You Need To Up Your Recycling Game. Here’s Why (& How)


As I write this, I have four separate recycling bags in my walk-in-closet-slash-storage-area. And that’s not including the growing pile of brown paper bags I keep forgetting to return to the guys that deliver our organic veggies every week.

The first bag contains our general recycling (paper, recyclable plastics, glass bottles, etc.). The second bag is full of glass jars, bottles and other receptacles that we use for our package-free grocery shopping.

The third bag is for the toilet roll tubes and tin cans we’re collecting for a local non-profit called Soil for Life. They use them as planters in their kids’ gardening workshops.

The final bag is definitely the trickiest. It’s packed full of things that can only be proactively recycled. (More on that in a bit.)

All this extra clutter is driving the minimalist in me crazy, but I’d much rather do my bit to save the planet than indulge my inner KonMari.


Trash has become a complicated and controversial mess. The reasons for this are twofold.

Firstly, “the recycling game is rigged“, and it’s not in our favor. Always looking for new ways to improve their bottom line, a lot of businesses have changed their packaging. What once came in a can, for example, is now sold in a combination of cardboard and plastic. With no clear direction on what to do with these items, we simply toss them in our blue bins and hope for the best.

According to Bloomberg Opinion, “91 percent of potentially recyclable plastic in the U.S. ended up in landfills – or worse, in the oceans.”

Secondly, even if we do everything right, we have no control over what happens to our recycling once it leaves our hands. Canadians were recently shocked to discover that their recyclables had been exported overseas, where it was either burnt or ended up on landfills.

China made headlines when they announced they’d no longer be taking the rest of the world’s trash, but the real concern is that we were sending it there in the first place.

Rather than figure out how we can dispose of our trash, perhaps a better solution would be to stop making so much of it in the first place?


proactive recycling

There’s no doubting that recycling benefits the environment, but it’s by no means the catch-all solution we’d like to believe it is. All is not lost, though. If we up our recycling game, we can still make a difference.

1. Adopt a Zero Waste Lifestyle

Adopting a zero-waste lifestyle is one of the best ways to fix the mess our planet is in right now. It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing to make a difference. Start small, and expand your efforts as you go.

If you’re not sure how to go about it, you’ll find plenty of advice right here at Care2 for everything from creating a zero waste home and keeping a zero waste pet to going zero waste on a budget.

Try and do at least some of your grocery shopping at a package-free store. If that’s not doable, then at least make a point of avoiding anything in questionable packaging. If it’s not obviously recyclable (e.g. can, glass bottle or cardboard box), leave it on the shelf.

The more you can avoid single-use plastic, the better. In case you’re wondering, biodegradable plastic isn’t the solution. In most cases, it’s just accelerating the rate at which nanoparticles of plastic are deposited into the environment.

2. Create a Waste Management Plan

It sounds complicated, but creating a waste management plan isn’t rocket science. As the guys at Smart Waste point out, “it’s something you can create on the back of a [paper napkin] while watching TV.”

It boils down to identifying the various types of waste and making a proper disposal plan for each of them. Typically, the average household will have roughly five or six categories. With the correct plan in place, each of these is easy enough to dispose of.

1) Trash

This one is the easiest. It’s everything destined for the landfill. Your main aim here is to reduce the amount you produce as much as possible.

2) Recycling

Separate recyclables (cardboard, paper, plastic, glass and tins) from your trash to ensure they’re recycled. Make sure the items in question are actually recyclable.

3) Kitchen Waste

Composting in an apartment is perfectly doable. It’s a much better alternative than sending food scraps to the landfill.

4) Garden Refuse

Garden refuse is also better served on a compost heap, where it can be transformed into nutrient-rich soil conditioner.

5) Hazardous Items & E-Waste

Things like batteries, fluorescent globes, old cell phones, etc. need to be properly disposed of. Do a search in your area for a drop-off point.

Knowing how to sort various items takes research, but you’ll soon get the hang of it.

3. Be Proactive About Recycling

proactive recycling

We’ve all indulged in wishful recycling. Faced with something we no longer need—like a Halloween mask or a Christmas wreath—we toss it in recycling, and hope for the best. After all, if it’s not trash, then surely it must be recyclable?

Sadly, no. You need to be proactive in your approach to getting rid of the things you no longer need. Case in point: my partner injured her shoulder a while ago and needed to wear a harness to limit mobility. There’s nothing wrong with it, but we no longer need it.

Before, I’d just have dumped it in recycling and crossed my fingers. (I’m hanging my head in shame.) Now, it’s in that fourth bag I mentioned earlier, along with a Macbook power cable, my old backpack and some chopsticks (still in the plastic wrapper, I’m not such a hippie) that came with the sushi takeout we ordered recently.

It’s my mission to dispose of all those items responsibly. Some are easy, like returning the chopsticks to the restaurant, while others require some thought. I could advertise the power cable and shoulder strap on our neighbourhood Whatsapp group, for example.

It’s easy to throw those “gray area” items in the blue bin, but all you’re doing is making it someone else’s problem. We need to take responsibility for how we dispose of our stuff.

Ultimately, proactive recycling, like responsible decluttering, starts at the store. If we stop buying it, they’ll stop making it.

Take Action

Plastic pollution is one of the clearest signs of our waste management problem, both at home and on the commercial level. Join over 5,700 people and sign and share the pledge to support efforts to end plastic waste.

If you want to make a difference on an issue you find deeply troubling, you too can create a Care2 petition, and use this handy guide to get started. You’ll find Care2’s vibrant community of activists ready to step up and help you.


Photo Credit: Getty Images

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