The question isn’t what you can recycle but what you can’t
What did you throw away today?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans generated 254 million tons of trash in 2007, of which only 85 tons, or 33 percent, was recycled. Of the remaining trash, 32 tons was burned for energy recovery and 137 tons entered landfills.
By some estimates, as much as 70 percent of all trash generated can be recycled into useful materials. Almost 100 percent of most consumer paper, metal, and food waste can be recycled. Most of the 30 percent that cannot be recycled is in the form of plastics and plastic impregnated forms of other materials. As much as 118 tons of the unrecycled material could have been recycled.
What is a concerned and informed citizen to do? Perhaps we should consider total recycling, a new and developing idea for how to reduce the amount of trash we put into landfills.
Total recycling is a multi-tiered effort to ensure that as much of the 70 percent of trash generated ends up in the recycling system as possible by no longer utilizing the trash collection system for recyclable materials.
Instead, total recycling uses local recycling systems such as household composting, farms and recycling companies to dispose of trash. Total recycling programs often take the form of community groups that organize to educate participants, collect the
trash and transport it to various facilities.
Such groups also advocate changes to current local, state, and federal laws to encourage movement toward total recycling with the goal of creating a nationwide total recycling network. Such a network could, if properly implemented, help the United States get close to the goal of recycling all of the 70 percent of the trash that can be recycled.
This idea, however, cannot succeed until more people are trying to help it succeed. That is where we come in.