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.

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Most Americans recycle but many still prefer to avoid recycling.

For some people it takes too much effort, recycling isn’t available in their area or they have some aversion to the whole idea.

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 our plastic 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.

It seems that the only option is to avoid recycling. If the trash isn’t there we don’t have to deal with it. What could be easier?

How to Avoid Recycling

How do we create less trash, or MSW, in our daily lives?

How do we create less trash without putting much effort into it?

I won’t pretend to have all the answers or that the following ideas will change the world overnight. But if each person can avoid some recycling, these small changes will add up.

How to avoid recycling at work

If my workplace is typical or average, I’d say most people are avoiding recycling already.

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 “trash” 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.

So, 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; recyclingMy 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 and put them in your bag. This way you don’t have to unpack you fruit and veggies at check out.

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.

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.

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 before we throw them away and we avoid buying more containers.

How do you Avoid Recycling?

So here are a few of my ideas on how to avoid recycling. This may seem tongue in cheek but it really is part of the solution.

Part of the solution is to reuse items. Even better is to refuse plastic bottles, bags and other packaging if you can.

Recycling has gone from a way for cities and towns to off-set the cost of MSW collection to an additional cost of MSW disposal.

Do you recycle? Are you good at not contaminating the recycle bin?

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

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All that you can’t leave behind

Most people who run do it because they want to do something good for themselves. Running makes us feel healthy and countless studies show that running does make us healthier.

But while we are engaging in one of the healthiest activities known to man, we are leaving behind a pile of trash and garbage.

Running Refuse

Almost all of our running clothes are made of engineered fibers. Spandex is made from polyurethane, shorts and shirts and shoes are often made out of polyester, synthetic rubber and other plastics. People in the running shoe industry will tell you that the price of running shoes is influenced by the cost of oil.

These items wear out and eventually need to be replaced. The ability to recycle these items varies from item to item. Some can be re-used or re-purposed. I have to wonder if it takes more resources to recycle, re-use or re-purpose these items than it takes to make new ones.

Recycle, reuse or upcycle?

I have donated my old running shoes to Rerun Shoes. They do not recycle the shoes into new products, but they do give them a second lifeRerun supplies micro-entrepreneurs in Mali, Guinea and Liberia with shoes which they refurbish and bring to market.  This keeps these shoes out of the dump for a little longer, provides income for the local merchants and provides low-cost shoes to people who need them. But eventually they end up in a dump in Africa.

I often wonder how much energy is consumed moving a pair of shoes to Africa.Recycling Bin,recycle,reuse

Nike established a Reuse-A-Shoe program in the 1990’s. Since the program began they have collected over 28 million pairs of shoes. They turn these shoes into Nike Grind which is used to create athletic and playground surfaces.

This keeps shoes out of the landfill and Nike Grind is used in place of other synthetic materials for basketball or tennis courts, running tracks, playgrounds and athletic fields.

Brooks Running uses Soles4Souls to re-use their old shoes. Soles4Souls donates 99% of these shoes to people in need in 127 countries. Brooks has also engineered recycling and re-use into some of their shoes. Their “Green Silence” racing flat in made from 75% recycled materials and uses soy ink.

 

Old shoes
My Brooks and New Balance shoes

Brooks has also developed “BioMoGo” for the mid-soles of running shoes. This biodegradable material makes up a substantial portion of their running shoes. The sole of any shoe made with this material will break down completely in 20 years under the right conditions.

These are all steps in the right direction. But how many people donate their shoes? How often are old shoes land filled under the right conditions in order to bio-degrade?

I always transition my old running shoes into daily walking shoes. Why buy new sneakers for kicking around the backyard or going to the store? I need support for running but I feel fine wearing old running shoes around the house or even on vacation. The uppers still look brand new.

All of the other stuff

Clothing made of synthetic materials do last longer than clothing made from natural fibers. The problem is that synthetic fibers are made from petroleum products. The manufacturing process creates toxic waste, only some of which can be recycled.

When those shirts, shorts, socks, bras etc do eventually wear out, what then? No one else can wear them and the materials they are made from will not break down in a land fill. If you burn them in an incinerator, they release toxic fumes.

Some organizations such as Goodwill can sell unwearable clothing to textile recycling centers. Check with your local Goodwill or Salvation Army location to see if they can use your worn out running clothes for textile recycling.

If your running clothes are still wearable, Goodwill and Salvation Army will sell them in their stores. Many groups will also pick up clothing at your home and leave  receipt for you.

I have so many race shirts, I never wear any shirt often enough to wear it out. These man-made fibers are durable and I’ll probably have brand new looking shirts for years. I could donate them while they still look good or look for a Goodwill with a textile recycling program.

If recycling uses more energy and produces more waste than using virgin materials, why recycle? It may make you feel good but it may just make the problem worse. How much fuel is used to ship old running shoes to Africa?

I’m not sure what the answer is here but I wanted to provide something to think about.

  • What can you do to make a difference?
  • What will affect real change and not make things worse or create a new problem?
  • What do you do with your old running items?

Run well my friends.

Andy