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Green Living Certification
Chapter 4 - Simple Changes
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4.6 Recycling

Recycling is a bit like the "big daddy" when we talk about being Green, because it's one of the simplest things you can do to help the environment.

It requires little effort but provides big benefit. Keeping things out of landfills helps to reduce energy, preserve our land and natural resources and reduce the waste stream. And it goes beyond throwing your daily newspaper in the recycle bin.

But let's start there: Your daily newspaper. When we talk about simple changes, this is definitely a simple change. Do you need a subscription to your daily paper every day? Is it necessary for you to bring in as much as 10 pounds of paper to your house every week? If not, cancel it and read your news online.

This might send you thinking about all the catalogs you get, the magazines you subscribe to but rarely read and the bills with all the inserts. Maybe you can get those bills online so there's no paper coming to you each month.

Keep thinking … we know you'll think of more.

When we talk about recycling, we are also really referring to the big three Rs - reduce, reuse and recycle. It's drummed into our heads constantly these days, but for good reason. Let's look at each one in order.

Reduce means what? In this case, it means stop buying so much stuff. When you buy more stuff, you end up getting rid of other stuff, which sends more stuff into the waste stream. These days, we all want the newest, best thing, but doing so is a negative notch on your environmental belt.

Reduce your consumption. We talked already about food and your choices when making your own food, buying food, etc., but reducing your consumption also refers in general to your consumerism. Americans, in particular, are known for their consumerism. If there's a new doodad on the market, Americans run to buy it. But what about the old doodad still sitting in their homes? It gets thrown away.

So reducing mean stop this entire buying cycle and live better with what you already have. Anytime you think you need something new, ask yourself if the old one will do just as well. Ask yourself if you know how to properly dispose of the old one (perhaps someone else can use it?).

When you shop at the grocery store, bring your own tote bag. The question is no longer paper or plastic. The manufacture of paper bags send dangerous chemicals into the air (though these bags are recyclable), while the plastic bags sit in our landfills contaminating our air with all the dangerous toxins landfills provide.

Instead, use your own tote bag, and reuse it each time you go shopping. Carry it with you always. Buy in bulk and skip the plastic bags to bag up your fruits and vegetables. Don't buy individually packaged snacks and skip the juice boxes.

The message here is to think before you buy.

When you buy something, make choices for the future. Buy things you know can be recycled in some way, or buy items make from recycled goods (such as computer paper and printer ink). Buy high-quality items that won't need replacing as quickly as lesser quality goods.

Our consumerism gets the best of us when something breaks or needs repair. It's easier often to just buy a new doodad than to fix the old one, but repairing items, learning to keep them past their expected age of retirement helps the environment and your budget.

To that end, repair furniture that needs repair, learn how to mend your own clothes and donate items to thrift stores so others can reuse your old items.

Finally, recycle. Thanks to new efforts to get more people recycling, more cities, counties, states and countries are offering accessible recycling, with many picking up your recycling right at your curb.

How you recycle and what you can recycle varies depending on where you live and who provides the service, so check with your local sanitation department to find out what services are available to you.

Now, part of recycling is education. Don't assume everything is recyclable. Have you ever put packing peanuts or Styrofoam in the recycling? It's not recyclable, so that's a mistake. Some plastics aren't recyclable. Make sure you understand what is recyclable and what's not.

Some recycling centers will only take plastics, for example, that are labeled "1" or "2". These numbers are found inside the recycling icon on the bottom of your plastic item. If you have a "5", then, you'll have to either put the plastic into the waste stream, or find another venue for recycling it. (The number, by the way, also indicates what kind of plastic the item is made from. See "resources" for more.)

When Shopping

Try to make solid Green choices when making purchases. Instead of focusing on the end result (recycling your cans and bottles, for example), think about being a good consumer at the start.

For example, when you purchase clothing, do you know some purchases are better than others? Here are some tips:

  • Look for clothing made from organic cotton and hemp, which are produced without hurting the environment.
  • Don't assume that cotton itself is a best choice. Cotton requires a good deal of pesticide use for growth. Synthetics are made with chemical that hurt the environment.
  • Look for clothing that can be washed at home; in other words, avoid clothing that is dry clean only. Dry cleaning uses solvents and chemicals that are very damaging to the environment.

  • If you are in the grocery store, look for items packed in materials that are recyclable, rather than packaging that will be thrown away.

    Rice, for example, should be purchased in boxes rather than plastic bags. Better yet, buy your rice in bulk and package it in your own container brought from home.

    Cardboard milk containers can't be recycled. Look for milk in plastic jugs instead and recycle the plastic jug.

    Finally, your best bet scenario is to look for product made from recycled materials. The most available items these days are paper products, like paper towels, toilet paper, and printer paper. But you can also buy pencils, flooring, and backpacks and handbags made from recycled materials.


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