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How to Recycle Kitchen Waste

Updated on October 10, 2012

How much trash leaves your kitchen every day? According to an EPA study in 2006, Americans generated over 251 million tons of waste. Although nearly 82 million tons of that trash was recycled, that still left 169 million tons of waste.

The EPA also reports that we saved the energy equivalent of more than 10 billion gallons of gasoline by recycling that nearly 82 million tons of waste. That number alone can and should en­courage us to keep pushing for real trash reduction in our landfills. Sure, we have all heard about recycling, and we all, for the most part, realize and believe that it is something that everyone should do. But how many of us actually do it? So, the next time you open your trash can, stop and think: Can you recycle that empty dish­washer detergent container instead of throwing it away?

If you are interested in recycling but you aren't so sure where begin, wonder no more. If you don't have a recycling bin al­ready, contact your garbage collection center to ask if they provide recycling services. If so, they will provide a recycling bin for pickup. If your garbage company doesn't offer recycling options, some re­cycling centers do offer pickup. Once you have your recycling in­formation in hand, put a box next to your trash can to ensure that you don't forget and accidentally toss your empty peanut butter jar in with the trash. You also need to make sure to adequately clean your recyclables before adding them to your collection. That will prevent unwanted smells and pests from infiltrating your home.

If you feel a bit confused or intimidated about what can be re­cycled, here is a list to remove some of the guesswork:

  • Milk jugs
  • Juice containers
  • Plastic bottles from dressings, jellies, or sauces
  • Tin cans
  • Cardboard boxes like cereal boxes or quickie side dish op-, tions
  • Glass bottles
  • Aluminum cans
  • Two-liter bottles
  • Dishwashing detergent or soap bottles
  • Empty household cleaning bottles

This is only a short list to get you started. But, for the most part, your kitchen contains more recyclable items than any other room in your house.

One way to tell if an item is recyclable is to check the bottom of the container. Look for a symbol of three arrows forming a tri­angle. When dealing with plastics, the triangle should contain a num­ber which represents a recycling code for the different types of materials. That number tells you into which recycling category your plastic trash falls. For example, most of the time, the number 2 will appear on plastic bottles for liquid detergent or juice. So that you don't overflow your kitchen with large piles of bottles, check with your local recycling center to ensure which numbers they take be­fore you begin collecting to remove some of the confusion.

The only barrier to this simple process is that some states and communities do not offer curbside recycling pickup. However, don't be discouraged, recycling friends. You can still contact the recycling center closest to you and ask what containers and trash you can bring in. This does require you to actually pack the recyclables in your vehicle and take it to the recycling center. That is, admittedly, a dis­advantage, but most likely something you can build into your weekly routine. You will feel better after you do, and you will be taking a very proactive step in reducing the amount of trash overflowing our landfills. Given the staggering statistics from the EPA, how can you afford not to recycle?

When you do recycle, you are making an important change in not only your life, but also other lives as well. One important thing to re­member: If you recycle, try to also buy recycled items when possible. Some of the most commonly recycled household objects include:

  • Cereal boxes or side dish options
  • Paper napkins
  • Stationery
  • Greeting cards
  • Toilet paper
  • Paper towels

You don't have to break your bank buying only recycled prod­ucts, but taking the time to think about what you use most and then buying the recycled version really does make a difference. If you use a lot of paper towels, buy recycled ones. They aren't as soft, but how soft should a paper towel be? Convenience is nice, but so is taking care of our Earth.

While it may seem intimidating, or hard to understand just how these products are reprocessed to create new things, recycling is one of the easiest and most productive ways to create positive change for not only you, but also your neighbors as well. We have already reduced our trash numbers, and think about those 10 billion gallons of energy equivalent gasoline we saved through our recycling ef­forts. Why not increase that? Real change is simple, accessible, and sitting there in your trash can, waiting for you to make a difference.


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