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November 29, 2007

Waste Project: How to set up a Home Recycling System

If you followed my garbage audit, you realize that I am not a prolific recycler. But I am committed to changing my habits. Better late than never, right? I recently outlined the reasons for why I’m just starting to recycle (and why we all should). 

The question is, how do we change our habits, and our trash cans, to support this sudden bifurcation, nay, trifurcation of garbage? We need some sort of process or system to make this brainlessly easy.

After kicking off a recycling initiative in our household, here are the eight steps I recommend taking if you want to get started. Even if you already recycle, it might be worthwhile to review as you consider how to max out the number of materials and the percentage of trash your household is recycling.

1. Research the available programs. Figure out what types of recycled materials your local waste management company accepts regularly, what they accept sometimes or have special facilities for, and what they don’t accept.

Similarly, if you live in an apartment or condominium complex, speak with your landlord or go to your trash room to see what your complex is currently supporting in the way of recycling, and how it is collected.

2. Educate your household. Post a list of the things that are recycled somewhere visible in the kitchen and main trash rooms until you and your family get in the habit. Where I live, the city mails out lists periodically. You should be able to find them online at your trash service provider's website as well.

3. Set up an inside holding area for your recyclables. Try to have this near a major trash-producing area, like your kitchen. If your recycling company wants the materials to be separated, and you are space-constrained, see if they will provide some bins. If not, invest in some stackable bins.  If you're flush with cash, another cool idea is a trash can that will handle the separation and crushing for you.

4. Label. Put clear labels on the bins so you and your family don’t forget what is what.  Permanent marker is a cheap and easy way to do this.  If your bins go to the street, while you’re at it, you might as well put your address on the bins as a theft-deterrent.

5. Consider de-centralizing. If the activity around your house is spread across a diverse area, chances are your garbage is too. Consider placing multiple smaller trash bins in major garbage areas, like under bathroom sinks, to increase the likelihood of the trash getting put in the right place.  These can be gathered and sorted once a week at trash time.

6. Make clean trash. Get in the habit of rinsing things like aluminum cans and bottles before they go in the recycling bin.  This will help keep your bins clean, and make the material more efficient to recycle.

7. Crush your trash. Once clean, crush cans and plastics to make more room for other materials.

8. Get it to the curb. Once you’ve gone to the effort of pre-sorting the trash, believe me, you won’t want to ruin it by not getting it to the curb in your designated recycling container. Make a habit of grabbing your recyclables the night before the trucks come.

Tips on Recycling Food Waste:
Due to the decomposing nature of food waste, recycling this can be a bit tricker.  Here are some tips:

1. Food waste can often be recycled with your yard waste. Check the web site for your recycling provider to see if this is supported.   
2. It’s tough to keep food waste around until collection day without it getting disgusting.  One trick is to store your food waste in your freezer in a washable plastic bag or container, and then empty it into the appropriate yard waste container on trash day.  This will eliminate most smelliness and decay.
3. Where I live, people can request a free food scraps bucket to keep their food waste in and carry it to the yard waste container. Your provider may offer something similar.

Here's how we did it:

Our recycling provider requires that we separate out three types of recycled goods:
1. Cardboard (flattened)
2. Plastic, Paper, Aluminum, Glass, and a host of other recyclables can go in the same bin.
3. Food scraps and Yard waste

At present, I am still working with our landlord on #3 to make the yard waste containers available to the individuals in the condominium complex, but here is our simple system for #1 and #2:

Recycling_list 1. List of recyclables on the refrigerator as a reminder
We got this handy list from the city of Bellevue in the mail.  We’ll hang onto it until we get the hang of what belongs and what doesn’t. 


Cardboard_box 2. Cardboard Bin in the Laundry Room
Cardboard represents the single biggest amount of garbage for us, so I wanted the bin to be out of sight.  Rather than buy an expensive plastic container to house it all in, I just used…ready for it?...a cardboard box!  It’s unsightly, but guests don’t go in this room anyway.

We flatten the cardboard and box it in the laundry room until we’re ready to haul it down the elevators to the recycling room.


Recycling_can 3.  Recycling container in the pantry.
I repurposed our largest current trash can for recycling the other materials. Now we wash cans, plastics, glass, etc. and place these in this central garbage can. When this is full, we haul the plastic trash bag down to the recycling room to empty it. We then reuse this slightly smelly trash bag in a normal trash can that will end its lifecycle down our garbage chute (our garbage is required by regulations to be housed in a plastic trash bag anyway).


That's it! Simple, efficient, and easy.

Now that we’re actively using our simple recycling process, I plan on running another week long trash audit to see how much we’ve reduced our waste product by. From our limited use so far, I'm guessing at least 70%.

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Comments

Could you possibly send me a copy of the recyclables list the city mailed out? I work for a landfill and would like to develop something similar. Please email me!
Thanks for all the wonderful information.
-Amber

Sure - sending to your email right now.

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