Friday, December 28, 2012

New Years Resolution Challenge: Recycle More

Recycling is a passion of mine. 
It always has been, and always will be.

Over the holidays I was going crazy watching the things that were being thrown away as everyday trash. I spoke up a couple of times, and was told to just throw it away. As a disclaimer: I love my brother and his family to the moon and back. However, watching all of the recyclable items that the family was throwing away made me want to scream. They tossed the glass bottles, paper packaging, plastic molds for toys, and wrapping paper away like they were dirty diapers (another pet peeve). There are plenty of things for me to argue with my family about, so standing on my recycling soapbox in their kitchen didn’t quite seem right. After all, they do recycle some things. It is just not quite as much as I would recycle in my own home.

On my drive back to Iowa I made a totally different kind of New Year’s resolution.  
I’m going to challenge those around me to recycle more.

There are a few ways I can take action, and hey why not blog and encourage others to do the same? If you are already the king or queen of recycling, there is always more work to be done. So I thought I would share some ideas, and examples of ways you may be able to inspire others. If you have more ideas, please share them!

Recycling takes time, space, and energy. That's all, just a little bit of your time and energy and a little bit of space around you. Do you know everything that can be recycled?  If not click here for a little recycling 101.

Everything starts in our own home. 

Do you have a space dedicated to recycling? In my home, I have a large cupboard next to the sink where I installed two bins on sliders. The front bin is for trash, the back one for recycling. Check it out here. Often times my recycling fills up 4X faster than my trash and I can go a couple of weeks without having to pay for trash tags.

One of the most common excuses I have heard from people who do not recycle is that their apartment or town does not offer recycling pick up services. This is no excuse at all. This is where an individuals time and energy come into play. Almost every small town in Iowa has a community recycling space. Huge containers where you can drop off papers, plastics, aluminum and glass for free. Make a decision to put aside the time each week or month to take care of your recycling.

Here are some ideas to increase your at-home recycling habits:

  • Be picky and buy items from the store that are minimally packaged. I love how Apple uses minimal packaging for their computers. But you buy just about any other computer and it comes in a gigantic box, four times larger than the actual CPU and filled with Styrofoam. There are companies that are attempting to lessen their carbon footprint.
Bulk foods in Mason Jars provides instant kitchen decor!
  • Buy grocery items from the bulk bins. There are bulk bins at Hy-Vee and at the Co-Ops, try it out! I love buying organic spices in bulk. Once you have the little glass jar, the spices themselves are just pennies!
  • Bring your own bulk containers to the grocery store. When you arrive, have your jars weighed at register, and then fill them up! (Yes, this takes some time and effort, as mentioned above.)
  • Compost your food waste. The City of Iowa City has great free programs to educate the community on composting (you can attend even if you are not an Iowa City resident. In the summer, they offer deals on purchasing compost bins.  Hey - why not take action and encourage your town to offer some community education on composting?


Next, look at your life on the go, starting with your car. 

I have been known to drive around with a car full of items that can be recycled because I forget to empty it at home, and I don’t want to throw away a perfectly recyclable bottle! (I know in a perfect world, I would not be buying plastic bottled anything.) 
  • Get a reusable hot and cold cup. My Starbucks Venti sized plastic cup with a reusable straw goes everywhere with me. If you bring in your own cup when eating fast food, then you save a cup from the landfills! Panera is great, they only charge you something like thirty-cents for your beverage when you bring in your own cup! (and they have great black bean soup).
  • Bring your own doggy bag. Yes, I know it sounds weird, but that is one less plastic container or Styrofoam carton that will be sitting in a landfill the next day.
  • I’m the conservationist that picks up trash and recyclables while walking through parks. There is no excuse to litter.
  • If there is no container for recycling at an event, start one! Throw a couple plastic bottles in there to show people what it is for and wha-la instant recycle bin. I’ve also been known to walk out of places with empty plastic bottles, so I could recycle them at home. 


Take action at work! 

Do you recycle paper? Is there a place to recycle in the lunch room? Make sure the recycling is being used. I have been known to stick my hand in the garbage and pull out plastic bottles, paper bags, cups, etc. and throw them into the recycling that is literally sitting RIGHT NEXT TO THE GARBAGE. Eventually, I hope others will catch on and notice the type of items that are filling the recycling and follow suit.

I started a new job a few months ago and made a joke about being the recycling nazi that throws everyone else's recycling into the containers. Our property manager looked at me and said that he had noticed there was a lot more recycling since I started working there.

Well good! I am glad to hear it! One person CAN make a difference.


You can take the same kind of action on your job.

  • If there isn’t a place to put recycling, ask if you can start one.
  • Recycle within your own desk space. Make the space underneath to put a container, and take the time on Friday to carry your recycling out with you. I have friends who work at large corporate offices like Alliant Energy and the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics that do this. They haven’t been able to take on the administration, but they make a difference in their own space.


Schools are the perfect place to Recycle

Are you a student? What about your school or your child’s school? Educating people about the importance of recycling is one of the simple ways to get others to take action.

In fifth grade a couple classmates and I took on the school administration and convinced them to stop using Styrofoam lunch trays. Every day we would walk through the lunchroom. There were shiny metal shelves lining the back wall, filled with colorful hard-plastic reusable lunch trays. Somewhere along the line a lazy lunch lady thought it would be easier to just throw the trays away and do away with dishes. So our school began creating tons of waste that would never biodegrade instead of continuing to take the time and effort to respect the environment. The plastic trays just sat on the shelf collecting dust. Getting the school to do away with those Styrofoam trays was a huge victory for a ten year old.


Take action in your community!

A few years ago when I worked as Executive Director for Summer of the Arts, I learned that the Iowa Arts Festival and Iowa City Jazz Festival each created over a ton of waste in a single weekend. Meaning over the course of two weekends each summer, four thousand pounds of waste was added to the landfill. This did not sit well with me.

With a little creative thinking I changed the festival policies. Food vendors would be required to use compostable food ware and water stations would sell refillable water bottles and we would add in water machines. The first summer this was a highly encouraged option for vendors, the second year it was required. Compost bins were added to the festivals, advertising, signs and education items were added for the community. And just like that a new green tradition was created!

There was a lot of hard work that went in on the back end of things. The Operations Manager helped to coordinate a bulk order and distribution of compostable food ware because there was no place local to order what they needed. Not every food vendor jumped right on board with the new policy either. It was a learning lesson for everyone involved. But there was a lot of support. The City of Iowa City helped us to get containers and then gave ideas on how to improve the process. By the second summer we had diverted nearly a ton of trash by composting.

Today, the compost program has received grant money for better sorting containers and education programs. The festivals are called upon by other organizations across the country looking to start their own composting program. The program has also helped to establish a new small business. One of the food vendors now has a business selling compostable food ware. Many of the food vendors that own restaurants use the compostable containers as their every day to-go containers instead of Styrofoam.

Okay, so now the challenge is back to you.

What will you do to go green this year? How can you make a difference in your home, place of work, school or community? Are you up for the challenge?

Share your success stories and ideas!

Most importantly, have a fabulous new year filled with positive energy and momentum for creating change.