provide enough food but you can toss a few items into your bag to bring along.

Your carbon footprint and the impact of your activities on this planet are within your control. You can car pool to races, use a re-usable water bottle, throw recyclables into the right barrel etc. As in dieting and weight control, drastic actions are not required to make a big impact.

Here is another post on running green. All that you can’t leave behind.

Be mindful and purposeful in your actions.

Run well my Friends,

Andy