*Note some links may be affiliate links. Click here to learn more.
Welcome to episode 10 of this season, we’re going to take a break from discussing the Sustainable Development Goals since this Saturday is Earth Day. For this episode we’re going to dig into and expand on the common “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” triangle around Earth Day.
Mint Green Challenge: Reduce is the common R used on Earth day, but the more powerful one is refuse. If we are careful to refuse to take new stuff we don’t need we will be reducing the overall amount of things that are produced and helping take part in a positive shift for us, the planet and our future generations. By making these choices we are also sending a message to manufacturers about what we care about and can, en masse, get them to shift their practices towards long lasting, sustainable products produced in humane ways going forward. The easiest of things to refuse are items such as single use plastics because you can buy reusable bags, straws, zip-lock-esque bags, etc. If you don’t have any of these and are interested, I’ve left links to some of my favorites at the bottom of this article.
Shamrock Green Challenge: Reuse and Repair - This one I think is harder for two reasons, first is that our society has been living in a single-use mind state for a while. From not being allowed to be seen wearing the same dress twice to the marketing of paper towels (that AREN’T recyclable) to TVs and vacuum cleaners that are becoming cheaper to replace than to repair. The second is that because of this it has become quite hard to find a place that will repair things such as vacuums, TVs, laptops and other electronics. By all means look for repair places, as that will create less production of material and use less energy. But that also means it is even more important now to make sure that what you’re buying will last; invest in things that have a track record of lasting many years. If something you have does break and you can’t find a repair place for it you have two other alternatives.
Look for a local repair class near you. Often decent sized cities will have them available semi-regularly and they will help you repair items and teach you how to repair them yourself so you’ll be more self-sufficient in the future.
Look for ways to repair on the number one how-to website, Youtube! You can find a how-to repair video on almost anything on there these days.
Forest Green Challenge: Recycle and Rot - Rot, or compost as we more commonly call it can be a powerful ally in our fight against greenhouse gasses. Food that ends up in a landfill creates large amounts of methane, and composting decreases that amount significantly while also retaining more water in the soil and reducing or removing the need for fertilizers in your soil! You can compost at home and while I’ve been trying for two years I’ve only been semi successful in making soil. Some cities have services that will allow you to drop off your compostables there for them to do professionally, or faster than you can do at home. Other cities might offer a free or paid service to pick them up for you at your residence which makes it super easy to do.
For things that can’t be composted, try to recycle what you’re able to. Now that sounds easy to do but is surprisingly harder than you’d think. While in many locales they claim that the numbers 1-7 are all recyclable there are a bunch of restrictions within that. For starters numbers 6 and 7 pretty much can’t be recycled. And while number 5 can be recycled, it costs so much to do so that it is rarely economical. It also is extremely difficult to get the smell out of this type of plastic (polypropylene). Let’s keep going down the list, #4 plastic, LDPE or Low-density polyethylene plastic is the stuff you find in packing everywhere. It is your bubble wrap, your thin plastic liners, and your plastic shopping bags. Technically this can be recycled, but NEVER in your curbside pickup as it will jam the machines, stop the recycling process and increase the cost for the other types. By me I’m able to take these to a grocery store and drop them off there, where they will either be reused to make new grocery bags or turned into a fake wood composite for decks.
Number 3 plastic or PVC, Polyvinyl chloride is quite hard to recycle and is suspected of leaching phthalates into food which affects our hormones. So maybe avoid these in general. They are usually the bottles that oil and mouthwash come in. See if you can find a local refill shop nearby instead. Number 2 or HDPE is one of the most common plastic types out there. This is found in many common household containers, milk jugs, shampoo bottles, etc. While this is one of the easiest plastics to recycle, only about 30% of HDPE actually gets recycled in the US. And for our final contestant…#1, PET plastic! There are 3 places in the world that recycle over 50% of this; India, Europe and South Korea, the rest are below, often quite below that number. One interesting thing about PET plastic is that there is a growing trend with using these bottles to build 3rd world buildings with.
The last piece I’ll say is about why most recycling doesn’t actually get recycled. Reason 1 is because there is food residue on it. If you don’t do a really good job getting the food/liquid out of it, the recycling center can’t recycle it and will simply throw it in the trash. Now this gets a bit complicated on how much water we’re using to clean these containers. There is no set amount of water that is the right amount so use your best judgment about if something will require too much water to properly clean out. The other reason that most people aren’t aware of is that the darker the color of the plastic the less likely the machines can read it and therefore won’t be able to recycle it. This basically means any black plastic you buy (or often get as a to go or doggy bag container) will NOT be recycled. So buy carefully and bring your own to-go container whenever possible.
That was a lot of information. Hopefully my microphone was better this week. If this episode has inspired you to try to avoid using plastic in general I will link to some of my favorite alternatives to using plastic in the show notes. That's it for this week. Until next time, be green and be seen.