Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle ... plus One More!

Reduce, reuse, recycle. Which order do you go in? We've all heard of the slogan. In fact, in elementary school I use to go to assemblies teaching us kids the importance of recycling. I also remember traveling to the recycling center with my Mom with a big bag of aluminum cans and actually getting money for them. Amazing. More and more people are recycling and most of us Washingtonians have not only caught on but have a good track record. But we can do better.

I learned last year that the majority of our recycling is shipped overseas to be recycled. Now what is the point of that? I thought recycling would be a bit more cost effective and efficient! Recycling is an important step to minimizing waste but, I would argue, so is reducing our consumption so we have less to throw away, period. It is often the hardest and most often overlooked of the reduce, reuse, recycle trilogy. Sick of all those plastic grocery store bags? Bring your cloth bags. Tired of using produce bags (we all end up with at least five of them every time we shop and they just get tossed anyway)? Use mesh produce bags instead. They are sold at many stores (try Fred Meyer or Sur La Table). Most of the time we can reduce our consumption, and thus our garbage, by simply buying less, eating in, or holding on to things longer.

In our daily lives, before even beginning to think about recycling and after we've reduced our waste, we can also choose to reuse plenty of items. For instance, do you recycle all those glass spaghetti jars you buy at the grocery store? Clean them out and save them. Swap out your Tupperware containers and put the jars in their place (glass lasts longer while chemicals in plastic containers leach out into your food). Also, instead of buying paper napkins, think about cloth instead. That goes for paper towels. I've stopped using both and I don't miss them. Convenience items are the most wasteful.

The reduce, reuse, recycle trilogy is a very useful mantra to follow. And I believe it is in the right order but there is a very important step that is missing, and that is composting! Composting yard waste and food scraps is perhaps one of the best ways to reuse or recycle our "waste" and turn it back into something useful right in our backyards. Not interested in producing your own compost? You can still compost your yard waste and food scraps by using one of the City of Seattle yard waste bins. This is one of my new years resolutions. So yesterday I wandered over to the hardware store, bought myself a gallon bucket with a lid (that's important!) and a box of biodigrable compost bags (made of corn) and placed the bucket under my sink. All of my food scraps now go in the bucket and, when full, out to the yard waste bin. As time goes on, I may consider creating my own compost for my own garden but for now this is a good first step (compost materials are sent to Woodinville and not to the other side of the mountains. The final product, the compost, will be sold in stores for gardeners and the like). There are lots of resources for composting.

Our Puget Sound area trash that makes it into a landfill is shipped 250 miles away to Arlington, Oregon, and, if we're not careful, includes our food waste and recyclables mixed in. It's carried by garbage trucks, semi trucks, and trains using vast amounts of oil and energy to transport it. Seattlites generate 600 tons of garbage a day! Can you believe it? We can do better. You'd be amazed at how much less you throw away if you only change one habit from what you are already doing and that is beginning to compost.

In 2009, the City of Seattle released its Zero Waste Strategy (the Seattle PI wrote a great article about it). If we can all do our part to reduce, reuse, recycle, and compost our waste we will be making a huge difference for our city, for our planet, and for our pocket books. We will actually save money. Here's to a new year full of less trash!

p.s. Still unsure what to throw away, recycle, or compost? If you are a nerd like me, play this recycling game. It is fun for about 30 seconds and is complete with catchy music!

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