Thursday, April 16, 2009

Reduce, Reuse, And Recycle - Part 3

Tip #119 - Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle – Part 3. Today is the last part of this series, and we are going to discuss recycling. Recycling has almost become a buzzword lately. I hear many people around me talking about recycling. Basically, it is putting back into production items that no longer have useful life. If you finish with a plastic bag and can’t use it anymore you can recycle it at the supermarket to later be turned into other plastic products. Your newspaper that has no use to you anymore can be recycled on recycling day at your home to be turned into other forms of paper one day. While recycling is great – much better than going directly in the trash – steps 1 and 2 of this triad are much better for the environment and for saving you money than recycling.

Let’s look at the example of the plastic bag that you took from the supermarket. Had you reduced your consumption and used a mesh bag from home, you would have saved 5 cents at many markets. Even if the market does not pay you to bring your own bag, you still contributed to lower overhead costs for the market by not taking a plastic bag. Lower overhead costs lead to lower grocery costs. In addition, by bringing your own bag you prevented chemicals, raw materials, and energy being burned to make a plastic bag. So reducing really is the best.

But let’s say you forgot to bring your own bag to the market and you take one. You forgive yourself and say you will put it in the recycling bin next time you are there. But what about step 2 of the triad – reusing which is still better than recycling. How about reusing the bag until you used the useful life out of it? Reuse it next time you go to the market or reuse it to clean up after your pet or use it for a trash liner. Before you recycle it, it can be used again. This leads to savings from not having to buy another bag, as well as environmental savings of producing another one.

After it has been reused, then it is time to recycle it. Hopefully, it will go to a place where it will be used to produce other plastic products. While this will not usually save you money directly, it can lead to lower production costs for the plastic company because they are not using materials already in existence rather than raw materials. It is certainly better for the environment.

There are a few things with which you can make money directly when recycling. Did you know that you can recycle aluminum and take it to an aluminum dealer for cash? It would take a lot of cans, but other things have aluminum in it – aluminum siding, old gutters, and parts from cars are just some examples. Aluminum has become expensive and someone may pay you good money for it.

There are places to “recycle” cell phones, printers, computers and other electronics. To me, this is actually reusing them since most places will only take the latest models. Either way, it may be a simple way to earn a few bucks and keep the item out of the landfill. Do a Google search on selling cell phones or other electronics and you will find a bunch of mail order places that will accept them. If not, a local school will often take electronics, and while they won’t directly pay you for them, it may help keep your school taxes down.

Lastly, I have read several places recently about a new program being test marketed in certain areas that pays you for recycling everyday stuff such as our bottles, cans, and jars. This program is called RecycleBank and it works by putting your recycling in your bin like usual, except the bin has a computer chip that records how much you recycle. You get rewards points for each pound you recycle, and then you can use those points at the supermarket or other stores. This program is supposed to encourage people to recycle rather than throw away. It would encourage me!

While no one is going to get rich off recycling, it is the preferable thing to do for our environment. Keeping landfills smaller will make this world a richer place even if it doesn’t put much money directly in your pocket.

In Real Life – I already mentioned in my first post in this series that I was the co-worker making sure everyone was using their recycling bins. I worked in Washington, DC starting in 1989 and soon after a recycling program was instituted for DC businesses. I was the unofficial enforcer for my office. It didn’t earn me any money but it made me feel better to see the tons of paper that our company was generating going back into the system.

As a household, we recycle everything we can, although we don’t usually get any money for it. We recycle papers (after reusing them), glass bottles, cans, and plastics. They go out on recycling day in a bin rather than on trash day in a can. And we always sell or donate used electronic parts that we don’t need any more.

Last year, we did make some money recycling, though. Our old house was in desperate need of new gutters. My husband took the old aluminum gutters as well as some aluminum part we had stored in the garage and took them to an aluminum recycler near his office. He got $23 for his trouble. Not bad for something we didn’t need anymore anyway.

Regardless of whether or not we make money, recycling is something that doesn’t take much effort and it is worth it to all of us in the end in the form of less pollution, cleaner air, and less landfill space. And to me, that is much more important than money.

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