Earth Week Day 1: Recycling
April 18, 2021
Welcome to RVCD’s virtual Earth Week!
To start the week off, we are going back to basics with recycling!
According to the Montana DEQ, about 19 percent of all waste created in Montana is recycled. Recycling is a challenge in Montana due to our low population over a large geographic area and the lack of facilities that process raw recycled materials. Here in Sheridan, we are lucky to have recycling containers at the Sheridan dump, but it is important that we only recycle the appropriate items and follow a few key dos and don’ts. We’ll also give you a few new ideas of how to reduce your consumption of single-use items and creative ways to reuse items in your home.
Before we get into recycling, let’s talk about reducing our consumption. If we buy and consume fewer things, there is less to dispose of! Here are two ideas that might take a little adjusting, but make a big difference.
It’s so easy to run into the store for a few last minute items and instead of juggling them on your way out, you get a plastic bag. But here are some not so great things about plastic bags:
- They take between 10 and 1000 years to break down, depending on how exposed they are to sunlight.
- Even if they break down in 10 years, they are made from polyethylene. Polyethylene is petroleum based, and does not fully degrade — ever. Instead, it becomes brittle and breaks into tiny pieces less than 5mm, also known as microplastic. Same goes for plastic water bottles. Research today tells us how harmful microplastics are in our environment, but did you know we ingest them? The wildlife in our ecosystems ingests them as well.
- Speaking of microplastics, approximately 12% of freshwater fish contained microplastic in a 2014 study from France. In 2016, researchers found microplastics in the digestive tracts of 45% of freshwater fish in the Central Brazos River Basin, Texas. Microplastic presence is somewhat tied to human populations, but microplastics have been found in some of the most remote locations in the world.
- In a 2019 study in Montana, 33 out of 50 bodies of water sampled contained microplastics. Microplastic was found in samples from Silver Star, Dillon, and Ennis.
- Plus, plastic bags cannot be recycled in our Sheridan waste containers. Some store have “soft plastic” recycling, but this is not commonly available in Montana.
Further Reading …
So, what is the alternative to plastic bags? Reusable bags. You don’t need to necessarily buy the bags sold in grocery stores, it’s even better if you bring bags you already have at home. To avoid forgetting them, try keeping them in your car! And if you forget altogether, reloading your cart after scanning items without using ANY bags will still help you avoid juggling items as you walk to the car.
This week, try cutting down on the number of plastic bags you get from the store! Your land, water, and community will thank you.
Paper Towels & Napkins
A household staple, the average household uses 2 rolls of paper towels per week. At 2 rolls a week for 52 weeks, that’s 104 rolls per year. At about $1.50 per roll, that’s $156 dollars a year for something you use one time and throw away. You might think it’s just $156 dollars, but what could you do with an extra $156? More than wipe down your counters, that’s for sure!
So, what’s the alternative? Cloth rags. This doesn’t necessarily require you going out and purchasing anything new, but finding old t-shirts and rags in your house that can be turned into reusable paper towels! Instead of throwing them away after use, you add them to the load of laundry you are already doing once a week. If you want to buy specific rags, hit up Ruby Valley Re-Runs! Second hand rags will do just as good of a job.
While you’re at it, think about other paper goods in your home like napkins. Cloth napkins function the same as paper and they can be washed alongside your cloth paper towels and the rest of your laundry.
Plastic Bags as Shopping Bags
Say you have a collection of plastic bags from the store… typical grocery bags and the produce bags. These can always be used repeatedly. Bring them back to the store as your “reusable” bags! They can also be trash bags in your home.
Buy From Your Local Thrift Store
One of the best ways to practice reusing is purchasing used clothing and items. Instead of buying new every time, you can save the environment and money by going to thrift stores. Ruby Valley Re-Runs has an incredible selection of clothes, shoes, kitchen items, craft supplies, linens, kids toys, and books! Not to say you need to only buy used, but incorporating it for certain items is a great step!
Let’s get in to recycling and composting!
Don’ts of Recycling
- Don’t recycle items with liquids still inside. Drain all liquids first!
- Don’t recycle items that have been soiled by food. For example, pizza boxes with grease. These items can ruin an entire load of recycling and turn it into trash. If plastic items are dirty, washing them out first is a must if they are to be recycled.
- Don’t bag recyclables! Plastic bags cannot be recycled and can cause jams in sorting machinery at recycling facilities.
- Foam, paper products with a wax/plastic coating, plastic utensils, and chip/snack bags CANNOT be recycled. They must go in the trash.
If recycling is “contaminated” by any of these unacceptable items, the entire container of recycling could just be dumped in a landfill instead.
- For the kiddos: Collect items around your house that are a combination of recyclables and trash. Have the kiddos sort the items into piles for trash, plastic recycling, paper recycling, aluminum cans, and cardboard. If you don’t already have a designated recycling bin, create signs for a new container in your house!
So we can recycle plastics, aluminum, and paper, but what about food? Composting is the process of recycling food into nutrient rich soil and material. Building a backyard compost isn’t difficult and can reduce the amount of waste you put in a landfill by 28%. When you put food scraps in a landfill, they do not break down in the same way as they would in compost because they are not exposed to enough oxygen.
Guides to backyard composting:
You can start a compost with a specialized bin or just a shady spot in the backyard. A compost pile is relatively low maintenance. It should be “turned” or mixed to introduce oxygen to the pile approximately once a week. The timing is variable, but you can produce finished compost in 6 months to a year. Your pile will be a mix of yard waste (grass & leaves) and food scraps.
To make things easy, keep a container with a lid in your kitchen to collect scraps. It doesn’t need to be fancy, even a bucket with a lid will work. If smell for this inside container is a concern for you, pop the container in the freezer and keep it there until it’s full and you can add it to the pile! Printing out a list of compostable scraps for the outside of the bucket or your fridge will help you recall what can go in your compost pile. Once the container is full, add the contents to your pile!
Once the compost is fully broken down, it can be used as healthy soil for your garden. Even if you don’t have a garden, this material is great for your yard or can be offered to neighbors!
If you have any additional ideas to add to our list on reducing, reusing, and recycling, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tune in tomorrow to learn about pollinators and their role in our ecosystem!