When I started this Zero Waste endeavor, I didn’t start with a blank slate, as I suspect is the case with many others on this journey. In other words, as I move ahead and venture to avoid creating new waste, I still have plenty of things in my home that are definitely plastic, definitely waste, definitely things destined for the landfill, and I’m neither going to let them sit in my closets without use nor am I going to just throw them away. That would — obviously — defeat the point! But:
- there is such a thing as a lesser evil, especially those things that are truly recyclable and that I cannot yet replace. (See below.)
- each day I find new resources to mitigate what I thought would be the inevitable waste of many existing plastic items in my home.
- recycling is more than just our cities’ recycling programs.
The topic of recycling is complex, and I won’t get into it here; let’s just say I’ve made a near zero-tolerance rule for myself about recycling plastic; i.e. I’m avoiding plastic (as much as I can) in the first place so I don’t have to stress about whether it’s actually or properly getting recycled.
In terms of items that are 100% recyclable, such as aluminum cans and aluminum foil, I quite rely on the former for my cats’ canned food and on the latter for the homemade vegan sausages I make (for instance), and I’m comfortable keeping them as part of my Zero-Waste plan (for now). Because aluminum is indeed recyclable in my city, I at least buy foil made from recycled aluminum, and I thoroughly clean the cans and sheets before adding to the bin.
Terracycle is an innovative recycling company that creates solutions for hard-to-recycle items. You can sign up for free with them, check out their many partnerships to send products directly to Terracycle, and even earn “points” for doing so that can be redeemed as donations to the nonprofit of your choice.
For instance, Tom’s of Maine teamed up with Terracycle to provide a second life for empty and used toothpaste tubes, toothbrushes, floss containers, mouthwash bottles, soap packaging and antiperspirant and deodorant containers (I use most of these!). So, until I phase these out in my own home, I can at least send these items to Terracycle.
Some of the Terracycle free programs are full, but while you wait for a slot to open, you can put aside products for collection or even pay for a box / label to send to Terracycle. To make it more economical, you can create a program at your school or place of business (or even consider organizing a collection with neighbors).
COMPOSTING (NOT RECYCLING) TOILET PAPER ROLLS
I used to only recycle my toilet paper tubes, but now I add them to my compost bins. Creating the ideal compost is all about finding a balance between wet and dry ingredients, so these cardboard loo rolls are perfect for soaking up excess water while helping to aerate dense compost heaps.
RECYCLING & COMPOSTING AMAZON CARDBOARD BOXES
Made from cardboard Amazon boxes are recyclable or re-useable, and torn apart, I even add the bits to my compost bins. (Read here for more about composting cardboard.) What’s more: the tape Amazon uses is made from paper, so it, too, can be recycled. However, another way to re-use Amazon’s delivery boxes is to take advantage of the Give Back Box program:
- Unpack your merchandise from your Amazon shipping box. (Give your cat some time to sit in it.)
- Pack Your Box: Fill the box with usable clothing, accessories and household goods you no longer need and print your free shipping label from GiveBackBox.com.
- Send Your Box: Let UPS or the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) deliver your box of donations to charity for you. (Be sure to remove your cat from the box first!)
But of course the best way to avoid having to deal with cardboard is shopping locally. My husband and I became a little to reliant on Amazon for a lot of items we can buy at a local store we can walk to, so that is definitely one area where my Zero Waste venture is forcing me to change my habits — for the better.
RECYCLED PAPER IN PLASTIC?
Of course, I’ve bought recycled printer paper for the last twenty years, but I didn’t even make the connection that I was buying recycled paper reams PACKAGED IN PLASTIC! Now I make sure I buy recycled paper packaged in …recycled paper! I also make sure I re-use and re-print all office paper as many times as possible before finally adding it to the proper recycle bin.
TACKLING JUNK MAIL!
So, while there are still ways to recycle, and it’s a legitimate service that more municipalities should provide, the bottom line is refusing and reducing is the best line of defense against waste.