Okay, if you've already bought it and you can not reuse it, the next best thing is to recycle it. Recycling is a great idea, but when you are pressed for time, it may seem just so much easier to toss things in the trash. When you are trying to clean up the dinner dishes, feed a fussy baby, and put in a load of laundry, it can be a real drag to rinse out that empty jar of spaghetti sauce or can of soup.
Just keep this little mantra in mind: Recycling creates jobs, saves energy, preserves natural resources, reduces greenhouse-gas emissions, and keeps toxins from leaking out of landfills. Recycling makes a difference to your environment and the world you will pass on to your children.
Know Your Plastics
Plastics are everywhere, especially when it comes to the products geared to helping you feed, clean, and care for your newborn baby. So it is important to get to know which plastics are safe and which are to be avoided. Fortunately, this information is listed on the product itself, in the form of the numbered recycling codes on the packaging of all plastic products. Look for these numbers before you buy a product and avoid those that are unsafe for your baby and the planet.
The safer plastics are those labeled one, two, and four, while plastics coded as three, six, and seven should be avoided. Also, keep in mind what types of plastics you will be able to recycle at your local recycling facility. Although many plastic products are labeled as recyclable, you may not be able to recycle them in your area.
Here's a look at the meaning behind those mysterious number codes:
#1: PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate). Found in most disposable drinking bottles, this type of plastic can be recycled in most recycle centers across the United States.
#2: HDPE (high-density polyethylene). Found in many toys, milk jugs, detergents, and personal care product bottles. Can be recycled in many U.S. locations.
#3: PVC (polyvinyl chloride). Found in pipes, cling wrap, and some food and detergent containers. Not easily recyclable.
#4: LDPE (low-density polyethylene). Found in soft, flexible plastics such as some cling wraps and garbage bags.
#5: PP (polypropylene). Found in yogurt containers, drinking straws, syrup bottles, and baby diapers.
#6: PS (polystyrene). Found in stiff plastics such as disposable coffee cups, plastic utensils, and take out containers.
#7: Other (typically polycarbonate, nylon, or acrylic plastics). Found in baby bottles, teething rings, and pacifiers. Number seven plastics that are made from polycarbonate are a source of the dangerous toxin BPA (or bisphenol-A). Avoid using them.
Make it a habit to check out the plastic recycling code on the bottom of food containers, toys, and household products and before long you will have a much better idea of which products are safe and which you should avoid.
What Items Should You Recycle
Recycling options vary by city or county. Most areas collect office paper, cardboard, magazines, newspaper, aluminum, plastics, glass (colored or clear), steel, yard trimmings, tires, batteries, and building materials. Contact your local recycling facility, or check out Earth911 to find out what items are recycled in your area. According to the National Recycling Coalition, following are the top 10 items you should try to recycle whenever possible.
Aluminum. Americans use 200 million aluminum beverage cans every day. There are no labels, covers or lids on these cans, so they are 100 percent recyclable. Making new aluminum cans from recycled cans uses 95 percent less energy than that needed to produce one from virgin ore.
PET plastic bottles (#1). PET (polyethylene terephthalate) is a form of polyester used to produce lightweight plastic bottles for items such as soft drinks, water, juice, liquor, cough syrup, tennis balls and cleaning products. These bottles make up 48 percent of the plastic bottles used in the United States. Once recycled, PET bottles can be used to make new plastic containers, sweaters, shoes, luggage, upholstery, carpeting, fiberfill for sleeping bags, coats, and fabric for T-shirts and tote bags.
Newspaper. Compared to the production of virgin newspaper, recycled newspaper saves trees, cuts energy use by over 50 percent, and creates 74 percent less air pollution. Newspapers are easily recycled back into newsprint or into other papers, such as boxboard or newsletter stock.
Corrugated cardboard. Over 90 percent of all products in the United States are shipped in corrugated cardboard boxes. These bulky boxes take up a lot of space in dumpsters. Recycled corrugated cardboard is used to make chipboard, boxboard (e.g., cereal boxes), paper towels, tissues, and printing paper.
Steel cans. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average family in the United States uses 90 pounds of steel cans a year. The EIA estimates that recycling that steel would save 144 kilowatt hours of electricity, 63 pounds of coal, 112 pounds of iron, and 5.4 pounds of limestone. Today, all steel products are made with at least some recycled steel.
HDPE plastic bottles (#2). HDPE (high density polyethylene) plastics account for 47 percent of all plastic bottles consumed in the United States. These stiff, impact resistant bottles are often used to hold products such as milk and laundry detergent. Once recycled, they are easily converted into new bottles or plastic pipe.
Glass containers. Glass is used to package many food products such as juices, jellies, baby food, and vegetable oils. It currently makes up about 5 percent of the trash that hits U.S. landfills. Recycled glass is easily made into new glass jars and bottles or into other glass products like fiberglass insulation. And, unlike paper, glass products can be recycled over and over again without wearing out. Using recycled glass to make new glass products requires 40 percent less energy than making it from virgin materials.
Magazines. Tons of outdated magazines and catalogs hit the landfills each year. Instead of tossing yours, donate them to local schools or day-care centers for craft projects. Hospitals and doctors' offices often accept donations of recent-edition magazines. Recycled magazines and catalogs can also be combined with old newspapers and wood chips to make newsprint, tissue, boxboard, and printing paper.
Mixed paper. Paper products such as office paper, envelopes, telephone books, and brown bags make up about 35 percent of the trash in the United States, the largest single sector of waste.
According to the World Resources Institute, in 2005, each person in the United States consumed 653.5 pounds of paper. That means it takes over 1 ton of paper and 4.3 cubic yards of landfill space to handle the yearly paper consumption for a family of four.
Recycled paper can be used to make products such as new paper, molded packaging, compost, and kitty litter. Recycling paper products reduces energy consumption, decreases combustion and landfill emissions, and decreases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Computers. Old computers and electronics are a major contributor to the waste stream. That's no surprise considering how quickly these items become outdated and obsolete. They are also difficult to dispose of because they are made up of a number of components that are toxic to the environment. Fortunately, many computers can be repaired or upgraded, extending their life by a few years.
They can also be donated (with a tax deduction) and refurbished for use in local schools, charities and nonprofit organizations. Earth 911 maintains a list on their website of organizations that accept computer donations. As a last resort, computers can be recycled so that their components (plastics, glass, steel, gold, lead, mercury, and cadmium) can be recaptured and used again.
Chemical or toxic products like cleaning agents, paints, pesticides, and batteries are considered hazardous waste and should never be thrown into a traditional landfill. Call your local environmental, health, or solid-waste agency for instructions on proper use and disposal and to learn about local hazardous waste–collection programs.
Closing the Loop
When you are talking trash, the final step in the process is to support the recycling industry by purchasing recycled products. You can find everything from printer paper to furniture to ski jackets that are made from recycled materials. This helps increase demand for recycling and reduces the use of virgin materials and the production of new wastes.