I wouldn’t say I’m a big fan of recycling. I know recycling still uses energy and that I could reduce my own energy consumption better by not creating waste that needs to be trashed OR recycled. When evaluating my own habits, I try to remember the saying: Reduce – Reuse – Recycle (in that order). I feel good recycling, better reusing, and best reducing!
That being said, recycling is often a great first step towards reducing. Once I see how much waste I am generating, I am better able to appreciate the benefits of small changes. Case in point: plastic bag recycling.
When we lived in RI, recycling most items was easy. We threw tin, aluminum, glass, and plastic into one bin, and paperboard/cardboard/newspaper into another bin and the city picked it up. I only recycled the items accepted by the city, which did not include items like #5 plastics (i.e. yogurt containers) or plastic bags. That recycling gravy train ended when we moved to central PA. We’re working hard for our recycling in these parts! Long story short, every type of recycling needs to be separated and we have to transport most of it to the recycling drop off during only narrowly defined hours. Similarly, our borough does not accept #5 plastics or plastic bags for recycling.
When we lived in RI, we just threw our plastic bags in the garbage. They weren’t accepted in our bin for recycling and we reused some for kitty litter or other household uses. I comforted myself with the knowledge that we usually brought our bags to the supermarket and left it at that. So when I was looking to reduce our overall trash amount in PA so we could comfortably purchase only the smallest trash pickup service, I did not think that recycling bags would make a big difference. Then I did a little bit of online research. There are a lot of different types of plastic and plastic bags that can be recycled, including:
- Bread bags
- Plastic storage bags, like ziploc bags
- Bags that hold dried beans
- Dry-cleaning bags
- Clear plastic wrapping on paper towels and toilet paper and napkins
- Those plastic “bubbles” of air that Amazon.com uses as packing material
- Any bag or plastic labeled with #2 or #4
- See even more examples here
I had no idea. I thought that I could only recycle plastic grocery store bags at the recycling bins outside most supermarkets, but not so. All of the above items and anything labeled #2 or #4 could be dropped off at those supermarket bins for free.
So I quickly set up my “plastic bag recycling center.” I knew I had to find a dedicated space, out of my way, where I could put all of this recycling to keep this new habit going strong. I simply hung an extra canvas bag on a hook near my basement door. When the bag is full, I bundle it all up (in a plastic bag, of course) to take to the local grocery store bin. Because bags need to be dry, I have a clothespin that I keep over there to use for temporarily hanging bags out to dry.
Seeing all my plastic bags pile up has really motivated me to REDUCE all those bags coming into my life. Some ways I’ve been able to reduce my plastic over the last year plus of bag recycling include:
- Storing my re-usable grocery store bags in the trunk of my car. That way I always have one when I need it at the grocery store, Target, hardware store, farmer’s market, mall, or thrift store.
- Keeping a small fold up bag in my purse, just in case I forget my bags in the car!
- Baking my own bread, so very few bread bags.
- Not bagging all produce items at the supermarket. A couple of lemons, limes, oranges, avocados, etc, can survive the cart.
Because I know that a lot of these “recycled” bags are probably ending up as “fuel cubes” burned to release toxins into the environment, I want to reduce even further. I’ve noticed that many of the bags coming into my life are from others (my mom) bringing us items or from the farmers market, where it is impractical to forgo a bag. Can you imagine me saying, “Well, I see that you have that 15 lbs of apples in a large plastic bag. How about I transfer each one of them into my little cloth bags, one by one?” I may not be able to eliminate of these bags and plastics, but I can think of a few more things to try like making or buying “produce” bags for use at the grocery store or buying beans in bulk quantity where they are sold in cloth sacks. I also need to be stricter about remembering to use my bags every time I go to any store, not just grocery stores, where I am most accustomed to using them.
Any other ideas of how to reduce the amount of plastic coming into the house?