styrofoam.jpg If you were to pile up all of the disposable food packaging you and your family have used in the past year, how big do you think that pile would be? In addition, to take-away Styrofoam containers and salad bar clamshells, there are also the cereal boxes, the shrink-wrap on the juice boxes and the cardboard egg cartons. Food packaging is all around us, and nearly always ends up in landfills. In fact, nearly one-third of all domestic waste is food packaging! Not every piece of food packaging has to end up in the garbage can – in fact, many different types of containers can be recycled or even reused. Glass bottles, aluminum cans and even those old egg cartons can become new again. There are steps that you can take as a consumer in order to be more conscious that will not only help the environment but also could also help to keep money in your pocket.

What exactly CAN be recycled?

Most people know plastic water bottles and glass jars are recyclable, but what about stuff that walks the line between the blue bin and the trash can? Examples could include somewhat greasy pizza boxes, plastic grocery bags or old pots and pans. These items seem to be made of recyclable materials, but they still make us think twice. The easiest way to determine what is recyclable is to contact your local municipal recycling service. Rules often differ from one city to another – and those rules can be a bit confusing. This website offers information on what you can recycle in your individual community when you search by city. Some cities will allow many different food packaging in their recycling centers, but they may make you sort by materials. A good rule of thumb to follow when asking yourself if an item is recyclable is to consider what was previously in it. If a glass jar that once contained your favorite vegetable juice has been rinsed properly, it could potentially pass off as new. However, some dirty plastic wrap that came off of the two-year old cheese block in the back of the refrigerator? That needs to be tossed.

What about items that are reusable?

Many items that you would toss in the recycling can also be repurposed for crafts, home décor, gifts or many other activities. Take that smaller glass jar originally meant for mayo, dress it up with some ribbon and voila – you have a beautiful vase! Those hundreds of toilet paper tubes that get tossed every year could easily be turned into children’s seasonal craft products – think a candle during Lent or a monster at Halloween. In addition, Pinterest has about a million life hacks that include TP tubes – check them out now! Whether you want to do the crafting or not, the materials in your recycling bin may be valuable to someone. If you have young children in preschool or elementary, offer your empty milk jugs and oatmeal containers to the teachers. Most educators of young children rely on their own money to garner supplies for their classroom, so they are able to come up with a lot of fun ideas for crafts and games with nontraditional items. A cereal box and rubber bands turns into a cool banjo, while leftover (clean) coffee filters can be made into snowflake decorations.

What can my family do to lower our waste output?

As many consumers begin to understand the magnitude their shopping and eating habits have on the environment, the demand for more “eco-friendly” packaging has soared. Many beverage makers brag about the fact that they made their bottle caps smaller, thus reducing waste. Other brands have turned to introducing products partially made from recycled materials – even if it’s just a fraction. Buying these products may make you feel good as a citizen of earth, but there are even more things you can do besides recycling and buying that 100% biodegradable toilet paper. The first and easiest thing you and your family can do to reduce waste output is to simply create less waste. Buy reusable glass or rubber food storage containers and utilize them instead of plastic wrap or sandwich bags. Invest in quality reusable water bottles and coffee mugs instead of constantly creating a sea of flimsy plastic or Styrofoam to-go cups. Challenge your family to reduce, reuse and recycle in order to see who makes the most garbage. At the end of the week, the person with the least amount of trash in their bin wins a special prize. You can also help eliminate food packaging and cut carbon emissions by creating your own garden. Whether you live in a rural area or the inner city, there are plenty of easy ways to source your own fruits and vegetables. If gardening just isn’t your thing, you can also subscribe to a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. A subscription will get you a weekly box of fresh fruits and vegetables from a garden right in your own neighborhood or a farm nearby. Most offerings are organic and grown with the intention of full sustainability. Use this online guide to find a CSA near you! While landfills continue to pile up with American’s dirty paper plates and half-full soda bottles, it is more important than ever to be eco-conscious. Some local governments are taking notice of the environmental hazards of certain food packaging, with outright bans on plastic shopping bags and Styrofoam take-away containers popping up across the globe. While the corporations and municipalities work everything out, you can still do your part to reduce the amount of food packaging that ends up in the dump. Remember to get educated about recycling practices in your area, as most cities are different. Many stores will now take unwanted shopping bags or other random items that many recycling centers will not take. Bring your own bags and use glass containers to store leftovers or school lunches. Why not try your hand at growing a few tomato plants in the back yard? You’ll get a tasty and fresh snack while at the same time creating ZERO packaging!