On April 22, we will celebrate Earth Day 2019. Some of the best things we can do to take personal responsibility for our own consumption is to recognize the areas in our lives where we are the most wasteful and work to alter those habits. Not only is this healthy for the planet, but it also helps to save a lot of money in the long run.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2012, Americans generated close to 250 million tons of trash. Unfortunately, only about one-third of that amount made it to recycling. In 2018, the EPA reported that the recycling rate increased from less than 7 percent in 1960 to 35 percent. Recycling also creates jobs. For every 10,000 recycled materials, nearly 16 jobs and $760,000 in wages are supported. There are many things that we can do to continue this upward trend. The most essential thing is to understand what can and can’t be recycled, and how to prepare these materials.
Materials that can always be placed in recycling bins include bottles (not glass though anymore), jugs, and cartons, cans, cardboard, and paper. Before these materials are placed in bins, they should be empty and clean. There is no need to bag any recyclables; it is easier to process these items if they are placed directly into the bins. Materials that should never be placed in curbside recycling bins include plastic bags, cell phones, diapers, food, foam, clothing, cables/lights, wrappers, shredded paper, and glass items.
Many of these materials that cannot be recycled curbside can be recycled in other ways. Plastic bags can be dropped off at many grocery stores with plastic bag receptacles, cell phones can often be donated at electronics retailers, and clothing can be delivered to secondhand shops or other retailers who participate in garment recycling programs. For a variety of reasons, glass placed in curbside recycling bins is processed as waste; however, clean glass bottles and jars delivered to purple containers at recycling drop-off centers located around the county are crushed and used in county projects.
What are some easy ways that we can all incorporate environmentally friendly actions into our daily lives?
Invest in reusable items. Our society is largely a “throwaway culture” that is based on convenience more so than on sustainability. A lot of the disposable plastic that we throw out makes its way to the ocean, which harms marine life and creates hardship for those who rely on the ocean for their food and livelihoods. Replacing plastic water bottles with reusable bottles (which come in so many different shapes and sizes), disposable utensils for reusable ones, paper or cloth towels for dish towels (we cut up old clothes for dish towels), and plastic grocery bags with reusable canvas bags, to name a few, go a long way to reducing waste and the amount of nonbiodegradable material in our landfills and oceans.
Shop secondhand. Trash created from old clothing is one of the largest contributors to pollution. Textiles are not 100 percent disposable, so the clothing that gets thrown away can remain in landfills for over 200 years. Opting to shop for pre-worn clothing can help minimize the amount of textile waste.
Get active. Whenever you notice trash accumulating on the side of the road or in other public places around your community, clean it up. Earth Day is a great time to gather friends and family and participate in a community clean-up project in a local park or along a waterway. It’s too late for the Little Hunting Creek clean up that took place on April 13, but the Senator Surovell-Krizek annual creek clean up is happening on May 11 at 9 a.m. at Janna Lee Bridge and Fordson Road across from Momma’s Kitchen. There is also the MV-Lee Chamber Highway Cleanup of Jeff Todd Way April 27 from 8-10:30 a.m. meeting at the Candlewood Suites at 8 a.m. Congratulations to all the volunteers that cleaned up sites along the creek in Stratford Landing, Riverside Estates, First River Farms, Gum Springs, Col. Byers Park, and White Oaks Park.
Earth Day might only come once a year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep up these sustainable habits throughout the year to continue to make your community, and the world, a cleaner and more eco-friendly place for yourself and for the generations to come.