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In 1960, the average person generated 2.7 lbs. of garbage each day. By 2005, the amount had risen to 4.5 lbs. per day. More....

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Companion Article: To Recycling and Beyond

Each person in the U.S. generates an estimated 4.5 lbs. of garbage a day.  That amount is 66 % higher than it was in 1960.  While the amount of waste generated has grown, so has the amount that is recycled.  In 1960, only 6.4% of trash was recycled.  By 2005, an average of 32% was recycled. (Source: EPA, 2005).  The city of San Francisco has proven we can do even better, with a recycling rate of 68%.

Plastics recycling. Photo by Bet Zimmerman.
Overall, only about 3.9% of plastic waste is recycled. Recovery for PET soft drink bottles and HDPE milk and water bottles is higher, at an estimated 25% and 32% respectively. (Source: EPA, 2003)

Recycling is nothing new.  During World War II it was a necessity.  Citizens were encouraged to do their bit for the war effort by donating scrap metal razor blades, toothpaste tubes, milk bottle tops, pots and pans to make airplanes.  Now it’s time to do your bit for the planet.    

By buying products made with recycled content, and recycling leftovers, you help save valuable resources that would otherwise clog up landfills or be incinerated.  Recycling conserves energy, prevents greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution, and decreases the need for new solid waste disposal facilities. 

And that’s not all.  There is cash in your trash.  When recyclables are thrown out with the garbage, it costs taxpayers money.  The more trash weighs, the more it costs to get rid of it.  About two out of every 13 tons of waste disposed of in the Town of Woodstock Transfer Station trash compactor is recyclable, guesstimates Operator Bob Blair.  If that material were put in recycling bins, the waste hauler would refund the Town 35% of the current market value.  Instead, Woodstock has to pay a $150 tipping fee for each container, plus $80 a ton to incinerate those recyclables.

Recycling is a good idea from both an environmental and economic standpoint.  It is also the law.  In Connecticut, everybody is required to recycle glass and metal food and beverage containers, corrugated cardboard, newspaper, scrap metal, Ni-Cd rechargeable batteries from electronics, waste oil, and lead acid batteries from vehicles. They must also compost leaves.  Businesses, agencies and institutions must recycle white office paper. Many municipalities have ordinances that require recycling of other items like electronics (e.g., computer monitors and TVs), fluorescent bulbs, tires, and certain types of plastic (marked PET chasing arrows with a number 1 in the center or HDPE chasing arrows with a number 2 in the center).   

It is important to properly segregate recyclables, whether your waste is picked up by a trash hauler or you bring it to the Transfer Station.  There are no facilities in Connecticut that are permitted to pick through mixed garbage to retrieve recyclables.  If you go a Transfer Station, take a few extra seconds to separate things according to the signs on bins.   Blair says Woodstock Transfer Station employees spend several hours each week pulling things out of bins that do not belong.  These items also act as a magnet – when people see the wrong things in there, and they tend to throw in even more.

Not everything can be recycled.  Colored plastics like plant pots and many children’s toys need to be disposed of as bulky waste.  Some towns have a “take it or leave it” shack.  Items in good condition (which does not include that rusty old toaster with burnt food stuck inside) can be given away instead of being thrown out.  Remember that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

Originally published in the Villager newspapers on November 16, 2007

The 3 R's: You can produce less waste by practicing the 3 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

  • Reduce the amount and toxicity of trash you discard; buy products that are less toxic or contain less packaging.
  • Reuse containers and products; repair what is broken or give it to someone who can repair it.
  • Recycle as much as possible, which includes buying products with recycled content.

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Last updated October 25, 2016

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