It May Not Seem Like Much

Thumbs UP Reduce Reuse Recycle

Believe it or not, there are still people who do not recycle in America. It has been almost 25 years since the three Rs came to stand for “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle,” yet our society is still producing too much personal waste. Despite lots of “buzz”, as a society, we are still failing to realize how much of an environmental footprint we are leaving.

I am an avid recycler. How can I be involved in a business that makes use of resources that consumers turn in for recycling and not participate in the effort ? It would be inauthentic of me not to recycle. However, I recognize that what “motivates” me is not likely to motivate the average members of a household. I know that individual efforts don’t seem like much. I discovered that other thoughtful people are considering the question – How might we establish better recycling habits at home ?

Concealed Recycling Bins

In our home, we make recycling fairly easy for most of the family members. We wash everything before putting it the kitchen recycling container because we do not have curbside pick-up and must drive 20 miles in order to leave our recyclables at the county recycling center. We may only make that trip once in a month, so we don’t want residue spoiling in the basement in the meantime. We have a divided recycling container (not the one pictured but similarly large enough to reduce trips downstairs) that allows us to put potentially “wet” items (glass, plastic and metals) in a separate bin from “dry” items (paper). Our bin has a handle in the middle that allows us to carry both bins easily in one trip down to our basement where we have multiple aluminum standard size garbage cans. We then further separate our recyclables into more discrete categories – plastic, paper, metal, glass. We do put our chipboard (cereal boxes, etc) into a paper bag and we deal separately with corrugated cardboard (piling boxes into other boxes). We compost EVERYTHING organic.

The University of Exeter conducted a study to explore the role that recycling plays in everyday life through in depth research and conversations with families in Great Britain and France. They uncovered a series of insights on how we behave at home finding that:

•Recycling is rarely a conscious decision: we just go about our busy daily lives and recycling may or may not feature in our routines

•There are often tensions in the home between recycling champions and those who opt for the simplest route to disposing of waste – and aesthetics win out over environmental concerns

•There is often confusion and skepticism among householders about recycling, which can often lead to apathy

Creative Ideas in Recycling

The openIDEO Challenge asked that question – “How might we establish better recycling habits at home?” and received over 200 creative ideas like the ones I have randomly selected below. The ideas I selected made it into the Final 25 but were not among the 8 ideas chosen as “Winners”. You can view the winning ideas here – openIDEO Challenge Winners.

Ideas I liked included this one was based on the question – “How much difference would one bottle make?” The common answer is “every bottle counts” but really how much does recycling only one bottle do? What if you knew exactly how much water, trees, electricity and CO2 you were saving by recycling that one bottle? This idea suggested an app called “Recyculator” – that could provide information on your personal recycling impact. The creator of that idea thought the app would scan the product’s barcode and then show the user those electricity, water, trees and CO2 savings as Environmental Impact statistics. Another app idea was named “From This to This” which intended to show the user what product their item could become if it were recycled rather than thrown away. I thought that this idea might help connect the user to the recycling process by showing this relevant information visually.

In doing research for this blog, I discovered an awesome website called RecycleBank that seeks to inspire and reward members. In some communities, RecycleBank members can actually earn points for recycling at home. RecycleBank makes that possible by working with municipalities and waste haulers. The organization also seeks to educate their members to make a positive impact towards a more sustainable future by learning how to make smarter choices everyday. They know that there is no single blueprint for a sustainable future, so they offer many ways for members to participate in being a collective force for change that makes a difference for us all.

I did a 5 image slideshow titled “The 4 Basic Recyclable Materials” and discovered that if the 10,000+ members of RecycleBank all recycled these items, one of the impacts would be 19,600 trees “saved”, still in the ground growing and recycling carbon for us all. I earned 25 points in just a few moments, with very little effort, and learned some new information as well, such as – an aluminum can goes from being recycled to back on the shelf as a new can in as little as 60 days or that paper can be recycled up to 7 times if it hasn’t been soiled by food waste.

Benefits of Recycling Tree

What are some of the benefits of recycling ?

• Recycling protects and expands manufacturing jobs and local competitiveness.

• Recycling reduces the need for land-filling and incineration.

• Recycling prevents pollution caused by the manufacturing of products from virgin materials.

• Recycling saves energy.

• Recycling decreases emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change.

• Recycling conserves natural resources such as timber, water, and minerals.

• Recycling helps sustain the environment for future generations.

Within the experiences that we have as a business that uses the resources that people turn in for recycling, we’ve noted that the economic stagnation now 7 years running, seems to have taken the “value” of using recycled materials off the table of decision makers in favor of the lowest cost. We know that cost IS important and that is why we do our best to keep costs as low as possible but the reality is that producing new construction materials from recycled feedstocks remains a low volume enterprise without the big economies of scale that could bring prices down lower. It also seems to us that a lot of people have “forgotten” about recycling in general. Perhaps they think it’s so mainstream now that their individual participation really doesn’t matter all that much. And even though it may seem like an individual effort is insignificant – it actually DOES add up. It’s easy enough to prove that’s true – just visit a landfill someday and see how much the cumulative waste of “individuals” has piled up !!

CtS21ft CamH3' 35mm 0001

~ Information Resources

openIDEO Challenge – How might we establish better recycling habits at home ? –

The 3Rs and the 2 Words – What Is The Big Deal ? –

Earn Points at RecycleBank –


Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer