I’ve put together some recycling tips to help you celebrate Clean-Up and Recycle SA Week.
As always, you’re very welcome.
Running from 16-21 September, the week-long initiative aims to encourage South Africans to up their Eco Warrior game.
These recycling tips won’t solve the planet’s garbage issues, but they’ll help keep it under control until we come up with a better plan.
As I write this, Sporty and I have four separate recycling bags in our walk-in-closet-slash-storage-area. There’s also a growing pile of brown paper bags I keep forgetting to return to Think Organic (the guys that deliver our locally grown veggies every week).
The first bag contains our general recycling (paper, recyclable plastics, glass bottles, etc.). The second bag is full of the glass jars, bottles and other receptacles we use for our package-free grocery shopping excursions to Nude Foods.
The third bag has the plastic yoghurt containers we’re collecting for a local non-profit called RPJ Helping Hands. They use them to serve food to Cape Town’s growing homeless community.
The final bag is by far the trickiest. It’s packed full of things that can only be proactively recycled. (More on that in a bit.)
All this extra clutter is driving the minimalist in me crazy, but I’d much rather do my bit to save the planet than indulge my inner KonMari. Before I get to those recycling tips, let’s take a look a closer look at our trash problem.
The Dirty Truth About Our Trash
Trash has become a complicated and controversial mess. The reasons for this are twofold.
Firstly, the recycling game is rigged, and it’s not in our favour. Always looking for new ways to improve their bottom line, a lot of businesses have changed their packaging. What once came in a can, for example, is now sold in a combination of cardboard and plastic.
With no clear direction on what to do with these items, we simply toss them in our blue bins and hope for the best. According to Bloomberg Opinion, “91 percent of potentially recyclable plastic in the U.S. ends up in landfills – or worse, in the oceans.”
Secondly, even if we do everything right, we have no control over what happens to our recycling once it leaves our hands. Canadians were recently shocked to discover that their recyclables had been exported overseas, where it was either burnt or ended up on landfills.
China made headlines when they announced they’d no longer be taking the rest of the world’s trash. It’s a hot mess for sure, but I’d have thought the real concern is that we were sending it there in the first place?
Rather than figure out how we can dispose of our trash, perhaps a better solution would be to stop making so much of it in the first place.
3 Recycling Tips to up Your Eco-Warrior Game
There’s no doubt that recycling benefits the environment, but it’s by no means the catch-all solution we’d like to believe it is. All is not lost, though. If we apply these recycling tips, we can still make a difference.
1. Adopt a Zero Waste Lifestyle
Adopting a zero-waste lifestyle is one of the best ways to fix the mess our planet is in right now. It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing to make a difference. Start small and expand your efforts as you go.
If you’re not sure how to go about it, you’ll find plenty of advice on the interwebs.
Try and do at least some of your grocery shopping at a package-free store. If that’s not doable, then at least make a point of avoiding anything in questionable packaging. If it’s not obviously recyclable (e.g. can, glass bottle or cardboard box), leave it on the shelf.
On the rare occasion that you do need to make an unsustainable purchase, see if there is a way for you to avoid at least some of the landfill plastic. For example, this article from The Most Chic explains how to get Amazon to replace plastic packaging with paper.
The more you can avoid single-use plastic, the better. In case you’re wondering, biodegradable plastic isn’t the solution. In most cases, it’s just accelerating the rate at which nano-particles of plastic are deposited into the environment.
2. Create a Waste Management Plan
It sounds complicated, but creating a waste management plan isn’t rocket science. As the guys at Smart Waste point out, “it’s something you can create on the back of a [paper napkin] while watching TV.”
It boils down to identifying the various types of waste and making a proper disposal plan for each of them. Typically, the average household will have roughly five or six categories. With the correct plan in place, each of these is easy enough to dispose of.
This one is the easiest. It’s everything destined for the landfill. Your main aim here is to reduce the amount you produce as much as possible.
Separate recyclables (cardboard, paper, plastic, glass and tins) from your trash to ensure they’re recycled. While you’re at it, make sure the items in question are actually recyclable.
3) Kitchen Waste
Composting in an apartment is perfectly doable. It’s not that time-consuming and all you need to get started is a bucket with a clip-on lid, a bag of bokashi and somewhere to drop it off. We take ours to the Oranjezicht City Farm.
Of course, not everyone lives in a highrise. For those of you in houses with gardens, here’s everything you need to know to make your compost heap a success. It’s super in-depth, going into detail about what can and cannot be composted.
You’re very welcome.
4) Garden Refuse
Garden refuse is also better served on a compost heap, where it can be transformed into a nutrient-rich soil conditioner.
5) Hazardous Items & E-Waste
Things like batteries, fluorescent globes, old cell phones, etc. need to be properly disposed of. Do a search in your area for a drop-off point.
Knowing how to sort various items takes research, but you’ll soon get the hang of it. Before you know it you’ll be acing this Eco Warrior lifestyle.
3. Be Proactive About Recycling
We’ve all indulged in wishful recycling. Faced with something we no longer need—a Halloween mask or a Christmas wreath—we toss it in recycling and hope for the best. After all, if it’s not trash, then surely it must be recyclable?
You need to be proactive in your approach to getting rid of the things you no longer need. Case in point: Sporty injured her shoulder a while back and needed to wear a harness to limit mobility. There’s nothing wrong with it, but we no longer need it.
The harness I mean, not her shoulder.
Before, I’d just have dumped it in recycling and crossed my fingers. (I’m hanging my head in shame.) Now, it’s in that fourth bag I mentioned earlier, along with a Macbook power cable, my old backpack and some chopsticks (still in the plastic wrapper, I’m not such a hippie) that came with the takeout sushi we ordered the other night.
It’s my mission to dispose of all those items responsibly. Some are easy, like returning the chopsticks to the restaurant, while others require some thought. I could advertise the power cable and shoulder strap on our neighbourhood Whatsapp group, for example.
It’s easy to throw those ‘grey area’ items in the blue bin, but all you’re doing is making it someone else’s problem. We need to take responsibility for how we dispose of our stuff.
Like sustainable decluttering, proactive recycling starts at the store. If we stop buying it, they’ll stop making it. If that’s a stretch for you, at least start by adopting some of these recycling tips.