The Green Scene “September”

Recycling: Because it is the Right Thing to Do?

Recycle 03I can’t think of many issues that have been more controversial in our county this year than county-wide trash and recycling. I certainly don’t have many answers but I wanted to take this opportunity to write some thoughts on what I am seeing, hearing and experiencing as I travel the County and when I attend meetings. I don’t intend to try to defend all of the decisions that were made; I just want to focus on the household practice of trash disposal. I am an educator with a goal of trying to influence people in a direction that seems realistic and good for the majority. I don’t know how to argue against recycling!!!

I am disappointed at the number of household recycling bins that are still sitting by the side of the road unused. Whether you are in favor of the county-wide program or not, the recycling bin is yours to utilize. Are you familiar with the things that can be recycled? Are the recycling bins just too heavy when filled to get them back to the roadside for pick up? Are you familiar with the codes on the bottom of plastics which assist you with determining which can be recycled? Do you know why the symbols are there? Are you aware of why so many people are encouraging you to recycle?

I believe that everyone can make a small change in “working their trash” that can have a great impact on our county. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if in a year from now, household recycling would be in full operation in the majority of the homes in the county? Wouldn’t it be nice if people would feel even more Wakulla County pride and appreciation for our many beautiful, natural settings because the view is not marred by trash along the roadside, hanging from trees, and on the highways?

Let’s discuss some ideas to further encourage you to re-think your disposal of residential trash.

Things that can be recycled

Look in your trash container before it goes curb-side. Every aluminum, tin, and steel can and glass jar can be recycled. Many plastic containers are also able to be recycled. Look for the chasing arrow triangle with any number between 1 and 7 on the bottom of plastic containers because they have a place in your recycling bin. The chasing arrow triangle is there to make the plastics more easily sorted. This even includes the containers that look like Styrofoam. If they have the logo and the correct numbers, put the container in the recycling, not the trash. The bin that gets full first at my house is the paper one. Flattened cardboard, newspapers, phonebooks, cereal boxes, magazines, catalogues, junk mail and even paperback books can be recycled.

How to prepare the items for recycling.

Why not spend a little extra time to make the system work. Flatten your cardboard, cereal and other boxes. This does not mean crushing them. Dismantle them by cutting through the glued area to make them perfectly flat. When you empty your soup can or almost empty ketchup container, rinse them. Any contaminated items need to be sorted out somewhere along the “stream” and all of that takes time. Each of us doing our small part will make a huge difference.

Recycling Bins are too heavy when filled to get to the road:

Do you feel committed to make the effort to adopt some new recycling habits in 2012 but the bin is just too heavy? It is Christmas list time. Why don’t you add a small wheeled cart to your list? I have one that was purchased years ago to pull my luggage before wheeled luggage made its way to the market. It works great.

Plastic or paper bags versus reusable shopping bags

If you are a person who always accepts store shopping bags, would you accept my challenge that in 2012 you would consider using reusable shopping bags at least every other time you shop? That would cut the number of plastic bags used in half.

I often hear the comment that even if your reusable bags find their way back to your car, they are forgotten when you enter the store. When I started using them, I often found this to be true. You know what cured me? I asked a checker to park my shopping cart in the check-out area so I could go to my car to get them. I never had a checker object and after a few times of returning to my car to get the reusable bags, the habit was firmly planted.

I used to feel like such a good person when I would go to a store and take bags out of their recycling bin to take home to use for my garbage instead of buying garbage bags. Then someone explained to me that my doing so was defeating the purpose of recycling. That plastic bag was still making its way to the landfill. I now look for other alternatives that can be used for my household waste. If you do come home with plastic or paper bags, and find over time, many have accumulated, make the effort to get them to a collection point. In addition, using a paper sack or the plastic bag multiple times before it enters the waste stream is another choice you can make.

What happens to the recycled item? According to UF/IFAS Specialist, Dr. Michael Gutter, “Aluminum is 100% recyclable. A pound of recycled aluminum will yield a pound of “new” aluminum. Recycled plastic cannot be used for packaging food. Plastic food containers are made of new plastics because the Food and Drug Administration has not approved recycled plastic for use in food containers. Glass is easily recyclable and save up to 25% of the energy compared to making glass from new materials. However, glass is rarely made from 100% recycled glass, so that energy savings is usually less that 25%. Recycled cardboard and paper are used to make cereal boxes and other cartons. The aluminum beverage cans were most likely cans before. They are typically recycled back into beverage cans. In a six week time period a recycled can will be back on the shelf again. The process can continue for as long as 20 years.” Want to know more on recycling? Visit and request the bulletin #FCS3158 or contact me and I will get you a copy.

A year from now we will have data on how effective the recycling effort in Wakulla County has been. Until then, I would like to share some national data available through the United States Environmental Protection Agency that may assist you in seeing the big recycling picture. In 2008, the U.S. generated about 13 million tons of plastics. An aluminum can that is thrown away will still be a can 500 years from now!!! If you had a 15 year old tree and made it into paper grocery bags, you would get about 700 of them. An average sized supermarket could use all of them in under an hour!

Learning new habits can be difficult. But the effort is towards greater recycling is worth it. Gradually these new habits will be easier and easier. You and I have a role to play in reducing our County’s solid waste. Every individual’s participation is important and does make a difference.

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Posted: September 7, 2011

Category: Conservation, Natural Resources
Tags: Community, Conservation, Environment, Families & Consumers, Family & Consumer Sciences, Family Youth & Community Sciences, FYCS, Green Living, Recycling, Shelley Swenson, Sustainability Community, Sustainable Big Bend, Sustainable Living, The Green Scene, Wakulla, Wakulla County Extension

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