Throw it away? There’s no such place as away. What you throw in the trash usually winds up in a landfill. It might not be local.
If your municipality must send trash to a distant landfill, it means sending full garbage trucks there (which are often overweight and therefore can damage roadways) and bringing them back empty. That gets expensive.
Do you see the leachate pipe and leachate pond in the diagram? That’s the nasty, toxic byproduct of every landfill. It’s expensive to keep it from contaminating groundwater.
What happens when the landfill is filled to capacity? It’s not easy to find a place to build another. It’s hard enough to identify a site that is geologically suitable. People who live in the area will always object.
Let’s preserve precious landfill space by sending as little trash there as possible. Tweet this.
Reuse comes before recycle
You can reduce the amount of paper you recycle, for example, by preserving a supply of paper printed on only one side for and reusing it for scrap paper and notes. You can reuse the bags bread comes in for many of the ways you use any other plastic bag you’d otherwise have to buy.
If you have something you can’t or don’t want to use anymore, could someone else use it? Donate it to a charity, like Goodwill, hold a garage sale, or sell it to a consignment shop.
For more creative reuse, you can search online for “reuse [whatever].” For example, who doesn’t have a supply of obsolete and unusable compact discs, CD-ROMs and DVDs?
You can’t put them out on the curb with the rest of your recycling. What can you do with them?
A search for “reuse compact discs” returns lots of ideas, for example, 20 Creative and Cool Ways to Reuse Old CDs.
Look for drop-off recycling centers
Some of those ideas take more time and skill than I have. Not all of us are into arts and craft. I have seen simpler and sell clever ideas. Chances are, however, that even if you are very creative, you will have more compact discs (etc.) than you can reuse.
Just because your curbside municipal recycling program will not accept certain items doesn’t mean they can’t be recycled. As I reported earlier, some companies even recycle sewage, dirty diapers, and cigarette butts!
If the municipal recycling truck won’t collect some items, you just have to find a place where you can take them. Some municipalities operate drop-off centers.
For example, the town where I grew up will not accept glass for curbside recycling, but townspeople can take it to a drop-off center—and easily sort it by color. More commonly, no municipality will accept plastic bags, but most grocery stores will.
Returning to the example of compact discs, searching “recycle compact discs” reveals that you can take them to Best Buy—along with plenty more items. As a matter of fact, you have to look under the category of “music” to find compact discs listed at all.
What municipalities will accept for recycling varies from place to place. After all, they have to sell what they collect, and there might not be a nearby company that will buy large quantities of some kinds of plastic, for example. But there may be smaller recycling companies that will accept donations.
Besides hunting for them on a search engine, you can consult Earth911. Type what you want to recycle in one box and your town or zip code in another.
Mail it in
What if you can’t find a drop-off center? What if the closest ones are still too far away or otherwise inconvenient? Numerous companies exist that accept recyclables by mail.
This point is worthy of its own heading, but I don’t need to write much about it. Consulting Earth911 will tell you about both drop-in centers and mail-in centers.
Some mail-in centers accept only certain items, Christmas tree lights, for example, or unneeded prescription medication. The latter is especially important. In that case, you can probably find inexpensive mailers for that purpose at any drug store.
You can mail a wider variety of recyclable materials to others.
Get to know your hazardous waste center
No chemistry teacher would ever allow students to mix chemicals at random to see what happens. But isn’t that how we have treated our landfills? Some items are simply too dangerous to go to the landfill at all.
Every county in the country probably operates at least one hazardous waste center. It is a special kind of drop-off center. Household hazardous wastes include
- Dead batteries
- Computers, TVs, and other electronics
- Paint and related products
- Any household cleanser that contains bleach, ammonia, or has a warning label on it.
Don’t waste food waste
The amount of food wasted in this country is truly appalling. Even the most careful households will not be able to use everything. Nobody eats apple cores or banana peels.
For that matter, you probably accumulate a variety of other organic material that doesn’t necessarily have to go in the trash:
- Wilted cut flowers
- Dead house plants
- Paper towels, napkins, or tissues (although it would be greener to use cloth instead)
- Dryer lint!
If you live in a house, why not compost it?
No one wants to carry scraps out to a compost pile after every meal, but it’s easy enough to buy a container to store compostables indoors and carry them to the compost pile once a week or so.
There are two problems with using these containers.
First, you can’t put bones, grease, or meat scraps in them. That’s because you can’t put those items on an ordinary compost pile. They attract vermin. The only way to compost them is with a manufactured composting system. Since they are completely enclosed, they will compost meat products without attracting vermin.
Second, a composting container in your kitchen is likely to attract fruit flies. Here’s an easy way to get rid of them:
- Rescue a glass jar from your recycling.
- Pour half an inch or so of apple cider vinegar into it. (The saying that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar does not apply to fruit flies. They love the scent of apple cider vinegar. They can’t swim.)
- Add one drop of liquid dish detergent. (That makes the vinegar an even more potent fly killer.)
- Optionally, cover it with something like Saran Wrap™ and poke several small holes in it. (If you are among the households that choose not to purchase that kind of plastic, an uncovered jar will attract flies. But with the plastic, once they get into the jar, they can’t fly back out.)
- Pour out the dead flies from time to time and add fresh vinegar.
All of these recommendations are less convenient than simply putting stuff in the trash. But consider the cost of convenience. Your tax dollars pay for the landfill. The less we as citizens put in the trash, the less burden we’re putting on the landfill. And the less we’ll have to participate in or listen to ugly arguments about where to put the next one.
Landfill diagram. Source unknown
Textile recycling triangle. Some rights reserved by miltedflower.
Recycling dropoff center, Kansas City, Missouri
Broken circuit board. Public domain, from Wikimedia Commons.