Our incredible potential for keeping waste out of the landfill

This pie chart from the US EPA represents the waste profile of a typical municipality.

Waste profile

Do you notice what I notice?

  • Over a quarter of our waste is organic (food or yard trimmings), which is completely compostable
  • Another quarter is paper, which is almost entirely recyclable
  • 8% is plastics, much of which is recyclable
  • 1% is metal, which is recyclable
  • 2% is wood, which can be composted or repurposed for fuel

Add up those numbers and you can see that if we recycled, composted or otherwise diverted everything possible, we could keep at least three-quarters of our waste out of the landfill (and that’s not including glass, which is recyclable in many places).

That would greatly reduce the need for fresh resources; and vastly extend the lives of our landfills.

So – what’s in your trash bin right now?  If you’re not diverting everything you can, why not make a commitment right now?

Take a minute to imagine the potential if we all recycled and composted everything we could – then do your part to make it happen!

Know your plastics

February 17, 2015

A simple guide to Plastic Recycling Symbols

The world of plastic is complicated: there are many types and they’re very different from each other. Two things they all have in common: they’re made from fossil fuels, and they persist for very long times in our land and marine environments. So it’s really important to recycle them.

An excellent overview of the classes of plastic, what they’re found in and what they’re recycled into can be found here. From that article, a few key points:

  • Even though we call it ‘recycling’, most plastic is actually ‘downcycled’ into products of lesser quality or functionality – part of a journey that eventually, alas, usually still ends at a landfill.
  • Some materials may have a recycling symbol, but in actuality are rarely recycled (IE class 3, vinyl or PVC)
  • Class 7 is not really a class; it’s a catch-all for anything that doesn’t fit in the first six classes. It’s often accepted by recycling programs, but only to avoid confusing consumers; it typically ends up in the landfill.

So please Reduce, Reuse and Recycle plastics, in that order.

Rip ‘em apart and recycle

December 11, 2012

What do coffee canisters, cans for concentrated frozen juice and parmesan cheese containers have in common?

Answer: they all contain steel bottoms (and often tops too) that are recyclable.  But if you want to recycle them, you need to rip them out of the containers – a task usually only hard core recyclers might be inclined to do.

However, there’s an easy way any of us can rip the bottom out of a frozen juice can: simply ‘unwind’ the cardboard-like side all the way to the bottom of the can, and then tear it free of the steel.  It’s hard to explain, but easy to demonstrate… so take a peek at this 2.5 minute video to see how it works.

Then happy separating and recycling!

Bullfrog Power, a green energy supplier, asked that question of its customers last month, and they answered in droves: from individuals to huge companies like Walmart; from non-profits to large municipalities; and more.

And what kinds of things are they pledging?

  • “To reduce household trash to one bag per person per year”
  • “To join a co-operative, to buy used goods and to ‘free-cycle’ what I don’t need”
  • “To buy carbon offsets for all our air travel” (from a musical group)
  • “To eliminate single-use boxes on most orders and save 76,000 boxes”
  • “To be 100% supplied by renewable energy, and a zero-waste company” (from Walmart!!)

That’s just the start.  Read more – and be inspired, as I was – at Bullfrog’s website.  Then plan your 2012 environmental story!

Every day, landfills across the country receive truckloads of things that are perfectly good but just not needed anymore.  It’s an inglorious end for stuff that still has useful service to offer.

But there’s a better way.  If you’re looking to get rid of perfectly good stuff that’s cluttering up your basement, garage or office, consider freecycling it.  Freecycling is making it available (via the internet) it at no cost to someone in your community who could use it. 

Check out www.freecycle.org; there’s a good chance you’ll find a local on-line group you can join.  If there’s no Freecycle group in your community, you can ‘be the change’ and start one!

You won’t get rich freecycling, but you can unclutter your life and you’ll do a good thing by keeping stuff out of the landfill before its time.  And maybe, you’ll discover that someone’s giving away something YOU want…

(If you prefer, there are plenty of charities across Canada that can use your used goods: http://www.charityvillage.com/cv/charityvillage/donate.asp)

Most of us feel good about recycling, and for good reason: recycling helps us stretch more life out of resources and it can greatly extend the life of landfills.

But recycling isn’t truly recycling – it’s actually ‘downcycling’, because products sent for recycling are never remanufactured into the same product – they are turned into something of lesser quality, lower down the chain of products. Eventually, virtually everything ends up as trash.

So while recycling is much better than throwing something out, the best thing you can do for the environment by far is the first R: reduce.

You can read more about downcycling here: http://miramichileader.canadaeast.com/rss/article/701445 and an excellent book on the subject is “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things” http://www.mcdonough.com/cradle_to_cradle.htm .

In the news

Yesterday, the Obama White House released a worrisome 196 page report projecting how climate change will affect Americans in the coming years. As one scientist put it, the report shows that climate change “affects the things people care about”. http://www.nytimes.com/cwire/2009/06/17/17climatewire-us-study-projects-how-unequivocal-warming-wi-29186.html

Energy independence in ten years? That’s the goal of Repower America – and here is their latest 30 second ad. http://www.repoweramerica.org/(Hmmm… if the US can set such a target for a power grid much, much larger than Canada’s, what’s holding us back?)

Have you ever heard of ‘precycling’? It’s way better for the environment than recycling.

Precycling is the practice of avoiding waste in the first place by making choices such as buying in bulk, choosing products with minimal packaging, using and reusing your own containers and avoiding throwaway items (such as paper cups, foam plates and plastic cutlery). How much precycling you can do is limited only by your imagination and how far you’re willing to go to protect our environment.

Recycling is better than trashing, but it is still an energy-intensive activity, because recycled materials need to be transported and reprocessed. Precycling is simply about thinking a few steps upstream, and making more eco-friendly choices. You could argue it’s a fancy name for Reducing, the most important of the three Rs!

In the news

What will they do next? The imaginative folks at Google are set to roll out new free software that will help people track their home energy use in real time so that they can find areas for improved efficiency. http://www.reuters.com/article/marketsNews/idUSLH73139520090317

Interested in solar home design? You’ll want to see the new Canadian Solar Home Design Manual, with up-to-date content, graphics, photographs and case studies. More info is here: http://bonmot.ca/booklaunch/index.html