Vermont is the only state in the nation to celebrate Green Up Day on the first Saturday in May, but that doesn’t mean others can’t join in. As the landscape greens up, it’s a time for area residents to walk around their neighborhoods and streets and pick up a winter’s worth of trash and recyclables that have been thrown from cars or blown out of recycling containers.

It’s estimated that there were around 50 billion pieces of trash or recyclables along roads and waterways in the U.S. Everyone needs to do their part to keep that litter from making it to oceans. Join in. Here are nine ways to help the environment now that spring has arrived and keep the recycling momentum going throughout the year as you consider your purchases and lower the amount of trash and recycling that you generate. 

Pick Up Trash When You See It

When you’re out walking your dog or taking a walk with friends, bring a small bag and pick up trash as you see it. If you find items like needles, ask the area police what to do with them. Generally, the rule is to put them in a small plastic bottle and secure the lid on them. From there, the police may take them for proper disposal. If not, they’ll advise you on how to safely dispose of them.

Cardboard, Bottles, Cans, and Food Packaging Are the Most Littered Items

In ten years, the biggest increases in roadside and waterway trash and recyclables came from these five items.

  • Cardboard
  • Beer bottles and cans
  • Food packaging film
  • Sports drinks
  • Water bottles

All of these can be recycled, and some can bring in some cash. If you live in a state where you pay a deposit, picking up cans and bottles along the roadside can bring in some cash. Bring them with you to a bottle redemption center or the grocery store if there’s a bottle return area. You’ll get cash and ensure items thrown out on the road are properly recycled.

In 2022, the executive director of Sure We Can reported that some New Yorkers earn a living by picking up cans and bottles along the roadside. One family reported making up to $1,000 a day doing this.

Even if you don’t want to return the bottles and cans you find, check with local schools and organizations to see if anyone is running a bottle drive. You can donate the bottles and cans you collect to an area youth group, homeless shelter, or other non-profit.

Volunteer With a Waterway Clean-Up Crew

Do any of your area’s organizations or businesses do a waterway green-up? If one does, sign up and help out. Typically, you’ll put on waders and have a grabber. You and a partner work to pick up trash and recyclables you find as you wade down a stream or river. One of you holds the bag open and the other picks items up using a grabber or gloved hands. 

This is typically done in shallow streams and rivers. If they’re too deep, you’ll stick to the shore and pick up trash you find along the banks and edges or SCUBA divers and boaters clean up the deeper areas.

One of the largest river clean-up programs takes place each year in Oregon. Hundreds of volunteers work their way along sections of the Clackamas River Basin and have picked up between one to three tons of trash and recyclables each year.

Keep Your Recycle Bin Covered

When you do recycle, make sure your bin is covered if it’s windy out. When possible, put your bin curbside as close to the hauler’s arrival as you can. If it’s allowable, ask the hauler if you can secure the lid using a bungee cord or heavy rock. That will keep the lid from blowing open and have lighter recyclables blowing out onto the street or nearby stream.

Limit How Much Trash and Recycling You Generate

When you’re purchasing items, consider how much trash and recycling you’re generating. Instead of purchasing single-use water bottles, invest in refillable water bottles. If you worry about your water quality at home, work, or school, invest in a refillable water bottle that has a built-in water filter.

When purchasing vegetables and fruit at the store, bring a reusable cloth or mesh produce bag to put the produce in. You can wash them once items are transferred to your refrigerator and use them again on your next trip.

Recycle Plastic Film and Food Packaging

When you purchase foods, beverages, and household supplies that come in plastic wrap, save that plastic wrap in a clear plastic trash bag. You can also recycle plastic mailers, bubble wrap, air pillows, and plastic shopping bags. 

When it’s full, bring that bag to the grocery store with you. Plastic film recycling is available at most grocery stores and major discount retailers. Look for the green plastic film recycling bins in the entrances or bottle return areas.

Reuse and Upcycle What You Can

You have a broken wooden step ladder that needs to go into the trash as one rung snapped. You’ve also been looking at plant stands for growing fresh herbs. Instead of trashing the ladder and purchasing something new, use a little creativity. Half of the ladder is still in good shape. 

You could remove the broken rung and drill holes large enough to bolt clay plant pots to the remaining rungs. Fill those with potting soil and grow your herbs on that ladder. Lean the ladder against the side of your house or a patio wall where the plants will get some sun exposure.

That’s just one way to reuse a broken item. People have turned old tires into raised bed flower gardens by painting the tires in bold colors and filling them with potting soil before adding the flower seeds or plants. An old cable spool can be sanded down, stained, and turned into a patio table.

Wet Cardboard Can Be Reused

Generally, the rule is that recycling facilities only take clean, dry cardboard. What if you have a box or cardboard that got wet? Don’t throw it out. Set it aside and post a free offer in a local forum to see if any gardeners could use it. Shredded wet cardboard is a must for anyone who engages in vermicomposting. Composters also look for wet cardboard to mix with vegetable and fruit scraps.

Vermicomposting is a form of composting where worms are used to help break down produce scraps and create nutrient-rich compost filled with worm castings. Worms need to be able to move through the compost and broken-up wet cardboard is helpful for that.

Do you garden? If so, tear up wet cardboard and mix it into your soil. It will break down. Don’t worry about it affecting your growing plants. Their roots will break through the cardboard pieces and help them break down faster.

Make Sure You Recycle Correctly

Wish-cycling is a form of recycling where someone hopes something qualifies for the area recycling program, so they put it in their recycling bin anyway. When this happens, it can lead to an entire pallet of recyclables having to be trashed. Knowing what is and isn’t recyclable is essential.

Make sure you pay attention to the rules in your district. While the town you moved from accepted all types of plastic, your new community may not take everything. Verify it before you inadvertently recycle the wrong items. 

Recycle Nation’s guide to recycling is area-specific. Take the items you need to recycle, enter your ZIP code, and see what it says. If the item is recyclable in your blue bin, you’ll know. If it’s not, you’ll learn where you can take it for recycling. Avoid a lot of hassle and potential waste by using our resources to ensure you’re recycling correctly.