Is Recycling Worth It?

Ah, recycling the one thing that everyone grabs onto in the hopes that they are a GOOD environmentalist. Did that read too negative coming from this website?

You know me, I love positivity and I love talking about small actions that people can take to be more eco-friendly, but I’m tired of hearing people say, “I love the planet! I RECYCLE!” like that’s the only thing that matters.

Is recycling even worth it? Tips for being a better recycler from www.goingzerowaste.com #zerowaste #recycling #ecofriendly #sustainable #reducereuserecycle

Don’t get me wrong, recycling is great, and I think it’s important, but we can’t stop at recycling.

There are two other words in the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” and we just glance over the first two like they don’t even matter. And, that’s totally not our fault. That’s what’s been drilled into us since we’re kids for one very important reason.

If I’m a business which of these words will sell more products?

  1. Reduce

  2. Reuse

  3. Recycle

If you picked #3, you’d be correct! If your only goal was to make a huge amount of money and encourage consumption, what better way than recycling?

Recycling is green and good for the planet, but it doesn’t hinder sales. In fact, it’s been proven to increase consumption.

Is recycling even worth it? Tips for being a better recycler from www.goingzerowaste.com #zerowaste #recycling #ecofriendly #sustainable #reducereuserecycle

A study was done at a sampling table. If there was a trash can by the drink sampling table, people would reuse the first cup to sample the different flavors. If there was a recycle bin by the drink sampling station then people would use a new cup every time.

When we recycle we get this really good feeling, it makes us happy. We feel like we’re AMAZING all the while glazing over the fact that we need to first reduce and reuse.

This is because we don’t think about a products life span. Most people just think, “I like it, I get it,” never stopping to consider where that item came from or how it was made, etc.

We tend to put a lot of blind faith in recycling without recognizing that recycling has a lot of issues….

Everyone tends to view recycling as a charity, but it’s a business. In order for something to be recycled there has to be a demand in the market for that product.

Often times, especially plastic, it’s cheaper to use virgin materials than it is to use recycled materials.

I made a video series that goes over all of my thoughts on recycling.

  • Why the recycling system is broken

  • How we can improve recycling

  • What is recycling contamination and how we can fix it

  • A breakdown of materials and the right way to recycle things like paper, glass, plastic, steel, and aluminum

  • Why I have hope for the future of recycling!

I want to write a bit more about solutions and my hopes for the future of recycling because I’m your favorite source of environmental positivity - obvi. ;) And, I’m actually glad that China stopped accepting our trash.

Is recycling even worth it? Tips for being a better recycler from www.goingzerowaste.com #zerowaste #recycling #ecofriendly #sustainable #reducereuserecycle

the FUTURE of recycling:

If you remember from the post on eco-anxiety, getting a good view of the future is one of the ways to encourage positive change and help others see what they’re fighting for.

banish single stream recycling:

Many countries have different bins for different types of materials. In the US most of us have a single stream which means we dump all of our recycling into one bin because that’s supposed to make it “easier.” Of course, this leads to contamination, and I think it makes recycling harder.

Many people don’t know what is and isn’t recyclable. When there’s only one bin, a lot of wishcycling happens.

Wishcycling is when you put something in the bin HOPING that it will be recycled even though it won’t be.

Think Christmas lights, water hoses, dead animals, dirty diapers, bowling balls, shower curtains, shredded paper - yes these are all very common items at the recycling plant. And, no, none of them are recyclable.

When you put something in the recycle bin WISHING for it to be recycled, you do more harm than good.

Recycling is a business! When incorrect materials arrive this can clog the machines, slow down the workers, stop the machines, and create contaminated bales of recyclables that no one will purchase. I.e. result in all of the correct recyclables being landfilled.

Yep. A rogue contaminated recyclable can cause an entire BALE to go to the landfill.

The best way to avoid this is to look up what your waste hauler accepts on their website.

But, I think switching to multi-stream recycling system would really help too. If you had multiple bins and if they only accepted certain items it would take a lot of the guess work out.

If you had a bin that said Plastic 1-5, tins and cans, glass bottles, cardboard and paper. The likely chance of throwing in a bowling ball or hose is a lot less likely since each bin is so clearly labeled. This is also how most of the world recycles, and it seems to be working out a bit better for them!

Is recycling even worth it? Tips for being a better recycler from www.goingzerowaste.com #zerowaste #recycling #ecofriendly #sustainable #reducereuserecycle

GAMIFICATION:

I love the idea of turning eco-friendly living into a game. There are so many ways to do this effectively.

Think getting a smiley or frowny face on your electric bill or anonymously comparing the neighborhood’s electricity consumption to see how you stack up. This encourages people to save energy because they want to be the best!

Many electric cars rate your driving. When you see a score, you want to improve it! This means you’ll be driving more efficiently and saving energy.

The same thing is happening with our recycling. Waste Management has cameras on their truck so they can see how contaminated the residents recycling is. If you’re doing an excellent job of recycling, they’ll put a smiley face on your bin! If you do poorly, they’ll put a frowny face and more information to help you recycle better.

Is recycling even worth it? Tips for being a better recycler from www.goingzerowaste.com #zerowaste #recycling #ecofriendly #sustainable #reducereuserecycle

regulation:

We honestly need more regulation when it comes to recycling. Recycling varies wildly from town to town, county to county, state to state, sometimes it feels like block to block.

The best way to combat this is to get some generic rule out there for everyone to follow. Let’s regulate the most commonly recycled items and make sure that everyone knows how to recycle at least the basics! Then make it CLEAR on every waste management companies website what else they accept above the regular.

Is recycling even worth it? Tips for being a better recycler from www.goingzerowaste.com #zerowaste #recycling #ecofriendly #sustainable #reducereuserecycle

design for it:

Why aren’t product designers creating products with the end of life in mind? Waste, trash, it’s all poor design. We can design ourselves out of this problem fairly easily.

If we had better regulations and standards on what is actually (not metaphorically - yes companies use the excuse it CAN be recycled all the time even though they know just because it CAN theoretically be done, doesn’t mean it’s scaleable, cost efficient, or practical) recyclable, we could present different types of options to designers and then they could work backwards knowing that their product will have second life.

Is recycling even worth it? Tips for being a better recycler from www.goingzerowaste.com #zerowaste #recycling #ecofriendly #sustainable #reducereuserecycle

corporate responsibility:

Lastly, we need more corporate responsibility. We need companies willing to step up and take their products back, offer warranties, aiding in repairs, and generally facilitating the circular economy. I’m excited that many companies are stepping up to take control over end-of-life.

We’re seeing this a bit with Terracycle. Companies are committing to having their products repurposed, but I would really like for companies to take it further. I’m especially excited about Loop which is returning to the milk man model.

I think this is just the beginning and more companies will be moving to circular models as long as we keep encouraging them!

I really hope that you enjoy the videos!

Where to Recycle and Donate Your Old Clothes

Have you been bitten by the KonMari bug? I assume you know what the KonMari method is because Marie Kondo took the world by storm AGAIN when her TV show on Netflix, based on her best selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, launched this winter.

If you’ve been living under a rock and/or unfamiliar with the tidying guru, the first place you start your untidying journey is in the closet!

Where to Recycle and Donate Your Old Clothes from www.goingzerowaste.com #secondhand #recycle #zerowaste #clothing #textilerecycling #upcycle

According to the chief design officer for California Closets, the average person wears only 20% of their clothing 80% of the time. The idea is that we whittle it down to just the 20% we love and wear ALL the time.

As you go through your closet, you’re probably left with a lot of items that don’t spark joy and you’re not sure what to do with them.

I’ve rounded up a list of places for you to donate and recycle your old clothes.

You might want to box them up and drop them off at your nearest thrift store, but I’d really urge you not to. This is a great blog post by my friend Leah from Style Wise.

She’s the manager at a thrift store and talks a bit about the complexities of dropping off all of your clothes. Not everything we drop off at thrift stores is going to be sold, recycled, or even put on store shelves.

There’s not enough space, depends on styles, depends on quality, and whether or not the thrift store has partnered with a textile recycling facility.

What’s most important is to make sure we’re donating items is in GOOD CONDITION.

Where to Recycle and Donate Your Old Clothes from www.goingzerowaste.com #secondhand #recycle #zerowaste #clothing #textilerecycling #upcycle

swap:

If you have clothes in good condition, maybe call up some of your friends and host a clothing swap. If you’re looking for tips on hosting your own clothing swap, check out this post where I chatted with Martha Stewart.

sell:

If you have clothes in good condition and in current styles, you might want to consider selling some of your clothes. You can do it on apps and websites like Poshmark, eBay or check out Bunz an app for sharing, swapping, and trading in your local area.

RELATED: Learn more about the Bunz App and the Sharing Economy!

If you want to take a more hands off approach, you could also bring your clothes to a local consignment shop. You can take a look at some of my favorite consignment shops in my Going Zero Waste Guide to the Bay Area.

donate:

When it comes to donating, try to find specific charities for specific items. I talk about this at length in my book 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste.

Women’s Work Wear:

Have work attire? Check out Dress for Success.

“Dress for Success is an international not-for-profit organization that empowers women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.”

Where to Recycle and Donate Your Old Clothes from www.goingzerowaste.com #secondhand #recycle #zerowaste #clothing #textilerecycling #upcycle

Bras:

If you have a bra that’s a bit too tight or a bit too big, check out I Support the Girls. It’s also a great organization to donate your leftover pads and tampons, if you still have a stock pile from when you switched over to zero waste period products.

“I Support the Girls collects and distributes donations of new and gently used bras, and individually sealed tampons and maxi pads to women and girls nationally and internationally.

“Whether they be homeless, refugees, in transitional housing, or fleeing domestic violence, women and girls should never have to compromise on dignity.”

Men’s Work Wear:

Looking to donate men’s suits? Check out Career Gear.

From their website, “We promote the economic independence of low-income men by providing financial literacy training, a network of support, professional attire, career development tools, job-readiness and essential life-skills training that help men enter the workforce, stay employed and become role models and mentors to their families an communities.”

Where to Recycle and Donate Your Old Clothes from www.goingzerowaste.com #secondhand #recycle #zerowaste #clothing #textilerecycling #upcycle

Bridal:

Are you looking to donate your wedding dress? Can I recommend Brides Across America?

From their website, “Brides Across America (BAA) is a non-profit committed to loving one another by gifting weddings and wedding gowns to our military & first responders.

Whether it's for love of country or love at the altar, our military and first repsonders deserve our very best. Since 2008, Brides Across America has played a role in making their dreams come true by giving a military or first responder bride a free wedding gown during an “Operation Wedding Gown Event”.

To date we have gifted over 20,000 wedding dresses and over 20 free weddings. Each year we host dozens of Operation Wedding Gown giveaway events at participating bridal salons nationwide. Events are held in July (around Independence Day) and November (around Veteran's Day).”

Where to Recycle and Donate Your Old Clothes from www.goingzerowaste.com #secondhand #recycle #zerowaste #clothing #textilerecycling #upcycle

Prom:

Do you have some formal gowns, clutches, or sparkly earrings collecting dust in the back of your closet? Check out W Girls, Project G.L.A.M.

From their website, “WGIRLS Inc. created Project Granting Lasting Amazing Memories (G.L.A.M.) to provide economically disadvantaged young women with prom dresses and accompanying accessories so they are able to enjoy the rite of passage of high school prom. To date, WGIRLS Inc. has outfitted over 14,000 young women in need for prom."

Coats:

Have a few extra coats? Maybe one or two your kids have outgrown? Check out One Warm Coat.

From their website, “One Warm Coat is a national non-profit organization that works to provide a free, warm coat to any person in need.

“One Warm Coat supports individuals, groups, companies and organizations across the country by providing the tools and resources needed to hold a successful coat drive. Coats are distributed in the communities where they were collected, to children and adults in need, without charge, discrimination or obligation.

Since One Warm Coat’s inception in 1992, we have worked with our volunteers to host more than 31,000 coat drives and have given away more than 5 million coats.”

Where to Recycle and Donate Your Old Clothes from www.goingzerowaste.com #secondhand #recycle #zerowaste #clothing #textilerecycling #upcycle

Kids:

I feel like kids are best known for one thing - growing quickly. There are numerous charities and organizations that accept gently used kids clothing and toys.

For something a little less location specific, try your Ronald McDonald House chapter or your local Women’s and Children center.

Shoes:

Have some shoes in good condition? Check out From the Sole.

From their website, “We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization focused on collecting, refurbishing and giving away shoes & clothing to the homeless in New York City and other metropolitan areas.”

Where to Recycle and Donate Your Old Clothes from www.goingzerowaste.com #secondhand #recycle #zerowaste #clothing #textilerecycling #upcycle

recycle:

Now, what do you do when you have a bunch of clothing that isn’t fit for swapping, selling, or donation? Then it comes down to textile recycling.

Now, with all recycling, I’m a little wary. Recycling is not a charity, it’s a business and it relies on having a market to sell the products.

So, just because we can recycle it doesn’t mean it will be recycled. This is why it’s better to reduce, reuse and THEN recycle.

Upcycle:

Cotton t-shirts make great rags. Think about cutting your tees into a squares of fabric for cleaning, napkins, hankies, etc.

Compost:

If your clothing is made from natural fibers like cotton, wool, silk, etc. you can compost it. However, the threads used to stitch it will 99% of the time be synthetic.

Where to Recycle and Donate Your Old Clothes from www.goingzerowaste.com #secondhand #recycle #zerowaste #clothing #textilerecycling #upcycle

Textile Recycling:

  • If you’re in San Francisco, there’s a textile recycling program run through the SF Department of the Environment.

  • I:CO is working towards closing the loop in the clothing industry and recycle textiles into yarn, shoe soles, etc.

  • Blue Jeans Go Green is dedicated towards recycling denim and turning it into insulation in homes. Madewell, Jcrew, Rag and Bone, they pop up in stores all across the US.

  • Regrind your shoes with Nike regrind and turn them into basketball courts or tracks.

  • Check out your local reuse center like the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse a lot of towns have these, so maybe check around to donate scrap fabric.

  • Terracycle has a zero waste box specifically for textiles but it is spendy!

fixing the cause:

While donating and recycling is great, I can’t leave this blog post without mentioning that we should change our consumer habits.

It’s important to reduce the amount we buy, hone in on our personal styles, shop only with lists, implement a buy ban like waiting thirty days, and stop shopping as a hobby.

I hope you’ve found this blog post helpful and will use it as a reference the next time you clean out your closet!

How To Recycle Your Pizza Box

I know a lot of people say, “Pizza is LIFE.” But, like…. pizza is life.

Growing up allergic to dairy, I never got to indulge in that pizza party life. Sure, we’d make our own cheeseless pizzas at home… but then one day… everything changed.

How to Recycle Your Pizza Box from www.goingzerowaaste.com #pizza #howtorecycle #pizzabox #zerowaste #recycle

I was a senior in high school and a friend had a pizza party for her birthday. We all went over to her house (we had off campus lunches) and she had ordered me a CHEESELESS PIZZA. I had no idea you could order a pizza without the cheese.

I had never even thought to ask. Now, I have to make up for all of those lost pizza years.

Then fast forward to my senior year of college when my roommate takes me to Mellow Mushroom in Fayetteville, Arkansas. (I’m from Arkansas, remember? ;)

And, they had DAIRY-FREE CHEESE options FOR THE PIZZA!! See, non-dairy alternatives are commonplace now, but back then it was a rarity.

How to Recycle Your Pizza Box from www.goingzerowaaste.com #pizza #howtorecycle #pizzabox #zerowaste #recycle
How to Recycle Your Pizza Box from www.goingzerowaaste.com #pizza #howtorecycle #pizzabox #zerowaste #recycle

This was the first pizza I had ever had with “cheese” on it, and I was hooked. Mellow Mushroom is still my favorite pizza of all.

Since, moving to California and the growing acceptance of food allergies and dietary restrictions almost every pizza place in the area has a non-dairy cheese and gluten-free crust options. My, how things have changed.

So, I’ve been making up for lost time with a sacred Friday night pizza party for one! (Well, two… if you count Justin but he has to fight me for slices)

We often go out for pizza, but we also stay in super snuggly in our favorite tentree duds. Yes, I get my pizza delivered - yes, in a cardboard box. Yes, it’s disposable and I freely admit my weakness!

Thing is pizza boxes are compostable! But, are they recyclable? I cover it all in the video down below.

For more tips on how to recycle the right way, check out my series below!