While recycling rules will vary depending on the garbage program in your area, there are some general guidelines you can follow.
Paper products, including newspaper, junk mail, cardboard, magazines and printer paper can all be recycled together. It’s easier to recycle whole paper, so avoid shredding. Paper products that are contaminated by food (a greasy pizza box for example) should go into compost or trash instead.
Glass products, including clear, brown and green bottle glass are recycled together. But do not mix in glass from windows, cooking dishes, light bulbs or ceramics because these usually include additives or films that will disrupt the recycling process.
Metal products are also easily recycled. Metal food cans should be rinsed out and the labels removed. Separate into aluminum and steel. If you don’t know what metal it is, you should still recycle it as facilities usually have magnetized machines that will pull out the usable materials.
Plastic products are tricky to recycle because there are so many different types made from different materials. To sort, you must look for the plastic number on the product (it will be a number from 1-7 with the three little arrows around it). Most garbage facilities accept plastics 1-3 though some accept all 7; check with your local program to find out.
Regrettably, even when we diligently sort our trash, only an average of 20% of garbage in the U.S. gets successfully recycled. To put this in perspective, there is a group of garbage-sorters in Cairo, Egypt who recycle a full 80% of the city’s trash. The Zabaleen, a group of about 70,000 Egyptian Coptic Christians have had just one livelihood for the past 80 years. They gather, sort, and recycle the trash produced by the nearly 20 million people who live in Cairo. Each day the men collect 6,000 tons of trash from neighborhoods and bring it back to their village of Moqattam, sometimes called “Garbage City.”
The women and children then spend up to 12 hours a day hand-sorting the garbage into 16 major categories and hundreds of sub-categories. Virtually every tiny piece of reusable material is salvaged and sold to factories for marginal profits. The Zabaleen are the world’s most efficient waste disposal system, recycling 80% of the garbage compared to contracted companies in the West that only manage to reclaim about 20%. Cairo’s traditional recycling system is far ahead of any modern green initiatives. While it’s impossible to rival the recycling excellence of the Zabaleen, it’s still important to make improvements in the ways we recycle.
The Gaia Movement USA encourages people to take a lesson from Garbage City, which is that actually the majority of the things we throw out can be reused to make new items. By taking the time to sort your recyclables, you are helping to make sure that less precious resources are squandered away in landfills. Be a smart recycler, suggests The Gaia Movement USA, and help save the planet.
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