Written By: Brandi Lehman
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the total amount of garbage disposed by Americans rose from 217.3 million tons in 1995 to 250.9 in 2012. In the United States, trash that is not recycled is either sent to an incinerator or a landfill, both of which have negative side effects on the environment. Landfills produce about one-fourth of all methane emissions, and incinerators release gases that contribute to the creation of smog. With waste numbers climbing in the United States, it is even more important to make sure we are all doing our part to recycle.
Since there is no national law that mandates recycling, it is often left up to each individual county or city. This means that each city may have different rules and requirements for what they recycle and how they manage it. For instance, recycling in my hometown, West Chester, PA, is collected every week from standardized, city-issued containers during regular trash collection. West Chester collects a wide range of recyclables including clear, green, and brown glass, plastic containers #1-7, aluminum beverage cans, clean aluminum foil, take out containers, empty aerosol cans, steel food and beverage cans, mixed paper (newspaper, junk mail, office paper), and flattened cardboard. This differs from other municipalities like Pittsburgh, PA where recycling takes place every other week, and only if it is in blue plastic bags. Residential curbside recycling will collect only newspapers, glass, aluminum cans, and plastics 1-5.
One city that has been working to make major changes to its recycling program is San Francisco. In 2009, San Francisco passed a Recycling and Composting Ordinance, requiring city residents to separate their recyclables, compostables, and regular household trash. The city issued three color-coded containers that residents must use to separate their waste: green is used for compostable organic items such as food scraps; black is used for waste that cannot be recycled on a municipal level; and blue is for standard recycling items like water bottles and aluminum cans. To help enforce this ordinance, residents who do not comply risk being fined by the city. All of this is part of San Francisco’s Zero Waste by 2020 program, encouraging residents to get the most out of what they have by preserving resources, recycling, and composting what they can no longer use.
Unlike trash collection, most cities and counties have no limit on the amount of recyclable material that can be picked up. This means if you have something that can be recycled, recycle it! If you are not sure how recycling is conducted in your neighborhood, visit your city or county’s Department of Public Works website. The site should have the information readily available, or have a phone number for you to call with questions. Recycling is one of the easiest ways for us to get involved and start helping our communities and the environment. If you’re looking to become even more involved, visit www.earth911.com for a comprehensive guide to local recycling resources, including recycling centers, how to recycle, pollution prevention, and how help protect the environment.