Words and illustrations by Sarah Logan
With summer just around the corner, chances are you will be spending more time outside. Whether it be hiking in the mountains of upstate New York, swimming in the waters off the coast of Long Island, or skipping down the hot cement of Harlem’s streets, it is hard not to beam at the beauty of the beautiful world. It is commonly acknowledged that the citizens of Earth take its beauty for granted.
From a young age, we are taught to “reduce, reuse, and recycle!” It is drilled so far into our brains that it slowly becomes cheesy, a cliché within the rest of the repetitive slogans society repeats to us. All this is fun and great, but how can we realistically recycle? While recycling is no easy feat, with some practice and repetition, it can become easier with time.
The First Part: Reducing
Now, this may be the hardest part – mostly because, as a society, we use way much more single-use plastics than we are aware of. According to Earth Day Network, human beings buy about 1,000,000 plastic water bottles per minute, most of which are thrown into our oceans. Additionally, half a million straws are used daily worldwide.
Recently, the zero-waste practice has been trending in our society. This lifestyle strives to produce no waste, benefit the planet’s oceans, and reduce the size of landfills. Although it may seem amazing and innovative, it is harder than perceived at first glance. Lauren Singer, a fellow Manhattanite and the author of her blog “Trash is for Tossers,” lives strictly by this lifestyle. She stores 3 years’ worth of her own trash in a tiny mason jar. On her blog, she defines Zero Waste as a lifestyle in which she does “not produce any garbage. No sending to landfill, no throwing anything in a trash can, nothing.” For more information on her journey, visit her blog at trashisfortossers.com/.
The first step is to reduce or eliminate single-use plastics from your life. Therefore, you may have to replace plastic objects with reusable or paper appliances. Here are some examples:
– Instead of using plastic shopping bags, utilize reusable cotton or paper bags. They can be found at most check out counters and in most stores.
– Swap plastic straws for paper or stainless-steel straws.
– When going out to eat, ask for a paper bowl. Or, even better, bring your own glass or ceramic bowl!
– Instead of paper napkins or towels, ask for cloth napkins at restaurants and cloth rags to clean your home.
– Opt for a bamboo brush instead of a plastic tooth brush.
– Make your own toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, and conditioner by following recipes online. Lauren has some great ones!
Of course, some of these steps will be easier than others. Yet, this is all part of the process and the first step may be small. That’s okay! Living a zero-waste life takes time and energy, but it is certainly not impossible. If some of these swaps seem unattainable, begin with a small goal like eliminating plastic bags, utensils, and straws. It may be easier than you think.
The Second Part: Reusing
The next step is to reuse some of the utensils and objects already within your possession. This is possibly the easiest of the three, mostly because it does not require you to buy something new, carry extra weight, or go out and recycle.
The meaning is simple: reuse what you already have and eliminate the constant introduction of new products. To begin, if you have any self-care items, foods, or single-use plastics at the start of your green journey, continue to use them up. Don’t simply just throw them away and buy new, more sustainable utilities. After you have eaten your food or used up all the product within whatever single-use plastic you are using, you can either reuse or recycle those objects.
Here are some clever ways to reuse your unwanted garbage (or treasure, whatever way you choose to perceive it):
– Turn used plastic water bottles into planters for small flowers or herbs.
– Take a glass candle container, clean it out, put sand in it and store makeup brushes or writing utensils by sticking them into the sand.
– Use paper cylindrical cans and glass jars and fill them up with bulk food items (coffee, oats, nuts, grains, spices and flours) that can be bought at stores like Trader Joes and Whole Foods.
– Reuse plastic and paper shopping bags during your next grocery stop.
– Cut or rip up the pieces from old single-sided tests or notes and use them to make a notepad.
These are only a few ideas out of a multitude of possibilities. Again, start small and work your way up to bigger, more dramatic changes.
The Third Part: Recycling
Recycling may seem easy and convenient at first glance. That plastic bag you used to pick up some quick snacks at the deli around the corner can easily be recycled, right?
Not exactly. Recycling takes more time and energy than you would think. It seems easy enough to throw a plastic bag into a recycling bin, but they can’t actually be recycled through New York City’s sanitation system.
Items such as plastic jars, bottles, and food containers can all be recycled in the NYC sanitation system because they are rigid plastics. NYC.org defines rigid plastics as “any item that is mostly plastic resin – it is relatively inflexible and maintains its shape or form when bent.” Instead of placing plastic bags in your closest recycling bin, take them to your local supermarket. There they will be reused for future shoppers.
Most other materials can be recycled. Metal materials like soup cans and aluminum foil wraps and trays are recyclable, although they need to be cleaned out before recycling – so should glass bottles and jars and food and beverage cartons, which can all be recycled as well.
Further, it is important to remember to flatten and tie together large cardboard boxes. Lined, computer, and colored paper with staples can be recycled. Likewise, receipts, paper bags with handles, soft-cover books, newspapers, and magazines can also be recycled. Soiled napkins and paper towels along with waxy paper are not accepted.
For any other materials you are unsure of, visit the New York City Department of Sanitation’s website at https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dsny/site/services/recycling/what-to-recycle.
After you have acquired your recyclables, mixed paper and cardboard must be separated from metal, glass, plastic, and cartons. The cardboard boxes can be tied together with string and the other materials can be placed into clear plastic bags. For more information regarding the collection schedule in your area, visit https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dsny/site/collectionSchedule.
With time, your own green journey will become normalized, a part of every day living. One small step may seem insignificant, but it can mean life or death for the precious creatures of the world. So, start with one small step and protect the integrity of this planet’s future.