Every year, Americans produce around 303 million tons of waste, with each person producing an average of five pounds of trash a day. That may be a lot, but there are still ways you can reduce your total waste and keep reusable resources out of landfills. While you may not be able to go completely waste-free, two habits everyone should consider getting into are recycling and composting, as both come with a lot of great environmental benefits. Here are some tips to help you get started in your journey toward living a more sustainable lifestyle.
Recycling is a relatively simple way to do your part and take care of the environment. Besides reducing the total waste you create, recycling helps to conserve resources by reusing recyclable materials and turning them into something new. This process reduces the amount of new materials that need to be collected, manufactured, and distributed, ultimately decreasing your carbon footprint and thus your contribution to pollution.
For how much goes into it overall, recycling is actually not a huge time commitment: it simply requires sorting through your trash before you place it in the garbage. To make it even easier, you can purchase a separate recycling bin to keep in your kitchen, or you can invest in a bin with two sections that you can dedicate to trash and recycling.
You can typically recycle paper, cardboard, aluminum, glass, and certain cartons and plastic containers, though some municipalities have stipulations on the type of materials they’ll recycle. There may also be other requirements, such as the now-standard mandate to remove any food waste before recycling, so be sure to check your local policies. You can also read the label on any container or carton to see if it has the recycle logo, which is often a foolproof indicator that you’re good to recycle the material. For special items such as plastic bags, batteries, and light bulbs, you can typically recycle them at local businesses or specially designated government bins. Better safe than sorry—always do a little research before you toss any item you’re uncertain about into your regular trash can.
Simply put, composting is the process of recycling food and other natural waste by allowing it to naturally decompose into organic materials. This process saves the waste from going to landfills, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and, as a bonus, creates a valuable resource for you. Compost is a great fertilizer for your garden or yard because it can increase your soil’s moisture retention and provide extra nutrients your plants may need.
Generally, you should compost any green materials, which are nitrogen-rich items such as fruits and vegetables, eggshells, nutshells, bread, grains, pasta, rice, tea bags, and coffee grounds. However, you’ll want to avoid putting in any greasy food scraps, meats, or dairy products since they can slow down the decomposition process and make your compost pile smell. You can also compost brown materials, which are carbon-rich items like uncoated paper products, cardboard, leaves, and branches.
Most composting is done outdoors, as this allows compost piles to receive more natural airflow and water, which helps the organic materials decompose at a better rate. You can typically use any large bin, though you’ll want to be sure to have a lid so you can prevent any critters from crawling into it. Once you’ve picked your bin, place a layer of branches on the bottom, and then add your organic items. It’s recommended that you alternate between green and brown materials, working to maintain a ratio of about four parts brown to one part green. However, you don’t have to be too exact with this since the material will break down either way. You’ll also need to keep your compost pile properly aerated and moisturized by periodically mixing everything with a long stick or pitchfork. This will ensure that all the material breaks down at the same rate and help prevent any unwanted smells.
If you aren’t looking to start a large compost bin or live in a smaller apartment or condo, however, composting is easier than ever with small composting bins that you can set on your counter or hang in a cabinet. While you won’t be able to place larger items in these bins, they are great for your daily food scraps and can help keep this organic material out of your trash bin.
To help you better keep track of what goes where, consider printing and hanging the following guide on what’s recyclable and compostable somewhere in your home. By composting and recycling, you can actively reduce your total waste and live an eco-friendlier life.