Every year on November 15th, individuals and businesses all across the country join forces to celebrate America Recycles Day. This national holiday is dedicated to educating people about the importance of recycling to our economy and environmental well-being, as well as helping motivate occasional recyclers to make it an everyday habit and commit to purchasing recycled products.
In 2018 – the last time the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) analyzed where the nation’s trash ends up – the plastics recycling rate came in at about 9%, meaning that more than 91% of plastics generated that year were put in a landfill or incinerated for energy. A new report from Beyond Plastics and the Last Beach Cleanup indicates that the rate in 2021 was presumably under 5%, cutting the previous estimate nearly in half. One key reason for the drop is that the U.S. has recently struggled to offload its plastic trash to other countries. Therefore, more plastic waste with fewer places for it to go means that a greater share is now ending up in landfills and polluting the air.
To help do our part in the St. Louis region, the Clean Air Partnership encourages area residents to be proactive in making simple, positive lifestyle changes toward bettering our environment and the quality of the air we breathe. With that in mind, here are some helpful tips to consider for incorporating greener recycling habits into your day-to-day routine:
- Forget plastic; think reusable – Americans use more than 100 million plastic bags a year. Consider opting for reusable bags for future shopping trips – that way you’re not only reducing the amount of non-renewable resources necessary to produce plastic bags, but also helping to clean the air by cutting down on the thousands of bags that end up in landfills and don’t fully decompose. The same goes for plastic water bottles – purchase a refillable bottle instead of throwing away a new one each time to cut down on unnecessary waste. You can go one step greener by replacing plastic straws and using paper or reusable metal straws, too.
- Avoid wish cycling – While it stems from the best intentions, wish cycling is the practice of recycling items that cannot be recycled. The items that people wish cycle are usually things you would expect can be recycled, which emphasizes the importance of understanding recycling guidelines in your area to ensure that anything you sort and place in your curbside container with the goal of it being sent to your local recycling center actually makes it there. Cardboard takeout containers, pizza boxes and disposable tupperware items with greasy residue or stuck-on food are popular wish cycling items that are no good as they contaminate other materials that could have been recycled.
- Repurpose old items – It’s also worth mentioning that a major portion of our waste can be reduced or reused before even resorting to recycling. Shopping at or donating to secondhand stores are great ways to prevent unwanted items from ending up in the landfill. Additionally, with the holidays coming up, using recyclable materials around the house like old fabric, maps, newspapers or magazines for gift wrap are also easy ways to significantly reduce waste.
You can do your share for cleaner air and further commit to living a recycled lifestyle by taking the #BeRecycled pledge at americarecyclesday.org. For more great tips on how to achieve cleaner air year-round, visit our website, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter at @gatewaycleanair.