Ever feel like you need a PhD to recycle correctly? Here’s a trick for the next time you are about to put plastic in the curbside cart: look for a neck and a number. Accepted plastics are easily identified by their narrow “neck” as seen on a bottle of water, shampoo or detergent. Look closely and you’ll see a number printed on the bottom too – ensure that it’s not #6 and you can confidently recycle that plastic curbside.
What about all the other plastics without a neck or a number? Plastic bags, packaging, case wraps, disposable cutlery, straws, plates and cups cannot be put in the recycle cart. Avoid the temptation to “wishcycle” them – placing them in the recycling bin in the hope that they’ll magically be recycled. Limited markets and sorting technology for recyclables dictate which items are accepted.
Although very important, recycling isn’t the only tool we have to fight plastic pollution. When it comes to disposable items, reducing dependence on single-use plastics and packaging is the key.
Tips to reduce plastic waste:
Bring your own reusable tote bags, produce or bulk bags, travel mugs, stainless steel straws, reusable cutlery and water bottles.
Purchase products with less packaging such as loose produce and bulk dry goods.
Recycle right. Get familiar with what is accepted in your curbside cart and local opportunities for other items.
In the spirit of Earth Day, consider taking an inventory of how much single-use plastic you generate and choose to reduce. EarthDay.org has plastic pollution footprint calculators and an action guide to get you started. For an interesting look at the rise and proliferation of plastics check out this article in the April edition of The Woodlands Community Magazine.
This New Year, while fine-tuning your list of personal resolutions, how about including a few goals to help the environment? Changing habits can take effort. One theory of behavior change is the Fogg Behavior Model (FBM). This model posits that motivation, ability, and triggers are the three key factors for any behavior change—the higher the motivation,the greater the ability to perform the new behavior and the presence of a trigger drive how well one can make a change.
Here are ten “triggers” for resolutions that can make for a healthier earth.
Use reusable shopping bags. Plastic bags are the second most prevalent form of litter, with over 4 billion bags getting carried by wind, clogging storm drains and littering our forests, rivers, and oceans every year. According to Plastic Oceans, eight million tons of plastic end up in our waters each year harming marine life. Carry a tote or two and forgo the plastic bag.
Turn off the water while you brush. It can save up to 200 gallons of water a month. That’s good for your water bill and the environment. Learn more ways you can conserve water in your home at Sustainability.ncsu.edu.
Reduce your lawn. Lawns are water hogs that also are often chemically dependent. Cut back on turf grass and plant natives instead. This single step helps conserve water, reduces polluted water runoff, and enriches biodiversity.
Compost kitchen waste. Organic waste in landfills generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. By composting wasted food and other organics, methane emissions are significantly reduced. So refrain from dumping those nitrogen-rich coffee grounds or calcium-loaded egg shells and other organic kitchen waste. Enrich the soil instead. Learn more about the environmental benefits to composting at EPA.gov.
Ditch paper towels. They may be easier, but in one year alone, Americans use 13 billion pounds of paper towels. That’s about 45 pounds per person. If everyone used just one paper towel less, 570 million pounds of paper waste would be eliminated per year. In case that’s not enough motivation to make a change, it goes without saying that paper towels simply can’t rival the charm of a vintage tea towel.
Eliminate phantom power usage. When household devices are left plugged in they still use energy—even those chargers with no phone or tablet attached. The draw may be small, but collectively and over time it adds up. Unplug. Or, use a smart power strip that reduces your power usage by shutting down power to products that go into standby mode. Doing so may save you some cash. Statistics vary, but experts say standby power consumption ranges from 5 to 10 percent of total household energy consumption on average.
Cook from scratch. In a busy household, this may be challenging but the benefits are manifold. Processed foods come with loads of packaging that ends up in landfills yet deliver little nutritional value. Cut down on waste and improve health with some good old home cooking.
Bring your own water bottle.Not only do all the plastic water bottles we use require 17 million barrels of oil to be produced, in 86% of the time they end up in landfills. You’ve seen some of the neat reusable water bottles on the market—consider buying one and using filtered tap water instead. ABottled Water Report by the World Wildlife Fund points out that there are more standards in regulating tap water in the U.S. and Europe than in the bottled water industry.
Walk, bike, use public transportation. Bikes have been hailed as the most efficient transportation ever invented. Why not bike for those short trips? While helping to reduce emissions and saving on gas, you’ll be helping yourself stay fit at the same time.
Cut back on meat. This may challenge carnivores, but consider this: industrially farmed corn and soybean that feeds livestock is a major source of greenhouse gasses and air and water pollution. What’s more is that it takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce just 1 pound of meat. Yet, only 25 gallons of water are required to grow 1 pound of wheat. You can save more water by not eating a pound of meat than you can by not showering for six months!
When you crave that steak, only buy meat from grass-fed livestock. Eating less meat can have health benefits too. Check out more information about the benefits of reducing meat in your diet by The Mayo Clinic.