This is the second installment of an occasional series on sustainability and changes you can make at little or no cost to help save the environment. Part I focused on water conservation. Part II looks at recycling and the waste stream.
When it comes to sustainability, tackling the waste stream is vital, experts say. In this area, trash is destined for landfills in York and Columbia, an incinerator or the ocean.
None of those options are sustainable. Incinerators that turn trash into electricity need nonrenewable resources to operate and even the cleanest burning ones emit pollutants into the air. Landfills fill up. Their liners tend to leak, causing toxic substances to seep into the ground. They also cost money to operate. In York County, some trash is shipped to Columbia and in addition to transportation costs, tipping fees are required to deposit it there.
No explanation is needed about why it’s bad to dump garbage into the ocean.
The good news is, compared to other sustainability issues, reducing the waste stream is within our power. Experts agree that while recycling is key, they have a simpler suggestion for making a positive impact.
“If you don’t create the waste, you don’t have to think about what to do with it at the end of its life,” said Chris Johnson, sustainability coordinator for Winthrop University.
Johnson gives an example of something so seemingly benign, it’s on few people’s radar.
“I don’t use straws,” he said. “If I go to a restaurant and they hand me one, I hand it back. What’s a (plastic) straw made of? It’s made of petroleum. Not using that one straw is not significant, but multiply that by how many people are using a straw at that moment and you see how that can make a difference.”
“The simple truth,” author Victoria Klein, writes in her latest book, “48 Things to Know About Sustainable Living,” is “buy less, use less, live more.”
Klein knows we’re still going to buy stuff, but in many cases, a second – or third – home is waiting when you don’t need it anymore.
“From cars and clothes to furniture and games, there’s a market or a nonprofit that will happily embrace your goods,” Klein writes.
York County recently launched a campaign called “Bring it!” to encourage more residents to recycle. Leslie Hatchell, recycling educator/coordinator for the county, says for those not in the habit or recycling, getting started is like getting into an exercise regime: The more you do it, the easier it gets.
“When you start recycling you realize how much you can recycle,” Hatchell said.
Diane Davis, executive director of the Carolina Recycling Association, said it’s not enough to fill your recycling bin each week or take all the refuse you don’t put into the trash to the county-run recycling center. It’s knowing what materials the recycling center accepts that makes the biggest difference.
“You’re not recycling if you’re just collecting something,” Davis said. “You have to get it to someone who’s going to make it back into a product. If it doesn’t end up something you can buy on the shelf, you didn’t do anything.”
Here are some tips from experts for reducing the waste stream and more efficient recycling:
▪ Avoid buying products that come packaged in material that can’t be recycled, such as eggs in Styrofoam versus cardboard cartons.
▪ Speaking of Styrofoam, instead of throwing out those foam peanuts and other packing materials that come to your home, offer them to local shipping businesses. It’s something they need to buy, so chances are they will accept the free materials.
▪ Most local grocery stores accept plastic bags for recycling. Ask them what else they might accept. There could be something they need that you would otherwise throw away.
▪ Buy toilet paper that comes without a cardboard tube. Or, include those tubes, as well as tubes that come with tin foil, with your recycling.
▪ There’s no need to rinse tin cans before recycling that had the product packed in water, like corn, as long as there’s no food stuck to the inside of the can.
▪ Use re-chargeable batteries. They don’t last forever, but good ones will last long enough to keep you from buying dozens of batteries and the packaging they come in.
▪ Before buying a new appliance or anything else that comes with a lot of un-recyclable packaging, check the local thrift shop like the Humane Society of York County’s Pawsabilities, Pawsitively Thrifty in Indian Land or Goodwill.
▪ Compost food waste, as well as some paper products, such as napkins and tissues.
▪ Bring your own reusable containers to restaurants when making a takeout order. Same goes for takeout coffee or tea.
▪ Use organic dry cleaners (there’s at least one in Fort Mill) and bring a garment bag with you for the dry cleaner to use instead of the plastic.
For information about recycling and sources to find a recipient for materials not accepted by your recycling program, go to earth911.com.
To find out which materials are accepted by your local municipal recycling program, go to:
York County: yorkcountygov.com/recycle
Fort Mill: fortmillsc.gov
Tega Cay: tegacaysc.org