Trash, Recycling, & Waste: The Disposal Guide
We’ve all been there: standing in front of our garbage cans, holding some unusual item that may…or may not?…be disposable, recyclable, compostable, or- unbeknownst to you -classified as hazardous household waste. The world’s landfills are already overburdened with wasted food and irresponsibly discarded scrap, so in order to reduce carbon footprints around the nation, The Purple Fig has conjured up a comprehensive guide to answer the dreaded question: “Is this recyclable?”
Why Does it Matter?
Landfills are where potentially recyclable and compostable items go to die. Sustainability is sidestepped, whether out of ignorance or irresponsibility, when these reusable materials are tossed, unsegregated, into the garbage can and shipped off to the dump.
The EPA estimates that 75% of the American waste stream is recyclable, but we only recycle about 30% of it.
If you take a quick glance in your garbage bin and see food scraps, glass, or odds and ends like bulbs and batteries, hurry and save them from the hands of garbage truck men! They have better futures elsewhere…
If It’s Food, Toss It In the Compost
As discussed in our article Composting 101, compost is primarily food scraps, but can also contain anything that is naturally biodegradable. Check out Plantea’s list of 163 compostable materials for an extensive encyclopedia, and feast your eyes on some lesser known compostable Items like:
- Tea bags
- Coffee grinds
- Paper towels (used)
- Tissues (used and new)
- Dryer lint
- Post-it notes
Why it’s important: Landfills are not designed for compostable products. When organic products biodegrade under layers of inorganic trash, methane gas is produced, potentially increasing greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. Composting also contributes to sustainability, waste reduction, and recycling (compost always creates fertile soil!).
Soda cans. Cereal boxes. Milk cartons. We handle recyclable materials literally every day, and yet according to Waste Management, Americans only recycle 49% of our used aluminum cans, 70% of our cardboard, and 27% of our plastics. That doesn’t even include glass or electronic material! Here are a few facts that could help us conserve our resources:
- Aluminum, glass, metal, paper, and cardboard are all generally recyclable (check if you are unsure)
- Keep the items as free of food residue as possible. Wash them or wipe them out before tossing them in the recycling bin.
- Certain plastics are recyclable, but not all. If the product label code (the triangle icon) has the numbers 1 or 2, it IS recyclable. Some more unknown recyclables include:
- Motor oil bottles
- Detergent/household cleaner bottles
- Cereal box liners
- Mouthwash bottles
- Peanut butter containers
- Vegetable oil containers
- Salad dressing bottles
- Oven-safe food trays
- Batteries, bulbs, and electronics ARE recyclable! Most may require special disposal*, but these items are highly encouraged to skip the landfill:
- Car, household, and rechargeable (ex: laptop, hair dryer, power tool) batteries
- CFL, incandescent, and LED bulbs
- Office equipment (ex: printers, scanners, fax machines…)
- Personal electronics (ex: cell phones, stereos, mp3 and DVD players..)
Why it’s important: Check out National Geographic’s article about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to study the consequences of our irresponsible handling of recyclable material.
*Hazardous Household Waste: What It Is and What to Do with It
According to the EPA, hazardous household waste (HHW) is classified as waste containing “corrosive, toxic, ignitable, or reactive ingredients”. Products like this require special disposal guidelines, to avoid endangering both people and the environment. Most major cities have a designated HHW Facility for free drop-off, and certain cities also offer home pick-up and pre-paid delivery kits. Check your local area for disposal options!
Some HHW items include:
- Pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers
- Paint products (oil-based paint, caulk, wood preservative…)
- Household cleaners (ammonia, drain cleaners, rust cleaners…)
- Thermometers and thermostats
- CFL bulbs
- Home and vehicle batteries
- General electronics
- Automotive products (motor oil, antifreeze, gasoline, polish and wax…)
Why it’s important: On top of risking human health, improper or reckless disposal of HHW can lead to dangerous chemicals seeping into drain systems and polluting our environment even further. If poured down the drain, dumped in the street, or flushed down the toilet, hazardous materials run the high risk of: injuring sanitation workers and contaminating the ground; contaminating sewage systems and treatment plants not built for HHW; and contaminating storm drains that lead to the ocean and major bodies of water, contaminating the aqua-culture and, eventually, human life.
Disposable: The Last Resort
For solid waste that just doesn’t fit the bill for sustainable disposal, the landfill is its final resting place.The average garbage item is a product that does not decompose (i.e. is not organic), does not contain recyclable material(s), and cannot be repurposed.
For a country that produces around 220 million tons of garbage per year, waste management techniques like incineration have been designed to combat the ever-rising levels of waste that, frankly, won’t fit into our over-stuffed landfills. Waste Management has instituted a bioreactor landfill system throughout the country to separate organic material in our landfills in order to:
- accelerate organic decomposition
- control and remove moisture from the waste mass
- collect and extract landfill gas
Even though the disposal of your waste is essential, you can still contribute to eco-friendly methods by buying biodegradable garbage bags as well as compostable plates, cups, and various utensils for those occasions that simply cannot avoid disposable options!
Easy (and Lucrative) Solutions
- Waste minimization is key! Stop buying single-use items and opt for eco-friendly, long-lasting products for everyday use (ex: one glass water bottle instead of many crates of plastic bottles). The elimination of wasteful products will always result in less waste.
- Do you have an excess of unwanted, but perfectly edible, food? Instead of letting it rot in a landfill, you can donate your extra food and give to families who need it!
- As with any unwanted (but perfectly functional) clothing, accessory, toy, or appliance, donating the items to foundations like Goodwill is always encouraged.
- If you’re looking to discard your old books, records, CDs, DVDs, and even VHS tapes, companies like Half Price Books buy back these items for resale.
- If you’re trying to dispose of old and/or broken CDs, CD cases, DVDs, mp3 players, speakers, etc, but can’t travel to your local HHW Facility for drop-off, Best Buy offers an easy recycling drop-off for your dead electronics!
- Why not sell back perfectly good items- especially pricy ones like furniture and electronics -online? Stores and communities like eBay and Craigslist can be lucrative alternatives to simply dumping items in a landfill.