The average American throws away more than four pounds of trash each day. In total, Americans produce about 254 million tons of trash each year. All of that trash is moved into landfills, which are ugly, stinky sites that no one wants close to their community. We have all been taught since elementary school that we should recycle, but we are not only not doing it enough, we also aren’t doing it right.
A study in 2015 found that only 34.3 percent of Americans recycle. While this number is significantly higher than it used to be, we are way behind most developed countries. For example, 62 percent of Germans recycle and 63 percent of Austrians recycle. So the first big step to reducing the amount of garbage we produce is to just get more people to recycle. And the easiest way to get someone to recycle is peer pressure. Ask your friends and family why they don’t recycle and tell them that you do it and they should too.
Hotels use this logic. Have you ever noticed the signs in a hotel room that say that others in the hotel are reusing their towels instead of putting them on the floor to be washed and swapped with new ones each day? A study found that when hotels put signs telling guests that other guests are reusing their towels, they get 33 percent more customers to recycle their towels than when they just put up signs promoting the environmental benefits of recycling. If people believe that others are recycling, then they are motivated to follow the herd.
Another important step to improve recycling efforts is to recycle smarter. There are simply right and wrong ways to recycle. We have put together some great tips on how you improve your recycling abilities:
- Check which plastics can be recycled in your area. Call your local recycling facility and ask which plastics they recycle and they will usually tell you a set of numbers. Check for these numbers on the bottoms of bottles or other plastic containers to know if you can recycle them or not.
- Don’t throw plastic bags in with the recycling. Take them to your local grocery store, because they will likely have a way for you to recycle them. Plastic bags cannot be recycled like other plastics, and their presence in a recycling stream can cause serious downtime to machines and facilities trying to recycle.
- Remove food from anything that is recycled. That means wash out aluminum cans that may have soup on them and scrape off cardboard that has stuck on cheese from last night’s pizza.
- Light metals, such as aluminum, can be recycled easily, but heavier metals, such as brass and copper should be recycled separately. Take it to processing facilities specifically designed to recycle metals and you will likely earn some decent money for your efforts.
- Remove the twist off caps on plastic bottles. These are usually made of a material that isn’t recyclable, and to save time, many recycling facilities just throw bottles away if they have the cap on instead of taking the time to remove them.
- Don’t shred paper that you intend to recycle. Of course you should shred anything with sensitive information on it, but don’t plan on recycling anything that has been shred. Recycling centers usually throw away pieces of paper that they deem to be too small to be recycled.