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What can you and your community do about recycling?

Disposable is fast becoming a dirty word. The glory days of the throwaway society are behind us. Instead, the need to save landfill space, trees, oil, water, and electricity, as well as to reduce air and ground pollution, has led us back to recycling-common practice in all but the last few decades. What makes recycling an issue now is primarily waste reduction. Landfills are close to full in the West. They are already full in several Eastern states, where recycling is being enforced. Out here, our current voluntary recycling of two or three items (bottles, cans, newspapers) will likely soon become mandatory recycling of five or six items (add plastics, yard waste, and other paper products). Some communities are already enacting garbage-separation ordinances, per state mandate (California's Integrated Solid Waste Management Act demands that each city develop a waste-reduction plan to reduce waste by 25 percent by 1995, 50 percent by 2000). In the following pages, we share some readers' ideas on making recycling easier, give you tips on how to expand your recycling efforts easily, and offer a glimpse of recycling practices you can anticipate-and help enact-in your community. Setting up your recycling: some rules of thumb The first step is to determine the state of recycling in your community. Call your city planning, public works, or sanitation department or local waste hauler to locate recycling centers or to find out curbside pickup schedules. Find out everything the recyclers will take; push them on what they're anticipating taking in the future (this article will give you some ideas). A concerted neighborhood effort can impel them to take more. Once you know what and where you can recycle, determine how much room to set aside in your house for storing recyclables. If you have curbside pickup, plan for that time span (usually weekly or fortnightly). If you don't have the imposed routine of curbside, set up your own schedule-weekly, monthly, whatever-then plan holding space accordingly. Your best bet for space planning is to accumulate your routine amount of recyclables and measure it. Then set up your storage system, building in a little more room. Bins or drawers should be easy to open and keep securely closed, easy to empty, easy to clean slick. surfaces, no nooks and crannies). If your recycler accepts compacted material, crush aluminum cans, stomp down plastic bottles, break down cardboard boxes, put smaller glass jars inside larger ones. Reducing bulk is particularly important if you're limited to using only the bins supplied by your city's recycling contractor. Unless you're remodeling your kitchen with recycling storage solutions built in, keep kitchen storage small and simple. Larger, intermediate storage is better placed elsewhere, in your garage or garbage can storage area-closer to curb or car. Make sure storage cabinets or shelves will accommodate community-issued bins-they can be an odd size. Breaking down the waste stream Cutting down on the amount of garbage you accumulate m the first place will put a significant dent in your trash load (see page 104). How much of the remaining garbage is recyclable? Technically, just about all of it is, but a 50 percent recycling goal is quite feasible today; Seattle is shooting for 60 percent by 1998. To see what doesn't need to go to the dump, we've broken down typical household trash into its component parts by volume.


(42% of your trash) Newspapers are the largest single component of landfills, 14 percent by volume. Oversupply of newspapers has reduced recyclers' demand for them (some communities now pay recyclers to take their newsprint). Legislation is forcing demand: in California, newspapers must use 25 percent recycled stock by 1992, 50 percent by 2000. Paper mills are now rushing to build in de-inking capacity to handle the recycled stock. There's also a ready market for high-grade office and computer paper. To help set up a program in your office, call your local recycler. If you generate your own supply of excess computer paper, take it to your office for recycling if it won't be picked up at home. Mixed paper stocks-letters, magazines, catalogs, packaging-have little domestic market. Few recyclers take magazines because removing the ink, the glossy clay paper coating, and other contaminants is costly and difficult. And at present, it's just too costly to print major magazines like Sunset on recycled paper, which is heavier and more expensive than the paper this story is printed on. Current recycled paper stocks are at best about 10 percent post-consumer waste, 40 percent preconsumer waste (trimmings, roll ends, misprints), and about 50 percent virgin paper. Mixed paper collected in Seattle is shipped to the Far East, where it's sorted and recycled or incinerated as fuel. Seattle "loses" money on this, but the cost is still less than the expense of putting it in a landfill. You can extend the usefulness of your magazines by passing them on to schools, hospitals, senior centers, and other community centers where they can be shared. One way to encourage paper recycling is to buy stationery, computer paper, and other products made from recycled paper, and products packaged in recycled paper. The chasing arrow symbol means the product is recyclable; a legitimate label will say how to recycle it. If the product is made from recycled materials, the arrow may be in a black circle, or it may just say so on the label. You can also cut down on the amount of junk mail you receive. Many catalogs and magazines will, at your request, remove your name from their lists which they rent to other vendors). They'll also make sure that multiple copies of the same catalog don't go to one household under several different names. Or write to Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, I I W. 42nd St., Box 3861, New York 10163. The association will place your name on a computer tape that large list brokers check to remove names from their clients' mailings. This can reduce your unsolicited mail by up to 80 percent, though it may also stop some mailings you want to keep getting.

FOOD AND YARD WASTE (24%) Many peelings and prunings are just too good to throw away. Getting these items composted and back into your garden-or a friend's garden-is your smartest move. For how to do it, see the garden recycling article on page 120 of the September 1990 Sunset. The composter gift guide on page 132 of the December 1990 Sunset gives ideas and sources for some useful tools. Seattle's recycling program offers free compost bins to some of its customers; others who don't compost can, for a $2 per month additional fee, have up to 20 bags or containers of yard waste collected each month. A private hauler picks it up and takes it to a composting facility. Residents can also cart their yard waste to community collection stations. Here, as in some other cities, you can also pick up finished compost for your garden. San Diego is one of many cities that collect old Christmas trees and put them through a chipper, then use the mulch in city parks and streetside plantings. Check with your public works or sanitation department for tree pickups in your area.

GLASS (9%) The great thing about recycling glass is that, like aluminum, it can be reused for its original purpose (most other recyclables are reincarnated into something else). California has glass legislation similar to its newsprint bill; it demands at least a 15 percent recycled content in glass containers by July I of this year. There are signs that we may be returning to the most benign of all recyclables, the refillable bottle. In one San Francisco neighborhood, wine bottles are collected, washed, and shipped back to the wine country for direct reuse. In some communities, dairies still use glass bottles. The Rainier and Blitz Weinhard breweries sell their bottled beers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana in refillable redemption bottles; currently 78 percent are being refilled. You can ask your store to order refillable bottles for soft drinks or beer (they're normally referred to as tavern bottles).

METALS (9%) Half of all new aluminum cans come from recycling. Making new cans from recycled ones uses 95 percent less energy than producing cans from scratch. But aluminum isn't the only metal container we use, just the most widely recycled. "Tin" cans, for example, are reprocessed into steel, tin, and stannous fluoride for toothpaste. Many frozen foods, from pizzas to pies, are packaged in aluminum containers that can be picked up with these other metals.

PLASTICS (7%) No recyclable is more controversial than plastic. Count on all plastics being part of the recycling effort soon, because they are all recyclable, from the trays and wrapping your meat comes in to soap and hand lotion bottles, milk jugs, and grocery bags. But for now-until long-term plans for collection, transportation, processing, and secondary use are in place-they're still trash. There are seven broad types of plastic resins; check the bottoms of containers next time you shop. New coding (mandatory by 1992) shows an identifying number inside a triangle of chasing arrows; initials appear below the triangle. Don't confuse these industry codes with the almost identical symbol on recyclables. Here are the seven plastics types and some primary uses. V (vinyl, polyvinyl chloride). Meat wrappers, many other translucent or clear containers formerly made of glass. LDPE (low-density polyethylene). Shopping bags, bread wrappers, garment bags, most "shrink-wrap" packaging. PP (polypropylene). Margarine tubs, straws, inner lining in paperboard boxes. Plastic bottle caps, rope, and twine. PS (polystyrene). Styrene foam cartons, packing peanuts, clear plastic containers for salad, plates, bowls, utensils. Other. Hybrid packaging, multilayered, mixed material like some squeezable bottles. Decidedly OTHER nonrecyclable. Currently, only PET and HDPE (especially pop bottles and milk jugs) are being aggressively recycled, largely because of their inclusion in bottle bills. Pilot programs are under way for other plastics. One northern California grocery chain collects returned LDPE shopping bags for recycling; push to have your grocer do the same. Polystyrene products (egg cartons, clamshell hamburger containers, utensils) have been banned in some communities, notably Portland and Berkeley. These bans-and threats of further bans-have spurred the polystyrene industry to develop recycling programs. Gilroy, California, now has curbside polystyrene pickup. Another pilot program-in Marysville, California-uses schools as collection points. In general, plastics are recycled most efficiently when sorted by specific resin. You may soon have a plastics bin in your curbside pickup; technology is being developed that can scan and sort plastics. Recycled plastics are used for pillow stuffing, scouring pads, checkbook covers, truck-bed liners, flower pots, garden hoses, drainpipes, and many other uses. Mixed plastics, known as commingled plastic, can be made into weather-resistant plastic lumber (you may have seen park benches and picnic tables made out of this greenish brown material). The objective in recycling plastics is to take a product that had a short first useful life (10 minutes for a hamburger container, a week for a milk jug) and make it into something-like a drainpipe or landscape timber-that won't find its way back into the waste stream for many years. Buying such products will probably lead to better systems of recycling plastics.

ALL THE OTHER STUFF (9%) Dispose of pesticides, paints, solvents, and motor oil at a hazardous-waste center or other designated drop in your community (for ways to dispose of hazardous wastes, see page 126 of the June 1990 Sunset). Santa Monica has curbside motor-oil pickup; call your city to find a collection center. Some communities are following a lead from Scandinavia. Sweden has a voluntary battery-return program that has contributed to significant drops in mercury and cadmium contamination in ground water. Never throw away car batteries; turn them in when you buy a new one (Oregon has a $5 car battery deposit). Push for household battery collection in your community; use rechargeable batteries when you can. Disposable diapers represent I to 2 percent of landfill by volume. If you use them, try switching to cloth diapers for normal day-to-day use and reserve disposables for trips and special occasions. Most day-care centers require disposables; check the policy at yours. Ask other parents who use the facility if they'd favor a switch to cloth. Precycling: cutting down the waste you bring home Of the approximately 31/2 pounds of trash each of us throws away every day, about a third of that is packaging; by volume, packaging makes up half of what we toss out. It also accounts for about a tenth of our grocery bills. There are ways to cut down on the waste that you bring home. Here are some strategies to consider when you shop. Many beverages, staples, condiments, soaps, and other items are sold in recyclable containers or in ones made from recycled materials. Cereal, detergent, and cake mix boxes with gray (not white) insides are made from recycled paper. Look for the chasing arrow symbol on the box, and the words "made from recycled material." Buying products in recycled packaging supports and encourages manufacturers to use recycled materials. Watch for products that are overpackaged. Single-serving packages can be especially inefficient. You can reduce such waste by using reusable containers: send the juice to school in a thermos, take a coffee cup to work, use a lunch box or cloth lunch bag, and use cloth napkins and kitchen towels instead of paper ones. Be leery of plastic or paper products that claim to be photodegradable or biodegradable packaging. Garbage researchers at the University of Arizona have found that so-called biodegradable items don't necessarily break down when buried in a landfill. Instead, they're entombed and preserved.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related articles
Date:Feb 1, 1991
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