It was a long and exciting year in the world of sustainability, but the time to refresh and start anew is now upon us. This year, let’s all promise to refocus our efforts throughout 2016 to make our homes, communities, and the planet a better, cleaner, more sustainable place. To get started, here are five New Year’s resolutions for the TreeHuggers and eco-minded individuals out there.
Start recycling right
Recycling properly requires more than just stuffing your recycling bin to the brim with every material imaginable. Sometimes knowing what NOT to throw into the blue bin is equally, if not more important than recycling higher volumes of material.
At a materials recovery facility (MRF), contamination can occur when garbage and other non-recyclables accidentally enter the recycling stream. This can diminish the quality of a recycled end-product, sometimes reducing its marketability entirely. And as we know is the case in our current recycling infrastructure, if there’s less of an economic incentive to recycle, less recycling will occur.
To maintain the quality of the recycling stream, be sure you know exactly what your municipality accepts and does not accept for recycling. A call to the local recycling center or quick Google search of your municipality’s recycling program is often all you will need to do.
You might be surprised to learn what your local recycling program won’t accept. In many regions, MRFs won’t even accept recyclables that have been bound in plastic wrap or film (such as cardboard), and they will be sent to landfill. Other potentially non-recyclable materials to look out for are coffee capsules (coffee grounds are a contamination risk, and capsules are often too small to process), plastic bottles with residual product (e.g. a half-filled shampoo bottle), and paper coffee cups (most are lined with a thin layer of plastic, which is difficult to recycle). Be wary of products or packaging made with plastics #5 or #6 as well, as many regions still will not accept them for recycling.
Change your purchasing habits
It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but changing the way we buy things could help bring an end to our increasingly unsustainable disposable society. Stay away from anything designed for a single-use by purchasing higher quality, more durable items that will last many years: rechargeable batteries, woven totes instead of plastic grocery bags, metal cutlery and ceramic dishware, refillable water bottles—wherever you can make the switch, go durable.
Keep an eye out for excessive product packaging as well, and choose products from brands that limit their use of packaging as much as possible. It’s not uncommon to see products in as many as two, three, even four layers of packaging where only one (or none!) would have sufficed. For instance, instead of shrink-wrapped produce and prepackaged supermarket convenience foods, go local and buy loose produce from a nearby farmer’s market. Better yet, buy your basic cooking staples in bulk and make more home-cooked meals.
Finally, see where a product was manufactured before making a purchase. While it can certainly be a challenge in a world where most products are produced cheaply overseas, stick to those produced domestically at every opportunity.
Repair and reuse
Complacency abounds in our consumption-driven society. Why fix or reuse something you own when it can be endlessly replaced at little cost? Of course, the repercussions of this destructive, entirely unsustainable mindset are all around us.
Learn to fix what you own and fight that urge to toss broken products into the trash. If you need some direction, check out iFixit’s vast collection of repair tutorials for nearly every product imaginable. If you need to replace something altogether, go the reuse route by buying secondhand: Craigslist, thrift stores, The Freecycle Network, Etsy and word-of-mouth are all great ways to get your hands on lightly used products at little or no cost.
Demand extended producer responsibility legislation
Write to your local political leaders and state representatives, demanding that they start taking comprehensive extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation seriously. Individuals can only do so much to reduce our dependence on landfilling and waste incineration. EPR legislation, like those we see across parts of Europe, shifts the responsibility away from consumers and back to product companies and manufacturers themselves.
The potential here is huge—products designed for reuse, repair or recycling instead of linear disposal; higher quality products that last for many uses; greater accountability and transparency in the corporate world; and a strengthened recycling infrastructure. Get your representative’s attention and demand that they push for EPR legislation sooner rather than later.
Look beyond the garbage can
Finally, don’t let yourself fall victim to a disposable mindset, and think twice before throwing a potentially useful item into the trash. A particularly relevant cliché comes to mind: the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. This truly is the case with waste, and all it takes is a change in perspective. Give waste a second life by becoming an avid upcycler, no matter how simple your upcycling project is. If you need some ideas, at TerraCycle we have plenty of Do-It-Yourself upcycling projects that you and your family can do at home.