From Trash to Treasure


It probably goes without saying just how important it is to recycle, or as we like to say here at SaveWithGreen, turning your trash into environmental treasure. Not only does recycling reduce energy usage (consequently reducing greenhouse gases), it keeps toxic chemicals out of the environment, reduces the consumption of raw materials and prevents the waste of useful materials. In other words, recycling is a conservationists best friend. A key concept for modern waste management, recycling has been a common practice since pre-industrial times when precious metals were constantly being melted down for reuse. These days, everything from paper to computers can be effectively recycled.

For most people, recycling is carried out via curbside collection, while for those people who do not have the luxury of curbside collection, dropping off recyclables at a local collection center (transfer station) is warranted. Although we could be recycling more, to say that humankind has only but stepped up to the plate in regards to recycling is an understatement.

Currently here in the U.S. (the largest waste producing country in the world), residents recycle over 32% of their waste - a figure which has doubled in fifteen years. Specific materials get recycled even more. For example, over 60% of steel packaging, 67% of appliances, 50% of all paper, 45% of aluminum cans and half of all paper gets recycled. We're talking millions of tons of waste that would otherwise still be sitting in landfills. At the current time, there are over five-hundred recycling centers designated to receive recyclables. Considering that only twenty years ago there existed just one curbside recycling program in the U.S., it is apparent just how much of a necessity recycling is.

Still, most of us could be recycling more. And most people would be recycling more if only they knew the extent of what can actually be recycled. From clothes to computers, there is a myriad of goods that can be recycled back into their composite forms. In cities like New York, where Mayor Bloomberg is spearheading a massive greening-up campaign, residents have been receiving mailings from the NYC Department of Sanitation's Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling informing them of what and when to recycle.

While most items (paper, plastic, metal, glass) can be recycled via curbside pickup, other items like batteries, clothing and electronics must be dropped off in person at recycling centers or collection points. If you do not receive mailings from your local sanitation department announcing recycling/donation events, give them a phone call and ask how you can stay abreast with collections and get information on what can and cannot be recycled. Or you can visit the Web's leading recycling resource center, Earth911 to locate a recycling center in your zip code. In the meantime, let's examine what can and should be recycled.

Things to Recycle

Concrete & Asphalt - Concrete and asphalt are collected and crushed into small pieces that can be used as gravel. If the concrete is free from impurities, it can be recycled back into its original dry aggregate form, only needing water to be turned into concrete again. Recycling concrete is a good thing because not only are we seeing concrete shortages with all the urban development that is taking place around the world, manufacturing new concrete results in digging up the earth and destroying natural habitat.

Paint - These days, environmentally friendly paints, such as DuraSoy are giving paint products a good name. Older paints, especially lead-based one's are highly toxic to the environment. In addition to recycling unused paint, paint chippings should be disposed at approved hazardous waste municipalities.

Timber - One of the best ways to curb forestation is to use recycled timber products, which can range from furniture to lumber. Although its technically a grass, bamboo makes for a great hardwood flooring and furniture. Because of its grass-like growing properties, bamboo is one of the best renewable timber sources on the market.

Batteries - Whether from cameras or cars, batteries can and should be recycled. Most all batteries contain toxic heavy metals, which if disposed in land fills or littered, release these highly toxic metals into the soil and waterways and eventually find their way back into the food chain. Many older batteries contain Cadmium and Mercury, which are so toxic that the US Environmental Protection Agency helped get the Battery Act passed into law in 1996, which mandates the phasing out of Mercury batteries, as well as setting up appropriate collection methods for recycling and disposing Mercury batteries currently in use. Different types of batteries include those commonly used in the household, such as alkaline, Carbon-Zinc and Lithium batteries, Nickel-Cadmium batteries, automotive batteries, marine batteries and lead-based batteries. All of these are classified as either single use or rechargeable secondary batteries. On a side note, over 180,000 tons of batteries are thrown out every year in the U.S. Unfortunately, only 7.8% of these batteries are rechargeable. What most people fail to realize is that many rechargeable batteries can be used to power devices that we normally use single use batteries for. Just like low rolling resistance tires, it will cost more to buy rechargeable batteries initially, but will end up saving you more money in the long run, not to mention put way less strain on the environment. If you have to choose a single use battery, go for alkaline batteries. In addition to lasting longer, they have a two year shelf storage life - retaining 90% of their initial power. Alkaline batteries now contain 97% less Mercury than they did twenty years ago.

Electronics - Growing three times faster than all other municipal forms of waste, electronics waste poses a dangerous threat to the planet. Nearly 70% of all heavy metals found in U.S. landfills come from discarded electronics. In addition to being composed of dangerous toxins like Mercury, radioactive isotopes, dioxins, Cadmium, Lead and potentially carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB's), electronics often contain valuable elements such as copper and gold. These can be reclaimed during the recycling process, which is carried out by separating metals from plastics and circuitry boards. Some of the most common electronics devices that can be recycled are televisions, VCR's (now being replaced by DVD players), cell phones, stereo equipment and computers, also referred to as eWaste. Computers and cell phones pose the greatest risk for pollution based on the sheer amount in circulation. Of the estimated 100 million cell phones and 250 million personal computers discarded in the U.S. in 2005, only about 10% were recycled. Obviously, we have a long way to go in regards to recycling our eWaste. Another form of eWaste that is easily recycled are printer ink cartridges and toners. In addition to purchasing recycled cartridges (which are refilled with toner or ink), you can mail your old ink cartridges back to suppliers (in self-enclosed shipping bags).

Metal - Both ferrous metals like steel and iron and non-ferrous metals like aluminum are highly efficient recyclables, meaning their is no downgrading in the quality of the metal after going through the recycling process. It is important to recycle metal in the interest of saving natural resources and minimizing mining, which is a great contributor to deforestation, habitat loss and environmental pollution.

Glass - Glass bottles and jars make up one one of the largest components in curbside recycling bins. Since glass does not deteriorate, it can be continually recycled. If its glass, put it in your recycling bin.

Paper - Curbside paper recycling programs are the most common of the lot. In other words, over 85% of Americans have access to paper recycling bins or drop-off centers - and it shows. In 2006, approximately 350 pounds of paper was recycled for every person living in the U.S. The paper industry hopes to recycle 55% of all paper used by Americans, which would amount to 55 million tons. There are many different classifications of paper, most of which can be recycled. Gift wrapping paper and heavily gloss coated papers are not good recycling candidates due to the cost of their particular recycling process. The many forms of paper that can be recycle include cardboard (corrugated and non-corrugated), cereal and food product boxes, newspaper, magazines, books, egg cartons, junk mail, office paper and toilet paper/paper towel rolls. Also, purchasing recycled paper products is just as beneficial as recycling paper. When doing so, be sure to look for the highest percentages of recycled paper content. Also, know there is a difference in the "Recycled" and "Recyclable" symbols. The "Recycled" symbol is three arrows forming a triangle within a circle, while the "Recyclable" symbol (meaning the product can be recycled) is just three arrows forming a triangle.

Plastic - Plastic is recycled the least of regular household waste simply because of the many different types of plastic that exist. For instance, plastic yogurt cups are not accepted at some recycling centers, but water bottles and plastic jugs are. Generally, plastics recycling is limited to bottles and jugs.

Clothing & Textiles - Since most textiles are composed of biodegradable material, be it cotton or synthetic plastics, they make for good recycling candidates. While some textiles are used for fiber reclamation, lots of discarded clothing is used to make industrial rags and wipes. Even paper can be made from recycled textiles. Some shoe manufacturers use recycled car tires, hemp and recycled plastics in their eco-friendly vegetarian shoes. Another great way to recycle clothing is by donating your used duds to the Salvation Army or thrift stores. Even better, you should consider purchasing second-hand clothing. While you don't have to get your entire wardrobe at a thrift store, you can at least look for certain items like work clothes, suit jackets and shoes.

Want to find out more about turning your trash into environmental treasure? Please search through our Recycling Tips & Articles below: