In some communities, recycling is easy. You’re given a plastic bin that you put your recyclables in and set out for pick-up. Not so in our community. Here, we need to take our recycling to one of three drop-offs, each of which accept different items and are open at different odd hours.
So for years, while hoping our community would hand us one of those plastic bins, we made several failed attempts at trying to recycle ourselves. We would devote a box to recycling, fill it up, never remember to take it in, and finally get tired of tripping over it and throw it out.
After three such failed attempts, our success finally came almost by accident. When the farm my husband had been working on closed down, we looked at ways to cut our budget, and trash pick-up caught our eye. Now, I had never really considered trash pick-up optional. To me, it was just an expense that came with the house, like electricity or cable. I certainly wasn’t going to be like one of our neighbors who burned everything (including plastic) in their backyard. But as I looked at the bill for $89.63 (for three months of pick-up), I decided there must be a way to save money there. Sure enough, dropping off the trash at the dump ourselves would only cost $3 for up to six bags. We decided that at that savings we could certainly fit a regular trip to the dump in our schedule.
That afternoon, as I turned to throw an empty milk jug into the trash, I stopped. “That’s going to nearly fill the bag,” I thought, “but I could recycle it for free.” With that, I set up a box in the kitchen for plastics, soon followed by boxes for paper and metals. Since the dump had a recycling station, we could drop off most of the recycling while taking in our trash (though annoyingly enough the plastics have to be dropped off at a different location). In one week, our family cut our trash output in half. Suddenly we were motivated, not only by the idea of being good stewards of earth’s resources, but also by the idea of saving money. As we took our fist load in, I felt exhilarated. Finally, I was doing my part to reduce waste. Looking at the amount of items we were throwing in the recycling bins and imagining that amount going into the landfill, I started to visualize how much of an impact one person can make.
There was still the challenge of tripping over recycling boxes. After all, since we were throwing out so little trash, our trips to the dump were only about once a month–if that. We were storing trash bags in the garage, but we didn’t want to get our recycling mixed up with trash, so the clutter gathered in our kitchen. Most embarrassing was our large box where we were throwing paper and cardboard. It was placed not-so-stratigically to be one of the first things someone would see when they came to our front door. And it piled up quickly. Something had to be done.
Out of desperation, we bagged up some recyclables and put them in the basement, but that led to the opening of bags at the landfill to determine which were trash and which were recyclables. No fun. So we found some large clear bags at Staples. Now, when a bin fills up, we bag it and put it in the garage with the trash without having to worry about not knowing what’s inside.
Our final step (so far) of incorporating recycling into our lifestyle happened when I received a birthday check from my mother-in-law. It was the right amount for some stackable recycling containers I had heard about. (My mother-in-law must have thought I was crazy. “Doesn’t your county provide bins?”)
Now we have six bins:
- one for metals
- one for plastics
- one for cardboard
- one for newspaper
- one for paper
- and one that’s shared for glass and cereal bags
See, once we started recycling, we noticed that one of the things we were throwing out the most was cereal bags. So when we learned that Terracycle accepts cereal bags for up-cycling, we signed on. Since we don’t usually have a lot of glass to recycle, we started putting cereal bags in that bin in order to save space.
I’m sure that our recycling journey will continue, especially as our family starts studying how the pioneers handled waste and westart implementing ideas inspired by their lifestyle. But I’m not sure any changes we make could be as hard as taking that first step–a step that took years of failed attempts. Yet now that that step has been taken and recycling has become a part of our lifestyle, each step we take is easier and easier.
And every time I look at my personal recycling center, I feel content. It may not be easy being green–but it sure is worth it!