Recycling: New Program, New Motivation

Recycling, The Woodlands, The Woodlands Real Estate, RealtorIn February of this year, The Woodlands Township updated the recycling policy for residents. They now collect a large bin of recyclables every week, in addition to yard trimmings and scheduled bulky pick-up (to read the full policy, visit this website).

This change got me thinking about my own recycling habits and how my state and country are doing in efforts to reduce waste. In my research, I found some startling statistics:

  • The average office worker in the US uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year. That’s four million tons of copy paper used annually.
  • Every year, Americans use approximately 1 billion shopping bags, creating 300,000 tons of landfill waste.
  • Only 30% of people in the Southern region of the United States had curbside recycling collection in 2008. Eighty-four percent of people in the Northeast had curbside recycling. The South also has the most landfill facilities – 726, in contrast with 134 in the northeast.
  • Only 2.5% of all waste food was composted in 2008 – the rest went to landfill or incinerators.
  • It has been estimated that recycling, re-use, and composting create six to ten times as many jobs as waste incineration and landfills.
  • 827,000 to 1.3 million tons of plastic PET water bottles were produced in the U.S. in 2006, requiring the energy equivalent of 50 million barrels of oil. 76.5 percent of these bottles ended up in landfills. (the above statistics are from http://www.cleanair.org/Waste/wasteFacts.html, where there are many, many more astounding facts)
  • Landfills are the biggest human-caused source of methane emissions, a powerful greenhouse gas. Trash incinerators also produce nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. (http://www.texasenvironment.org/landfills.cfm)

Of course, any single person cannot fix our country’s waste system, or change our culture entirely. And there are many complexities to the issue of waste–but that does not mean each of us shouldn’t do what we can. Each time you throw an empty water bottle in the trash, imagine the future of that piece of plastic: probably sitting in a pile of methane-emitting garbage in the open atmosphere for years to come, cluttering up the beautiful landscape. We wouldn’t want trash covering our beautiful town, why would we want it piling up somewhere else?

There are many small ways to make a huge difference. All those plastic bags from the grocery store? Those are not biodegradable. Just one person switching to reusable shopping bags can eliminate thousands of would-be landfill items. And you can get stylish shopping backs that even snap into tiny pockets you can carry in you car or even your purse.

Start a compost pile. Not does compost make excellent fertilizer for your garden, but composting can eliminate hundreds of pounds of food waste each year. It also will make your kitchen trash much less smelly without those rotting banana peels.

Go digital. Whenever possible. Start getting bank statements electronically. Start keeping electronic to-do lists on your phone rather than buying notepads or sticky notes. Need to send a fax? Try scanning it and sending an email. With digital technology, there are infinite ways to eliminate the every-day uses of paper products. I challenge you to get creative with your digital solutions.

Buy an aluminum water bottle. Not only are they trendy, but they are more durable and longer lasting than any plastic counterpart. They insulate water temperature, and can be recycled indefinitely if you get tired of it and want a new one. Make a personal challenge to never use a disposable water bottle.

Think about all the every-day conveniences that are disposable. Plastic silverware, paper lunch bags, paper towels and plates, cotton balls, the list goes on. All of these products go through extensive (and expensive) production, packaging, and shipping only to be used once or twice and then discarded. All of these items can be replaced with reusable products: all you need is a few old towels that you can throw in the wash and some dinnerware that doesn’t end with your meal.

These are just a few of the ways to make a remarkable impact on the amount of waste we produce. It may seem like living “green” would take a whole lifestyle change and a large commitment, but really it’s as easy as a couple of cloth shopping bags, a water bottle, and a towel. And the personal reward for knowing that you aren’t contributing unnecessarily to the piles of trash contaminating the Earth is invaluable.

So, Woodlands residents, as you situate into the new recycling program in our beautiful town, I challenge you to think twice about what you put into the cans with the green and yellow lids.

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