Recycling Misconceptions, Part Deux: "Sure, I Recycle Paper."

green option paperIn my last post, Recycling Misconceptions part 1, I touched on the uncertainties of recycling, plastics in particular, that I think perplex many of us. Well last week I attended a Green Renter lecture here in NYC and found out some more interesting things about recycling that I didn’t know. The evening’s lecturer, Samantha MacBride of NYC bureau of waste prevention, reuse and recycling was able to put many things into perspective, the most interesting being the amount of paper we consume and the amount that ends up in our landfills.

She got me thinking. Since recycling has been on my radar lately, I have been more aware of my habits and the habits of the people around me. I noticed that I am much more diligent in getting my plastic and glass bottles in the correct place for recycling than I am with all my paper products. It wasn’t until I attended the lecture that I realized how much less of a guessing game paper recycling is, just how important it really is — more important than the resin code mystery in my last post — and how much I neglect the privilege. According to Samantha Macbride, if you want to make a difference, recycle more paper. She explained to us that paper is the most under recycled material. According to the EPA, 35% of total U.S. municipal solid waste generated in 2006 was paper and paperboard (graph source: EPA report).paper consumption

Yeah, crazy huh? Of the 86 million tons only about 50% is actually recovered (source: epa.gov). This might seem like a valiant job we’re doing when you compare that 50% recovery rate to, say, a 7% recovery rate with plastics, but the problem lies in the sheer number of paper that is produced and the fact that most paper products you come in contact with will be recycled — unlike plastics with resin codes between 3-7.So what’s the problem? Well, that question could take a long time to answer. What I do know is that if there is anywhere to grow or get better, it’s with paper. We are just not doing what we should be. I know for a fact that in NYC most paper products I come in contact with can be recycled, yet until recently I was the joker who might throw a magazine, newspaper or my junk mail in the trash. Learn from my mistakes! Recycle more paper and keep it out of the paper ridden landfills.Paper Paper Paper Paper! Keep it in mind:

  • Paper makes up the largest part of municipal solid waste in the U.S., but paper is easy to recycle in most places (just check with your local municipality, that’s the first step). If you want to see the many paper products that can be recycled in NYC click here.
  • No, you’re not saving the rainforest by recycling your paper, but you are reducing the need for more landfills.
  • Do your part this holiday season and try to use less wrapping. Try using bags that can be reused every year or wrapping your presents with old newspapers that can be recycled when presents are opened. Or, here is a novel idea: just buy less stuff this year.
  • Lastly, attend lectures or informative events in your area and find out how your behavior fits with the rest of the community’s and if there is something you can do. It only takes only one viewing of the annual hot dog eating contest on Coney Island or a walk through Grand Central Station on a Monday at 5 p.m. to make one realize that we are many and we consume copious amounts of everything. This is no secret.

It’s time to start changing on an individual level. Until stricter legislation mandates a change, this is how weΒ  must fight our insatiable appetiteβ€”one newspaper at a time. I encourage you to look at how much paper you use and consider how much of that you could be recycled.

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  1. But is it so simple? Two of the most interesting things that I have recently learnt about recycling are that

    a) it is often highly energy inefficient. In many cases it would just be better to burn the stuff and use it to generate electricity rather than cart it around the world to be processed.

    b) although many of us (particularly us British) diligently sort all our waste because we are told this is good for us and good for our environment it is actually not a very effective method of recycling. Modern technologies which can automatically sort waste can achieve much higher yield rates, and avoid the pollution of separate trucks carting away different materials.

    My problem is that in many places we have this short sighted political points scoring approach to implementing measures such as recycling, rather than common sense approaches. I’ve spoken to a few local politicians responsible for implementing recycling schemes and they don’t have a clue.

    For some additional perspective, we recently wrote a short blog piece about recycling based an an excellent newspaper article in The Times:
    http://www.talkclimatechange.com/2007/11/30/recycling-rubbish-is-often-rubbish/

  2. One of the best ways to remind yourself to recycle more paper is to reduce the size of your trash bins. We pay for garbage collection bases on the size of the can. When we downsized our bill (and our can) we became very diligent about recycling every possible thing – separating the innards from the cereal boxes and collapsing those into the paper recycling bin, magazines, junk mail. We also became much better about reducing what came into the house in the first place. We now carry cloth grocery bags, which we use for other shopping as well. And we buy the least packaged option. If you’ve got nowhere to put it, you’ll be more sensitive to the options for reducing what you use.

    Another idea: at the office, provide everyone with personal paper recycling bins, but put trash cans in centralized locations so people have to walk the trash to the container – you’ll see more recycling and less trash.

  3. I already know that I/we need to recycle more of everything, paper included.

    But I wish someone would make it easy for me to learn what paper to recycle (is a pound of newspaper = a pound of junk mail = a pound of cardboard = a pound of printer paper(is white = colored?)) and where to buy new products that contain lots of recycled content (i.e. such as printer paper).

  4. What bothers me greatly about recycling schemes is that many work like this: YOU do the sorting, wash the cans, store the stuff, deliver it to the centre and then WE make the money (if any) and maybe just dump the stuff in the landfill if things aren’t going right. Never does the individual get a bit of the action. MY metal waste goes to the scrap yard whenever I have a few 100 lbs and I’m going in that direction; my wood waste goes in the heater; ditto my paper waste. Food scraps? You must be joking! I eat the food I buy. Cloth & leather? Plenty of “begging” bins for used clothing. And about these folks who agonize over buying this product or that because one uses half an ounce more of wrapping; meaningless!

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