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Too Many Recyclables, Too Little Space

Updated on January 25, 2009

In these times, we all want to be environmentally conscientious. We try to recycle everything we can so that future generations will not have to mine our landfills for resources. Our landfills fill up too fast anyway. Yet as we recycle more and more, our living space tends to fill up with recyclables between recycling collection or trips to the recycling center.

We know that renewable resources are the best, and that petroleum is not a renewable resource. Therefore we reduce the amount of plastics we use. Yet when we recycle. what is our recycling bin made from? Plastic!

To change the plastic recycling bin policy, two things are necessary: a grassroots effort to effect change, and an alternative. However, let's not put the cart before the horse. Before a grassroots effort can be begun, the alternative must exist. Recycling bins are plastic for the same reason most garbage cans are now plastic: wood chips, cracks, and splinters and steel dents and rusts.

Until a satisfactory alternative is found, we will have to live with plastic recycling bins. Yet it is possible to reduce the number of bins necessary by reducing the materials we use. "Reduce - Reuse - Recycle" is the environmental mantra. To reduce the third, concentrate on the other two. By reducing the amount of waste we create in the act of consumption and by reusing to help reduce consumption, we can reduce the volume of recyclables that collect weekly or monthly in our homes.


Paper or Plastic

There is a movement already underway to incentivize bringing one's own bags to the grocery store. At Whole Foods, for example, they take five cents off your bill for every bag used to take your groceries from the store. They sell the bags for about a dollar. The bags are sturdily made from mostly recycled materials. Using your own bags reduces the number of bags that will later need to be recycled.

Better yet, get your backpack and walk or bike to the supermarket instead of driving. Get exercise, reduce your carbon footprint, and reduce your bag consumption at the same time.

Whenever you go to the store for an item small enough to go in your pocket, put it in your pocket and forget the bag. What do you need the bag for? A lot of these bags cannot even be recycled by municipal recycling programs.


Instead of repackaged fruits and vegetables, purchase non-packaged produce from the bins in your supermarket and place them in your reusable bags. If your market does not offer produce that is not pre-packaged, complain to the manager and/or switch to a market that does. Produce packaging takes up a lot of space.

If there is a local farmer's market in your area, try to shop there, and bring your own bag. Great quantities of petroleum are consumed in the transportation of groceries. If you can buy locally produced food, you can reduce the carbon emissions needed to feed you.


Bottled water is a major source of discarded containers, as well as air polution from the petroleum expended in its transportation. In many cases, the water you get from your kitchen faucet is as good as the water you buy in a bottle. However, if you ride a bicycle, you need a water bottle. Consider getting a reusable stainless steel or aluminum bottle that you can use for years instead of a plastic one that you can use for weeks. If you must buy bottled water, get it in the largest container you can and refill your resusable containers from the large container.

Generally speaking, if you purchase something durable instead of something disposable, you will reduce the amount of waste you produce. Whenever you throw something away or recycle it, think, "Could I have gotten something reusable instead?" Take the time to find out. It's good for the planet.

Storage containers, for example. Consider using ceramic or metal cannisters instead of plastic bags or storage containers.

All the stuff accumulating in your place waiting for you to recycle is stuff used by you. By thoroughly examining everything you use, you will find ways to reduce your consumption of containers by simply not buying as many and by buying containers that can be reused instead of disposable ones.


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    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 9 years ago from United States

      That's definitely why the US is where it is on recycling today. At one point, one city - I think it was NYC - had no place to put its waste, so it just sat on a huge barge in the river for months. The town I live in says they actually make money on recycling.

    • MRS Great Caruso profile image

      MRS Great Caruso 9 years ago

      So, so true. We live abroad at the moment, and sadly two of the countries where we have been do not recycle at all. You should see the amount of waste!!!

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 9 years ago from United States

      Hi Bruce! Done.

      Hi G-Ma! Keep fighting the good fight.

      Welcome, Rosefir and Real Tomato! It took our family years even to begin recycling, and it was only after the kids grew to be more or less autonomous. It is an effort, but it is possible. Rosefir, seems like your city and your supermarket coincide. Using blue plastic grocery bags for recycling containers IS recycling, and it take less plastic to make 50 of those than it probably does to make 1 recycling bin.

    • The Real Tomato profile image

      The Real Tomato 9 years ago

      Change just isn't happening fast enough for me. I sorted out last night all the recyclables and had to put them in...plastic bags. I grew up in the city and am so used to buying and using products without any thought to the environment. Change is hard and fustrating. Especially when feeding and cleaning etc. for a large family.

      Three cheers for your hub.

    • roseflr profile image

      roseflr 9 years ago from PITTSBURGH

      I agree with you, but here's what happened to me: our major supermarket chain uses blue plastic bags and our city requires that our recyclables be put in blue bags for curbside pickup. The city doesn't supply us with bins like many other cities do. A few months ago I bought several reusable cloth bags for the supermarket and within a few weeks, my stash of blue plastic bags was gone and I had nothing to use for curbside pickup! I had to go back to bringing my groceries home in plastic bags. I did learn that city regulations allow for using blue bins if we buy them and someone told me Whole Foods sells them, but since I can't afford to buy food at Whole Foods, I certainly won't be likely to buy a bin there. There's nothing wrong in what you say in this hub, but, to be realistic, even someone who lives alone like I do generates lots of cans, bottles and newspapers for recycling every week, despite trying to be careful.

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 9 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      Yes is a great hub and I use cloth bags (have now for a long time) and actually I do all the things you mentioned here...what Pisses me off is the JUNK MAIL we receive everyday...I did a hub on how to stop the magazines's "Thanks but No Thanks" and so I did do that.  It is true the one's I listed and ordered stopped were stopped only to be replaced by some other one.

      It just seems so useless sometimes.  I hate to have to keep telling this site each day to stop the seems they (or whomever) sell that list and then you get catalog's you never would order from...How do we really stop this??? These companies use more ink and paper then is even right and are the biggest  polluter's my opinion... Nicely done hub and Thanks...G-Ma :o) Hugs & Peace

    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 9 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Hey Tom, Another great one for us, and the planet. Good for you. Here's a hint, you could add my book Simplicity and Success: Creating the Life You Long For to your Amazon capsule. It's about living a simpler, yet richer and more successful life. Hint, hint!

      Great hub, even if you don't take the hint. :-) Thanks!