How to do recycling right (so your hard work isn't sent to landfill)

Oh, recycling. Some people love it, some people hate it, most people just don't do it! Recycling isn't going to save the planet; but it is a good place to start, and I'll tell you why.

I often hear things like, 'Recycling doesn't matter', 'Recycling isn't going to fix the problem of plastics in our ocean', 'I don't have time to recycle', 'No one else recycles', etc., etc., etc. I hear you. And I'm not here to convince you that recycling is the end-all, be-all. Because it's not! Reducing, reusing, and refusing are all better options than recycling, but that doesn't mean that recycling is useless. It is still a much better option than sending useful materials to landfill. We live on a finite planet, and with a burgeoning human population, we will run out of land to fill with our trash if we continue business as usual. Recycling is only part of the solution, but right now it's one of the best ways currently in existence to conserve resources. So let's make sure we know how to do it right so our efforts don't go to waste (literally)!

First, to define what we're talking about: To re-cycle something is to take a discarded material and return it to the cycle of useful materials via secondary markets. Items that are readily recycled and have actual value include glass, aluminum, cardboard, paper, and plastic. Most curbside recycling programs, also called single stream recycling, accept these items, and sometimes they accept additional things like mixed plastic and paper cartons like Tetrapaks and milk cartons. (Find out if your curbside service or area recycling center accepts cartons by checking out I was pleasantly surprised to find out that mine does!) Single stream recycling means that you, the depositor, place all of your recyclable materials into one bin, without separating them by type: paper, plastic, metal, glass.

Recycling programs exist almost everywhere across the United States. There are many known problems with the way we recycle, and economics plays a huge part, but I won't get too in the weeds with that because it strays from the point of this article! However, there are a few important obstacles that often stand in the way of successful recycling that we can identify and work around.

1. Inconsistencies in recycling program rules, capabilities, and location of facilities. If you live in, say, Olathe, Kansas, then move 10 miles west to De Soto, Kansas, there are likely differences in what you can recycle, which facility your recyclables go to, and what your new facility is capable of recycling versus what your previous facility was capable of. It's fully understand something when the rules are always changing!

2. A lacking end market. In the case of plastic, it's cheaper and easier to ext