March 18, 2020 3 min read

On March 18, 2018, the Global Recycling Foundation launched Global Recycling Day to “celebrate the importance that recycling plays in preserving the earth’s primary resources, including water, air, coal, oil, natural gas and minerals.” Since then, Global Recycling Day has reached over 600 million people around the world, with 50 GRD events on 6 continents. 

This year, their theme is #RecyclingHeroes. Household names like Greta Thunberg and Leonardo DiCaprio inspire billions, but what about 10 year old Ryan Hickman, who started a Recycling Initiative in Orange County, California and has collected over 700,000 bottles and cans to date? Or 15 year old Aditya Mukarji, who in 2018 convinced restaurants and hotels in New Delhi, India to replace more than 500,000 plastic straws with more sustainable alternatives? 

All around us, individuals are taking action to address the tremendous challenge of fixing our global waste problem. By shining the spotlight on these unsung, everyday heroes, the Global Recycling Foundation hopes to inspire the rest of us to change the way we think about recycling—and do more of it. 

But waste guidelines can be confusing, making it difficult to know if we’re properly disposing of things—never mind recycling them. So in honor of this year’s theme, we’re sharing 7 easy ways to banish confusion and become a Recycling Hero yourself!

1. Check Before You Buy 

Most recycling programs accept plastics labeled #1-7, but did you know that more often that not, only plastics #1 (PET) and #2 (HDPE) actually get recycled? So the next time you reach for that “eco-friendly” bottle of shampoo, ask yourself if you’re alright with knowing that it will outlast you by over 300 years.

2. Avoid Plastics #3-7 

Most of the yogurt cups, plastic cutlery, cosmetic packaging, shipping materials, coffee pods, and to-go containers that you’ve been dutifully placing in your recycling bin end up getting incinerated or sent to the landfill—not recycled. Until this recycling deficit is addressed, the best option is to phase out your consumption of these plastics.

3. Consume Consciously 

If you’re in a bind and have to purchase prepackaged goods, favor those that are contained in aluminum and glass. Why? Both are widely accepted and recycled by waste programs. Paper packaging, unfortunately, is often coated in a thin layer of plastic (think disposable coffee cups), so it’s not as recyclable as you might think. 

4. Ditch The Plastic Bags 

Purchase or make your own lightweight cloth or net bags. In a bind, paper bags are still a better option than plastic ones, but reusables are always best.

5. Reuse

Plastic is ubiquitous and, no matter how conscious we are, it will creep into all of our lives at some point. When this happens, don’t beat yourself up too much. Just try to reuse it for as long as you can.

6. Keep Recycling! 

Recycling just 1 lb of plastic #1 saves 22.9 kWh of energy and 47.4 lbs of CO2 emissions when compared to producing the same amount from scratch. Plastic #1, which is used to produce soda and water bottles, is everywhere. But in 2017, the U.S. recycled just 29.1% of the plastic #1 we consumed, and only 8.4% of plastics overall. 

7. Separate, separate, separate 

Many goods are only as recyclable as what they’re in the bin with. Broken glass or spilled sauces? To the landfill they go. And that oily, cheese-encrusted pizza box? Worthless unless you cut the contaminated portion off. 

We hope these tips will inspire you to become a #RecyclingHero! And if reflecting on a lifetime of plastic consumption has gotten you down, don’t beat yourself up too much! Start where you are, and do better today. 

Still want to do more? Consider working with us to plant trees and offset your impact!

We plant trees on 4 continents around the world. Want to choose where yours are planted?

by Meaghan Weeden

Forest Whisperer