Reuse & Buy Recycled
In 2014, Americans recycled and composted 89 million tons of municipal solid waste. This saved almost 1.1 quadrillion BTUs of energy, which is equivalent to the amount of energy consumed by over 25 million U.S. households in a year! While we've made great strides in diverting waste from landfills, more than 65% of the waste generated still ended up in landfills and incinerators. To "close the loop" and ensure efficiency, we must go beyond recycling and also practice waste prevention, reusing products and buying recycled. Together, these actions help:
- Offset rising disposal costs by diverting waste from landfills
- Reduce air and water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions associated with landfilling, incineration, resource acquisition and processing, and product manufacturing (e.g., recycling glass to make new bottles and jars cuts related air pollution by 20%)
- Conserve energy and limited natural resources such as timber, petroleum, water and minerals because it reduces our need to harvest for new raw materials (e.g., it takes 95% less energy to make a can from recycled aluminum compared to virgin metal)
- Encourage communities to rethink the materials we use and the materials we typically throw out
- Create a market for recycled products
- Encourage producers to not only use fewer virgin materials, but also design and produce environmentally sound products
- Opt for products you can use multiple times, rather than purchasing single-use disposables:
- Carry a reusable travel thermos or mug with safety lid for your coffee
- Carry a reusable water bottle and/or or keep a mug with you. This helps conserve natural resources and reduce the amount of disposable paper, plastic and polystyrene cups in our landfills
- Carry reusable cloth totes/bags with you to the store. Single-use bags are often disposed of as trash and find their way onto highways and into local waterways as unsightly and harmful litter. Milpitas residents can call the Reuse Line at 408-586-2680 to request a compact, travel-friendly reusable shopping bag (leave your full name and address; limit one bag per household while supplies last)
- Choose to bring your own silverware to work in order to avoid single-use disposable food ware. Or opt for other durable, heat-safe and washable food ware and beverage containers that can be reused
- Use washable cloth napkins, sponges and dishcloths
- Carry reusable takeout containers with you to restaurants
- Businesses and schools can transition to reusable food ware, practice waste prevention and adopt a green purchasing program. To learn about source reduction strategies and solutions that local businesses and institutions have implemented visit the Clean Water Action website
- Maintain and repair products, like clothing, tires and appliances, so that they won't have to be thrown out and replaced as frequently
- Refill your printer ink cartridge instead of replacing it with a new cartridge. If you have to replace the cartridge be sure to recycle it properly
- Borrow, rent or share items that are used infrequently such as power tools, outdoors equipment, audiovisual equipment or party decorations. Consider visiting thrifts stores, browsing online classifieds websites such as Craigslist or trading at a local swap meet
- Assemble a "party pack" that can be used in the home, office and schools. This is essentially a storage tub filled with a complete set of reusable party items that can be adjusted based on specific needs. In schools/offices, you can have "waste prevention champions" or "green teams" composed of parent/employee volunteers who clean or assist students/employees in cleaning the party pack before it is returned. Party pack contents can include:
- Cloth napkins and tablecloths
- Eco-friendly decorations
- Durable plates, cups and utensils (made of sustainably-sourced or post-consumer recycled content)
- Create a "reuse area" in your building where people can place unwanted office supplies, books, magazines, etc. to be reused by someone else. At designated intervals, items that have not been reused can be donated to a local secondhand organization
- Donate it, don't trash it. Find new life for unwanted furnishings, books, appliances, tools and clothes. Instead of sending these goods to the landfill, donate them to organizations that accept used items (e.g., schools, thrift stores, local churches or shelters, and non-profit organizations). Remember to call ahead of time to ensure they have enough space to accept items. You can also sell unwanted items to a consignment shop or through a garage sale
- If you have you'd like to recycle and want to know where you should go with it, call our Reuse Line at 408-586-2680 for assistance. You can also visit the RecycleStuff website to find organizations nearby to recycle unwanted goods.
- Utilize salvaged or recycled building materials like doors and concrete for your remodeling or construction project
Buying Recycled Content Products
Buying products made with recycled content material creates long-term markets for recyclable materials and increases recycling program revenues. Moreover, if producers are held responsible for their product's entire lifecycle, they will be more likely to design and produce environmentally-sound products. When possible, ensure the products you purchase (and the packaging in which they come) are not only recyclable, but are also composed of recycled content material!
If you find yourself confused over the difference between products made entirely or partially from pre- and post-consumer recycled content, here is the gist of it:
- Pre-consumer material: Material such as manufacturing scraps, rejects or trimmings that never actually made it to the consumer and is re-purposed into something new rather than trashed (e.g., paper mill scraps that are recycled at a paper mill)
- Post-consumer material: Material or a finished product that has been used by a consumer and then recycled and recovered (e.g., aluminum cans and newspapers that are placed out for curbside recycling)
- Then there are also "recycled content" products without the pre- or post-consumer differentiation. If a product is labeled as being made from recycled content, then it contains either pre- or post-consumer material or a combination of the two
Remember: The higher the post-consumer recycled content, the better it is for the environment. Why? Because it means that the material used to make that product on the shelf that you're considering was at the end of its intended life and was headed for the landfill before being diverted to be reused. Still, if you're out shopping, purchasing products made from any percentage of recovered material is preferable to those made from virgin resources!
Buying Compostable Products
As more composting options become available, it becomes increasingly important to understand what items are truly compostable. If an item such as a bag or food service ware is advertised as "biodegradable" or that it is derived from "bio-based plastics" or "plant starch", it isn't necessarily compostable, as it still may contain a blend of petroleum-based plastic in the material and may contaminate the compost stream.
Look for the universally-trusted Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) certification logo on either the packaging or the individual item you're looking to purchase. The BPI program applies science-based testing to prove a material will compost in a municipal or commercial facility and leave no toxic or lingering plastic residues in the soil, making it easy for you to determine what items are truly compostable.