Recycling Basics for Home
According to researchers of the World Bank, 3,5 million tons of waste is generated every day globally. United States of America are the number one country on the list, as they generate more than 240 million tons of waste annually. Russia is right behind the US, with around 200 million tons. Recycling rates are extremely low, especially for plastic – only 9% is being recycled. Most of that waste goes to landfills, polluting the soil and creating greenhouse gas emissions. Staggering 80% of the waste in landfills is recyclable.
Increasing recycling rates could save billions of oil barrels per year, reduce pollution and exploitation of natural resources.
Note: When you separate your recyclables make sure that they are clean and dry, because a single dirty item can contaminate an entire load. When contaminated, the load of waste cannot be properly recycled and it ends up in landfills. Small amounts of food won’t interfere with recycling glass and metal containers, so you don’t need to thoroughly wash them – just make sure that there are no food scraps, which can attract bacteria and molds. Pizza boxes and similar food packaging can be recycled too, just make sure that there are no food remnants and the grease is minimal. Plastic containers should be rinsed a little bit before disposal.
Paper waste makes up more than 25% of solid waste. All paper products (newspaper, cardboard, office paper, magazines, etc.) can be recycled as long as they are not contaminated by chemicals, food, liquids and similar. Paper mixed with other materials, such as plastic padding or bubble wraps, can also be recycled after removing those materials. Recycled paper is used to make new paper products, reducing deforestation and the use of other natural resources.
Newspapers should be separated from other paper waste, as they are directly recycled and reused to make newspaper again. One 1,2 m stack of newspapers can replace one 12 m tall fir tree.
Glossy printed paper, magazines, staples and other similar products should be put in a separate bin, as they need to be processed before recycling.
Corrugated cardboard is highly recyclable and widely accepted by curbside collectors. Break down cardboard boxes, bale them together and keep them dry to make the recycling easier. If the carboard is coated with plastic or other materials, it cannot be recycled. If possible, separate those materials from cardboard to make it recyclable.
Most recycling centers accept plastic padded paper drink cartons, but you need to separate them from other paper waste.
Most of the gift wraps are not recyclable, so try to use gift boxes which can be used more than once whenever possible.
Glass bottles are also highly recyclable and accepted by all curbside recycling services. They are recycled according to color – clear, green and brown, so make sure that you separate them accordingly. Making new glass from recycled glass is cheaper than using raw materials, as the process doesn’t take as much energy and resources.
Glass products like mirrors, lightbulbs, Pyrex and similar are usually not accepted by recycling centers and should be separated from glass bottles.
Sadly, majority of plastic waste is not recycled and just ends up in landfills where it cannot break down for a millennium. With proper handling of plastic waste, we can boost the percentage of plastic that is being recycled, save natural resources and reduce pollution.
There are various types of plastic and not all of them are recyclable, so we should strive to use the ones that give us the most recycling and reuse options. Recycling centers in different countries may vary, so be sure to check which type of plastic does your local recycling center accepts.
Almost all recycling centers accept plastic marked with #1 (PET) and #2 (HDPE), which are the most common types of plastic. PET is used for making the majority of single-use plastic, like plastic bottles, takeaway food containers and similar, while HDPE is most commonly used for bottle caps, chemical-resistant piping, corrosion protection for steel pipelines, fences, tables and similar products. Both are valuable recyclable materials, as they can be used to make various new products.
Other types of plastic vary in terms of recyclability. Recycling technology is advancing, #4 (LDPE) and #6 (polystyrene) are becoming more recyclable by the day, and some recycling centers accept items made of these types of plastic. They may also accept polypropylene (#5), but it is a bit more complicated story. Recycling polypropylene is significantly less efficient compared to PET or HDPE, so when you can, choose products packaged with HDPE instead. Plastic marked with #3 (PVC) and #7 (other types) are not recyclable and their use should be reduced as much as possible.
Aluminum and other metals
Aluminum products are considered to be very valuable recyclable items. Aluminum cans, foil and similar foil packaging can be reprocessed into new mechanical components. Be sure to remove food, liquid scraps, plastic or paper labels from the aluminum containers; crush flat aluminum cans and scrunch the foil into a ball before disposal.
Copper is also a very valuable recycling item. It is 100% recyclable, as well as its alloys. Recycling copper is also cost-effective, as it takes only 15% of the energy required for mining, smelting and refining new copper.
Items like aerosol and paint cans are considered to be hazardous waste and should be placed separately from other metals. Leave the labels on these cans so their previous content is known to the recycling centers.
The expansion of electronics industry has led to rapid growth of end-of-life (EOL) electronics, commonly known as e-waste. These include computers, cell phones, TVs, stereos, household appliances, etc. If old electronics end up in landfills or are not properly recycled, they can release toxic chemicals like lead, mercury and chlorofluorocarbons into the environment.
Only 20% of global e-waste is being recycled, while the rest is usually shipped to foreign countries. Most of world’s electronic waste ends up in West and South Africa, Indian subcontinent, Philippines and Indonesia. The largest e-waste dumping site, called Agbogbloshie (the locals call it “Sodom and Gommorah”), is located in the capitol city of Ghana – Accra. Here, young men and kids scavenge for valuable materials, often without adequate protective gear, putting their health at risk. Electronic parts which are considered to be non-valuable are usually burned or left to rust.
E-waste contains tons of valuable metals and recyclable materials, making the current way of handling e-waste irrational and uneconomical. According to the United Nations, e-waste contains deposits of precious metals which are estimated to be forty to fifty times richer than ores mined from the earth, as they take less energy, time and work power to be processed.
So, how can you make sure that your e-waste is going to be properly recycled and not just shipped to some developing country? The first step is to evaluate the state of the given electronic device. Can it be fixed and reused? You can donate your old, but working computers and laptops to schools or some non-profit organizations which help economically disadvantaged and people with disabilities. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
If your electronic device cannot be fixed, does it have functioning parts that can be reused or sold to an electronics vendor? This way at least some parts will be repurposed, and you can even get a few bucks. Ask your local electronics dealer for further information. If your electronic device really reached the end of its lifetime, at least he can direct you to the nearest place for safe e-waste disposal.
Most of electronic waste is being recycled by private e-waste recycling companies. Ask if there is a local e-waste company that offers such services and what kind of e-waste they accept. There are also private e-waste companies, that gather, refurbish and resell old electronic devices. For example, in the US there are automated kiosks that offer money for used cell phones, called EcoATM. Even some electronics manufacturers (like HP) offer recycling services for their products.
The importance of proper e-waste management is growing by the day, as we tend to use more and more electronic products, which quickly become obsolete in ever-advancing tech market (cell phones are the best example of this). If you want to know more, there is a detailed research on this subject performed by United Nation University .
Household hazardous waste
Household products that contain toxic, flammable, corrosive or reactive ingredients are considered to be hazardous waste. These include oils, batteries, paints, some cleaning products and pesticides. Such products need special treatment to be safely disposed of. If they are thrown out with regular trash, poured down the drain or dumped in landfills, they will most certainly pollute the environment or contaminate freshwater sources.
Try to reduce the use of these products if possible, contact special collection companies or find more ecological alternatives. Some companies that sell these products will also accept them for recycling (such is the case for most pesticide manufacturers). Most oils can be recycled cost-effectively, as they use less energy and resources compared to processing the raw product.