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Time to Ramp Up Recycling

May 24, 2014

RR bins

While waiting for the local train to Manhattan a few years ago, I watched a worker empty three bins. One was for trash, another was for newspapers and a third was for bottles and cans. The employee nonchalantly dumped the contents of all three receptacles into the same trash bag.

So much for saving the planet.

More recently, I was glad to see the new dual-purpose trash cans at my health club: one half is clearly labeled “waste,” while the other is just as clearly labeled “recycle.” But when I peeked inside, I saw that the recyclables side was filled with garbage.

dual can

Is recycling really that hard? Why is it that people will dutifully separate trash from recyclables in their own homes for weekly pickup but can’t be bothered to do the same at work or elsewhere outside the home?

In one office where I worked several years ago, every employee was given a bright blue basket marked “white paper” so that the hundreds of printouts generated weekly could be recycled. But many staff members ignored the bins, which was the company’s one concession to reducing waste.

Now there’s a new source of waste: those single-serving coffee and tea pods, such as K-Cups, which have become popular in offices and other workplaces. Some companies that sell one-cup brewing systems, including Keurig Green Mountain and Nespresso, have begun programs to collect used pods for recycling. But how many businesses will opt to participate?

coffee pods

Efforts to recycle and reuse supplies in the workplace and goods at home seemed to be hip for a while in this country. That trend was reflected in popular culture. “Parenthood,” “Desperate Housewives” and other TV shows, for example, began showing characters returning home with cloth grocery bags instead of paper bags — a subtle reference to being “green.”

But for some reason, these simple steps to help curb our nation’s mounting waste no longer seem fashionable.

As of 2012, only 34.5% of households in the U.S. engaged in recycling, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The rate is up from about 10% in 1980, but has grown little since the turn of this century.

Meanwhile, recycling rates in several European countries are 50% or higher, the European Environmental Agency reports. If 63% of Austrians and 62% of Germans can fill up recycling bins, why aren’t more Americans becoming greener?

These days, it’s hard to justify the objection that recycling programs are inconvenient or unavailable. Whether you live in a city or suburb, there’s a good chance that your community offers curbside pickup of recyclables.

When asked about this just last month, 55% of the participants in a U.S. survey said their community provided this service. (Meanwhile, one in 10 admitted that they dumped trash into recycling containers because their garbage cans were full!)

Some cities require owners of office buildings and other commercial properties to participate in local recycling programs or risk getting a fine. But a business doesn’t need that kind of incentive or have to be a paragon of environmental consciousness to encourage employees to be green. They can do so simply because recycling and reusing supplies lowers their costs and boosts their bottom lines.

So how do we make it easier to be green? Here are some suggestions:

  • At work, use your own ceramic coffee mug and water glass. Not only will that trim your workplace’s usage of paper and plastic foam cups, it’s bound to improve the taste of your beverage. You also will put a dent in this statistic: the average American office worker uses about 500 disposable cups yearly.
  • Instead of using disposable pods in your home coffee machine, use one of the reusable filter cartridges or recyclable pods now on the market.
  • At home, use cloth napkins instead of paper ones. Inexpensive washcloths work just as well as fancy linens.
  • Bring old or used rechargeable batteries, fluorescent light bulbs and electronic devices to stores that accept them, such as Best Buy, Home Depot and Target.
  • If your community accepts junk mail for recycling, include notes, receipts and other scraps of paper in the mix. My town recycles all kinds of discarded paper, along with newspapers, catalogs and the like.
  • Recycle wine bottle corks. ReCORK is a natural cork collection and recycling program that has drop-off locations, such as local wine shops. The corks are turned into footwear and other products. Just think, you could complete  the circle by buying a pair of cork sandals!

Do you recycle at home and/or at work? What green tips do you have?

© Janice Leary and My Point Exactly, 2010-2017. Unauthorized use of this material, including original photographs, without written permission from this blog’s author is prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Janice Leary and My Point Exactly, with links to the original content.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 30, 2014 5:24 pm

    Important post! Work recycling is a hard sell. I hope that individual views are shifting and this will “filter” down to our everyday habits, like you suggested in your article.

    • July 1, 2014 12:42 pm

      Thank you. Call me an optimist, but I think that support for recycling will eventually carry over into the workplace.

  2. Joyce permalink
    July 7, 2014 12:38 pm

    Important article and well written. I am a sister-recycler and have been amazed myself over the years at how many people at my local gym and in my office don’t recycle, yet many have told me they recycle curbside or via their town/city recycle centers. I agree with the author: why not increase recycling efforts (or start for those not in the recycling habit). All will benefit and the planet we all share will “thank” us.

  3. July 7, 2014 3:52 pm

    I agree with the importance of recycling but I find it hard both at work and living in an apartment. Neither place recycles. I try to do my part my doing some of your suggestions in this post — I use my own cup and glass at work, limit use of paper plates and products, use cloth napkins and recycle magazines by bringing into work for patients.

    I called the town I live in to see why our apartment complex doesn’t use recycle bins. They told me it was up to the management. I was told by apartment management they had tried in past, but people were not using them correctly. I was not satisfied with either parties’ answers.

    At least we have family members who want to take our bottles and cans to recycle because they want the return money! Always a good motivator-don’t you agree?

    • July 7, 2014 4:59 pm

      I do agree. Cash certainly is a reliable incentive. It seems to me that your apartment complex managers could have tried a little harder to make sure tenants used the recycling bins correctly. This isn’t rocket science!

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