16 - 2010

How Much Do We Waste in a Throw-Away Culture?

Is our whole world disposable?

If you look at the statistics of how much waste people create in the industrialized nations and how relatively little we recycle (or “recover,” to use the Environmental Protection Agency’s alternate language), you would think so.

To bring this point home, the good people at Recycle recently sent me the graphic below about recycling. (If you can’t see the graphic, you can view the full thing at the Recycle website, which is UK based.)

You won’t see the United States on the list of what percentage of waste is recycled, but according to a rundown on Love To Know, the EPA reports that in the United States, recycling and composting capture about 32 percent of municipal solid waste. That would put us last on the list above.

Of course, it is frustrating to try to recycle if your community doesn’t offer easy, curbside pickup. But please take these steps to minimize your own solid-waste footprint:

  1. Think twice before buying heavily packaged or non-recyclable goods.
  2. Find out what recycling facilities are near you and consider keeping a bin for glass, metal and paper, at least, in your basement, garage or porch. You’ll feel like a proud citizen when you drop off your recyclables. For metal, you might even be able to entice a scrap-metal collector to pick up your collection and turn it in for cash.
  3. Encourage your city council, HOA or whoever is in charge of garbage collection to look into recycling and even composting options.

My daughter’s school recently took the latter approach. To our surprise, when the school investigated their trash collection options, they found that they could switch vendors and move to a company that would break out recyclables in the lunchroom AND accept cafeteria leftovers for composting — as well as take solid waste for garbage — for about the same price as the current vendor, which only offered trash and minimal recycling services. Even after purchasing a fleet of new recycling bins, the school is breaking even on the switch.

What can you do to move the U.S. up on the list of responsible re-users? Think about it …

Infographic by Recycle – Don’t bin it, recycle it

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