Reducing #1, reusing #2, and recycling #3 are the most effective things you can do in your day-to-day life to impact climate change.
Americans recycle 34 percent of all waste, which is the equivalent of taking 33 million cars off the road in terms of greenhouse gas reduction. Getting to zero waste is ambitious, but we can and will do it eventually. Knowing what to do with every possible waste option when standing in front of the three standard receptacles can be daunting. Here are a few helpful tips:
- It’s better to err on the side of putting something that can’t be recycled in a recycling bin than to put something that can be recycled in the landfill bin. Recycling facilities have people sorting the waste, and if it can’t be recycled, they’ll get it to the landfill. Once it’s in the landfill, there’s no turning back.
- You don’t need to rinse out recyclable containers before you recycle them. You should always dump out liquids and/or food waste (in the compost bin) prior to throwing something in the recycling bin, but it doesn’t need to be perfectly clean. That said, if you throw a full Coke into a mixed recycling bin, it will spill out and make any paper in there un-recyclable. If you want to recycle one of those plastic clam-shell containers with half an uneaten salad in it, dump the salad into the compost bin, lightly rinse the clam-shell (don’t waste a ton of water rinsing) and put it in the recycling bin.
- Coffee cups with plastic lids need to be separated before they go into the bins. The plastic lid and the hot sleeve go in the recycling bin and the cup goes into the compost bin. More obvious are empty sugar packets (recyclable), wooden stirrers (compostable), and napkins (compostable).
Also, it helps to have someone in every office who is the recycling captain and who constructively enforces the rules by gently notifying people when they put a piece of waste in the wrong place. At NPR, his name is Paul. At Medium, his name is @stirman.
P.S. I just watched this interesting video about how glass is recycled. Enjoy!