The ability to improve current recycling rates is arguably one of the most important opportunities today for improving our economy, our environment and our natural resources. So the folks at Keep America Beautiful have announced that November 15th will be America Recycles Day, a day to learn the importance of recycling, what can be recycled, and where to recycle your items. The theme this year is “Bathrooms, Bags and Gadgets.” There are many opportunities to recycle bathroom items we use everyday but may not realize can be recycled.
Before we address the bathroom, let’s address the bags and gadgets for a moment.
Several items not just in our bathroom but all over our homes come in plastic bags and plastic packaging. People often forget that if it is plastic but not in bag form, it can still be recycled. That includes plastic such as the large wrapping for your rolls of toilet paper. In recent years, only a small fraction of plastic bags, sacks, and wraps were recycled, meaning that move than 3,470 tons (or $694,000 worth) were merely discarded.
A recent article from Salon.com said that, “They’re made from petroleum or natural gas with all the attendant environmental impacts of harvesting fossil fuels. One recent study found that the inks and colorants used on some bags contain lead, a toxin. Every year, Americans throw away some 100 billion plastic bags after they’ve been used to transport a prescription home from the drugstore or a quart of milk from the grocery store. It’s equivalent to dumping nearly 12 million barrels of oil.”
Plastic bags can persist for centuries in landfills. Due to their light weight, plastic bags often end up in oceans and water systems where they are toxic to our sea life.
If you can carry your purchase out of the store or fit it in you purse, decline the plastic bag. Declining plastic bags at the store will also encourage more store owners to ask whether the consumer wants a bag before simply wrapping every purchase in plastic. Take reusable bags with you to the store for grocery shopping. Returning an item you purchased online? Send back the plastic it came in as well. The less plastic we bring home, the less that will have to be recycled.
Millions of electronic devices become obsolete each year. Despite efforts to recycle or donate them, the vast majority of those items still end up in landfills.
Toxic components such as lead, mercury and cadmium are commonly found in these devices and can easily make their way into the environment if they aren’t handled properly.
When you are done using an electronic item, donate it or recycle it – but do NOT throw it away. Consider whether the store or brand has a recycling program, such as the ones on this list. Mobile phones can be donated through the HopeLine from Verizon or at your local police station. Seek out organizations such as these where you can donate electronics. Ask if your local school district can use them. Look for your town’s recycling opportunities too.
Recycling in the Bathroom
Not only is it important to know what you can recycle in the bathroom, it is vital to know what items you shouldn’t just throw away. According to EcoLife.com, “Disposal of consumer products, including things like medicines, personal care products, and makeup, is now the primary cause for contamination of fresh and ocean waters in industrialized nations, especially since water treatment plants are unable to break down the majority of the toxins that we put into them.”
Several cosmetics companies have recycling programs, where you can turn in your used bottles and containers to the company. Look here for a list of brands that participate.
Want an easy tip for getting better about recycling items in the bathroom? Put a small waste basket in your bathroom(s) just for recyclables!
Plastic bottles, caps and containers: Many people don’t think about recycling shampoo bottles and other plastic bottles and containers, yet those bottles are just as important to recycle as the ones in your kitchen. Americans throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour. Yet for every ton of plastic bottles recycled, we could save the equivalent energy usage of a two-person household for an entire year.
Think about it this way. If only 1 in 5 people recycle their shampoo bottles, the amount that end up in landfills each year would equal the weight of 1.8 million average-sized pumpkins.
Glass: Don’t forget the glass bottles in your bathroom too, particularly those used for cosmetics. More than 28 billion glass bottles and jars end up in landfills every year, the equivalent of filling up two Empire State Buildings every three weeks.
Glass can be recycled and re-manufactured an infinite amount of times and never wear out. Recycling just one glass jar saves enough electricity to light a 100-watt light bulb for four hours, power a computer for 30 minutes, or keep a television on for 20 minutes.
Plus, one glass container can go from a recycling bin to a store shelf in as few as 30 days. For each ton of glass recycled, an equivalent amount of natural resources are conserved.
Using recycled glass instead of raw material also emits fewer greenhouse gasses, and reduces related water pollution by up to 50%.
Paper: From packaging of products like soap to the cardboard rolls inside the toilet paper, there is plenty of paper in the bathroom that can be recycled. In 2010, Americans threw away enough to cover 26,700 football fields in paper three feet deep.
Making new paper from recycled paper reduces the related contribution to air pollution by 95%. Recycling 1 ton of cardboard would save 46 gallons of oil. Think about how much recycling all of our paper could reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
Lightbulbs: Did you know that your lightbulbs (even LED bulbs) can be recycled? Per square foot, bathrooms typically use a lot of lightbulbs. When they burn out, you can drop them off at a local recycling center.
If you haven’t made the switch to LED bulbs yet, please consider it. If everyone in America switched to nothing but LEDs today, the nation’s electric bill would go down by more than $10 billion annually. That change alone would significantly reduce the carbon emissions that are damaging the environment.
The simple act of recycling can improve our economy, our environment, and our natural resources. When it comes to recycling, we can do so much better. Not just on America Recycles Day, but every day.
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