Containers and packaging make up the bulk of the recyclables your household generates. Between 2000 and 2018, the amounts generated increased from 75.84 million tons to 82.22 million tons. The good news is that the tonnage recycled increased from approximately 38% to 53.8%.
There’s still room for improvement. In 2000, 37.86 million tons of packaging and containers ended up in the landfill. This dropped to 30.53 million tons in 2018. A good way to help boost recycling rates is by making smarter purchases as recycling starts with the things you buy.
The Best Ways to Make Smarter Purchases at the Store
Making smarter purchases is easier than you might expect. It’s helpful to know what you can and cannot easily recycle in your area. For items that aren’t easy to recycle, avoid making purchases in that type of packaging.
One area to start is the grocery store. When you buy spices, grains, sugars, and herbs, save and reuse jars. When you need to restock, bring the jar, have a store clerk weigh it, and fill the jar from the bulk containers. If your grocery store doesn’t have bulk containers, go to a natural food store. By refilling rather than getting new containers, you keep plastics and glass out of the recycling stream.
In the meat department, stop getting packaged meats with styrofoam containers. Instead, go to the butcher counter and have the butcher fill your order from the display case. Instead of styrofoam, you’ll get your meat wrapped in butcher paper. Ask if the butcher paper is treated with food-safe plastic or not. If it isn’t, you could compost it in a bin that’s used for your flower beds. Don’t use it for food gardens due to the meat juices.
When purchasing vegetables, purchase reusable vegetable bags. They may be made from canvas or mesh, but you can avoid using a clear plastic bag and toss the produce bags in the wash between shopping trips.
Use reusable bags as much as possible. For any plastic bags you do get, save them for your next shopping trip. While you cannot recycle them in your curbside bin, most grocery stores have drop-off bins for plastic bags, padded mailers, air pillows/bubble wrap, and dry cleaning bags.
Are you shopping for new office supplies? Head to Staples or Best Buy and ask about the electronics and empty ink cartridges trade-in program. Most stores offer a discount on your new ink purchase if you recycled old cartridges first. Many stores also accept certain electronics and offer some cash incentives if the item still has value.
Shop for Brands That Reuse Materials
Support companies that support the best recycling practices. Look for companies that pledge to make their packaging and containers from recycled plastics and glass. For example, Naked Juice uses 100% recycled content in its packaging. Nestle ReSource Water bottles are also made from 100% recycled content. Meanwhile, Mountain Valley Spring Water only uses 35% recycled content.
Several cleaning product companies have turned to eco-friendly practices. Purchase the cleaning spray bottles and containers and dissolving tabs, vials, or other refills that contain the cleaning agents. Put the cleaning tab or contents of the vial into the empty bottle, add water, and mix it. You may have an already made cleaner concentrate that you pour into the bottle. You end up with bottles you can use for years and minimal packaging to recycle or trash.
If you’re looking for new clothing, look at brands that use recycled materials. Muk Luks has a line of socks that are made with thread created with recycled plastic bottles. Girlfriend Collective, Patagonia, and Rothy’s all make apparel from recycled plastic. You can also send back clothing that’s worn out to companies like H&M, The North Face, and Patagonia to keep them out of landfills. When you recycle with H&M and The North Face, you get a discount on your next purchase.
Make It Yourself and Avoid Packaging
Do you drink a lot of seltzer or soda? Lower the number of bottles and cans you recycle by making your own. You’ll use your own home’s filtered water, reuse the bottles that come with the carbonation system, and SodaStream and Soda Sense offer ways to refill co2 containers either through a participating retailer or through the mail. Soda Sense reuses the boxes, so you don’t recycle them. Simply remove the old label, put on the new postage-paid label, and mail it back out when needed.
If you drink a lot of water, purchase a reusable water bottle and fill it at home. Some water bottles have built-in filters that clean the water if you’re worried about the water quality when you refill your water bottle at the office or when you’re away from home.
Make your own bread at home or buy bread from a bakery and lower the number of plastic bags you’re recycling at drop-off bins. Fresh bread gives you control over the ingredients, and it tastes better. You’ll find easy-to-follow bread recipes at sites like King Arthur Flour.
Stop buying granola that comes in plastic bags within a cardboard box. Granola is incredibly easy to make with items you buy in bulk. Nuts, old-fashioned oats, wheat germ, and dried fruit are all you need. Toss the nuts, oats, and wheat germ in some maple syrup and bake at a low temperature for an hour or two. Add the dried fruit to the cooled oats mixture and store it in air-tight containers. Avoid baking by making your own muesli with oats, raw nuts, dried fruits, and flax or sunflower seeds.
Do you use a lot of chicken, vegetable, or beef stock? In many areas, the foil-lined containers are not recyclable. Instead of adding those to the landfill, make your own stocks. Beef bones are usually easy to find at a local butcher. Slowly simmer them for hours with some celery, carrots, onions, and herbs to create a low-sodium beef broth. Do the same with the bones that remain after roasting a chicken. If you’re making vegetable broth, roast your favorite vegetables and then add to a pan with water. Once boiled for a couple of hours, use cheesecloth to strain the bones and/or vegetables from the liquid. Store it in freezer-safe reusable jars or containers.
Reuse as many of your recyclable products as you can. If you’re looking to purchase a new bookcase, consider making one out of old furniture you have sitting in the basement or your garage. That broken ladder could be dismantled, turned into a trendy bookshelf, and painted in colors that match your design. Turn empty paper egg cartons into seedling starters. Fill the egg carton with potting soil, add a seed, and place it on a baking sheet for quick clean up. When it’s time to move seedlings to the garden, cut or tear off each container and plant directly into the prepared bed.
Tear up cardboard and mix it into your compost to create rich soil for your gardens. When you mix paper, vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and fruit scraps and give it time to decompose, you avoid having to buy bags or truckloads of manure or compost.
Learn where to recycle as much as you can. Recycling always starts with the things you buy and knowing what you can and cannot recycle is equally important. If you need help figuring out what’s allowed in your district, check your local waste district’s website or visit Recycle Nation to use the online recycling directory.