Waste not, want not.
Most of us are pretty good about recycling or reusing materials in the most productive ways. But the age-old expression can take on a deeper meaning if we start thinking about what we do with our trash before we even start to generate it.
To help that thought process along, the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department’s Resource Recovery and Waste Management Division has prepared a Recycling Resource Guide, chock-full of easy suggestions to decrease waste and promote recycling — for both the home and business.
For instance, packaging alone creates approximately one third of California’s solid waste. So when you can, buy products with the least amount of packaging. Purchasing economy-sized items that are frequently used — such as laundry soap, shampoo, and even your favorite cereal — not only help reduce the overuse of packaging, but also save you money and time.
Another way to reduce unneeded waste is to stop junk mail from entering your home — and cluttering your desk! Remove your name from direct mailing lists and cancel any catalogs that you don’t use. Click on the Junk Mail No More section of the Recycling Resource Guide.
It’s important to also try to reduce waste toxicity by using nonhazardous products such as nontoxic pesticides and cleaning items. Look for products that are labeled as nontoxic and environmentally friendly —and take time to compare labels so you make the best choices.
The use of reusable products and the practice of giving a “second life” to what we use also helps prevent waste. Instead of throwaway paper products, think about utilizing washable utensils made out of hard, sturdy plastic for your next party or picnic. Also consider buying cheap but decorative silverware, dishes and bowls at your local thrift store; a great idea for potlucks, by the way.
Don’t forget the simple practice of using rechargeable batteries and canvas bags; they may be an initial investment but will save waste — and time. (No more having to run up to the store for a last-minute battery, no more having to find a place for the myriad plastic or paper bags when you come home from the market.)
Become more like our sensible grandmothers and save reusable gift wrapping, food containers and paper for other uses. Also, no matter what your time constrictions are, don’t throw out items such as used clothes or furniture; most local thrift stores offer free pickup.
Leslie Wells, collections and materials manager of the Resource Recovery and Waste Management Division of the county Public Works Department, notes that curbside recycling takes even more solid waste than before.
“Starting a few years ago, all forms of plastic can now be recycled (plastics numbered 3-7) whereas before it was just plastics with the numbers 1-2,” she said.
As a result, virtually all hard plastics are now recyclable, as is aluminum foil and pie plates (cannot have residue from food or beverages), newspaper, cans (including aluminum, steel, tin, bimetal — and empty aerosol), mixed glass (but not window glass or light bulbs), mixed paper (even glossy magazines but no waxed or laminated or paper towels), paperboard (think cereal boxes but not waxed cartons such as milk cartons), and corrugated cardboard. Just remember to leave your plastic grocery bags out of curbside recycling (you can recycle these at select markets).
“These bags are recyclable but they get caught up in the processing equipment and actually reduce a facility’s ability to sort other recyclables,” Wells explained.
Also Styrofoam is not recyclable but packing peanuts can be brought to mailing stores to be reused. Choosing to buy recycled products also helps to keep the whole process of recycling a productive business that encourages manufacturers to use this technology in their products, and suppliers to put them on their shelves.
There are many other household items that are not covered in curbside recycling programs and, thus, should never be thrown away. Such items as batteries, chemicals, paints, solvents and electronic equipment should all be recycled at the appropriate facilities. Click here for a comprehensive list of the county’s recycling and hazrardous waste programs.
As the general population gets better at recycling at home, of course, it is also important to carry on these practices at work.
“People can do more by actively recycling at work, when they go to the park, or at school,” Wells noted. “They do an excellent job at home but can do better at work.”
Remembering these practices — wherever we are — helps to reduce waste in an even bigger, more cumulative fashion. Preparing for them makes them that much more satisfying.