Nearly everything can be recycled or reused, but certain materials pose greater challenges. Plastics is one.
The simple truth about plastic
We have massive numbers of types of plastic, and each has a resin identification code. They must be sorted before they can be recycled, so they cost more to recycle. Plastic is made from oil, natural gas and chemicals. That means it is a nonrenewable resource that will last as long as 100 years in a landfill.
Plastics are very good for some uses like medical devices, but the problem is that our culture treats it as disposable when it is not. Only 5% of our plastics are getting recycled.
So what shoud you do when you are thinking about buying plastic? Because plastic is especially troublesome for recycling, whenever possible choose aluminum or paper instead, says The Earth Resource Foundation.
When you are buying, choose items with less plastic packaging. Don’t buy bottled water. Use a reusable water bottle.
Most plastics are marked with a number 1 through 7 on the bottom. Plastics marked with 1 and 2 are highly recyclable, while 3 through “7” are much more difficult to recycle. And 3 is PCB plastic, which is highly toxic. A 6 means it is styrofoam, which is not good for your health, and which releases toxins into the environment when it degrades. So if you must buy plastic, choose 1 and 2. Leave 3 through 7 behind.
Most of all bring your own bag and containers and use your own containers when possible.
Unless you're rebuilding PCs from raw components in your spare room, or turning a backless monitor into a planter, it's unlikely you'll find a "reuse" for old technology in the home. If it's truly functional, just outdated, you may find a local organization who can use your equipment, or donate it to charity for resale, but much of that stuff doesn't really have a market. Why not get it into the hands of an organization who knows how to disassemble and salvage the parts that are resuable, and can then properly dispose of the rest? This "e-cycling" is getting to be a fine art, so if you find that you're too pressed for time or other things to work on each category individually, see if there's an electronics recycling day in your town. Companies such as Call2Recycle will come and set up shop in a supermarket parking lot, pull up a snazzy sorting truck, and you stop by on the way to market with the decaying printer and the smashed up cell phone.
Other more specific resources for recycling electronics:
Batteries (rechargeable)and cell Phones at rbrc.org
Computers at ShareTechnology
Electronics at mygreenelectronics.com
Floppy Disks at greendisk.com
Here's an award-winning animated video on e-waste recycling from Good Magazine.
— Adapted from Harvard University’s recycling guidelines.
1. How important is it that I prepare recyclables correctly?
It is desirable to prepare items correctly before placing them in recycling bins. This means:
* Flatten boxes. If you don't, they will probably be thrown away.
* Clean out obvious food residue from plastics (such as a yogurt container). You do not have to rinse out drink bottles; sugary soda residue is acceptable!
* Remove bottle caps (so that residue can evaporate and not add weight and mess).
2. What do I do with bottle caps?
Remove the cap from the bottle and then put both into the bin. If you leave the lid on, any liquid left inside will not evaporate. The bottle will be heavier, which means it will take more energy to transport.
3. Can I recycle envelopes with the plastic windows? What about staples? And spiral notebooks? Glossy advertisements? Post-its?
All of these items are fine to toss into the "Paper" recycling bin. In the recycling process, all paper, even the glossy, is converted to pulp, and all non-natural fibers such as metal will be strained out.
4. Can I recycle paper with tape on it?
It's OK to leave tape on paper; however, it does gum up machines and reduce the efficiency of recycling. Try to remove obvious tape from papers and posters before recycling...but again, don't waste your time scraping tape off of paper!
5. Why can't I recycle pizza boxes?
The actual cardboard of the pizza boxes is recyclable; it is the food residue that is almost sure to have seeped into the cardboard that the recycling company doesn't want. When recycling collectors see a food-soaked item in a cardboard recycling bin, they may assume that the entire bin is "contaminated;" they can't take the time to sort out the good and the bad cardboard. We have to provide them with clean, ready-to-recycle products!
6. Can I recycle any plastic that has a recycling sign and number on it?
Some cities recycle every type of plastic - numbers one through seven. If the plastic has a recycling symbol on it, you can throw it in the recycle bin, regardless of the number. In some cities, Solo cups are recyclable, too!
7. Do I have to separate glass, plastic, and aluminum?
No. You can put anything that you call a bottle, jug, can or container into the same "Bottles and Cans" recycling bin.
8. Do I have to worry about labels?
No. You can leave labels on bottles and cans!
9. What if I don't have a recycling bin?
Most importantly, you don't need a "recycling" bin to recycle. Any container will work — a small trash can, a box, a paper bag for paper — be creative!
10. Can I recycle batteries? Why should I?
You should recycle batteries because they contain toxic chemicals; if placed in a landfill, they could contaminate groundwater and soil.
11. Should I buy rechargeable batteries?
Rechargeables contain even more toxic materials (heavy metals) than standard batteries, so if you use them, make 100% sure you dispose of them properly- not in the trash. Rechargeable batteries you use from day to day like those in your cell phone or laptop, as well as rechargeable appliances like phones and Dustbusters should not be thrown in the trash. Recycle them!
12. What do I do with plastic bags?
There is no universal system for plastic bag recycling; that's why you should really make an effort to prevent the production and use of bags by carrying a re-usable bag or backpack. However, with those bags you do have, try to reuse them. They make great small trash can liners! If your bags are grocery bags from a store with a bag recycling program, you can take them back to the store from which they came. It differs store to store, but most grocery stores sell their used bags to be made into plastic lumber. Plastic bags can not be recycled with cans and bottles as they are difficult to handle in transport and jam conveyor belts and air intake filters.
13. What should I do with my laundry detergent bottle?
Recycle it! Just take the cap off!
14. How can I get rid of junk mail once and for all?
Call 1-888-5 OPT OUT to stop credit card offers.
For unwanted contribution pleas and catalogues, make a few simple phone calls or emails and ask to be taken off of mailing lists. To limit your exposure, write "Please do not rent or sell my name" or "No mailing lists" next to your name whenever you order products by mail, enter a contest, subscribe to a magazine, send in a warranty card, or otherwise give your name and address to a company or organization. (Also consider not sending in the warranty card for a new product - it's usually not required.)
One effective way to remove your name from national mailing lists is to write the Direct Marketing Association and register with their Mail Preference Service - an indication that you do not want to be contacted by solicitors. In a letter or 3 1/2 x 5" postcard, include the date, your name in all its iterations ("Jane Smith," "Jane E. Smith," "Ms Jane Smith" etc.), address and signature, and write "Please register my name with the Mail Preference Service." (The term "Mail Preference Service" may sound confusing, but rest assured, registration with MPS is what you do to get off of the mailing lists.)
Use this on-line form: dmaconsumers.org/offmailing.
Mail termination requires sending $1 to:
Mail Preference Service, Attn: Dept: 6386627
Direct Marketing Association
P.O. Box 282
Carmel, NY 10512
15. What can I do with packing peanuts?
Call the Peanut Hotline (Yes, there is a peanut hotline) at 1-800-828-2214 for a list of area businesses such as The UPS Store, which accept plastic loose fill or packaging peanuts for reuse.
16. What should I do with my old cell phone (I know I shouldn't just throw it away)?
There are a variety of charities that not only safely dispose of old phones, but actually put them to very good use.
Visit www.collectivegood.com to decide where to send your phone!