Each year, almost 3 million tons of trash end up in Iowa landfills, and of that, nearly 70 percent of the state’s landfilled municipal solid waste could have been diverted from the landfill through reuse, recycling and compost – or by not creating the waste at all. Help keep items out of landfills by following these easy tips!
Bottles and cans
About 71 percent of Iowa’s cans and bottles get recycled annually. (For comparison, states without a deposit law recycle about 39 percent of aluminum and about 20 percent of plastic.) Cans from alcoholic and carbonated beverages get recycled more often than almost anything else. In Iowa, bottles and cans are accepted in most curbside recycling bins – but if you want that 5 cent deposit back in your pocket, look to returning cans and bottles at most retailers and redemption centers.
Plastic grocery bags
If you still use the plastic bags they give you at the store, consider using reusable bags instead. Fear not, most large chain stores will take your single-use plastic bags for recycling and offer reusable bags for sale! Hy-Vee, Target, Walmart, Fareway and Price Chopper all have boxes to recycle your plastic bags. Bring your bags the next time you go to the grocery store – many even offer a discount for using reusable bags.
Be sure to include your plastic film, like newspaper bags, plastic produce bags and dry cleaning bags, in your plastic bag recycling at the store. Keep plastic bags and film out of your curbside pickup, as they create hazards in recycling centers. Because of their flimsy and thin material, they easily catch in the machinery used to sort recyclables. If discovered in recycling bins, plastic bags can cause the entire bin to get sent the landfill. Educate yourself on locally accepted items for your recycling bin.
Tin and aluminum cans
Considered some of the easiest materials to recycle, most tin and aluminum cans go right in the recycling bin. These products include soup and veggie cans. Remember to wash food out of all these products. Food scraps or food grease make the product non-recyclable. Double check with your local recycling facility or service provider for any exceptions to these general rules.
We all want to do the right thing when we toss something into the recycling bin. But not everything is recyclable – even if it has the famous recycling logo on it. That’s called “wishcycling,” when we try to recycle things that can’t be recycled. When non-recyclable items make their way into the recycling stream, it clogs up the process and can end up increasing costs to recyclers. When in doubt, look it up. Most curbside recyclers offer stickers or lists on their website as to what they will and will not accept. If you’re dropping off items at a transfer station or other satellite location, look for posted signs.
DONATE OR UPCYCLE
Donate your old stuff
Instead of throwing away your dust-covered copy of Moby Dick from high school, think about donating it. Consign or donate your unread books to used book stores, community libraries, free community book stands, and other thrift and consignment stores. Reusing books encourages reading and keeps waste out of landfills. The same goes for most other household goods – clothing, kitchen items, décor, etc. Donating gently used items cuts back on products sent to landfills, can help others, and may be a tax-deductable donation!
Outdated items can often find new life through do-it-yourself upcycling projects – for example, painting an old vase, creating drawer organizers from cereal boxes, or painting an old pallet for yard décor. Find endless projects on our Upcycling board on Pinterest.
Instead of tossing away your unwanted junk mail, put it in your curbside pickup or shred it and use it as brown waste for composting. If you have shredded paper that you don’t need for composting, place it in a paper grocery bag (handles removed, please) and fold down the top to keep the shredded paper from flying around during recycling dropoff and pickup. Or avoid it completely by calling to request being removed from mailing lists or move to e-mail delivery of bills and statements.
The average Iowan throws away almost 30 pounds of food each month! The scraps, uneaten leftovers and food unused before it goes bad in our homes are called “food waste.” Nationally, the average family throws out $130 to $230 worth of groceries each month. By reducing the food that thrown away and reducing what’s bought in the first place, a family can save an estimated $2,000 per year. Reduce your food waste by planning out your meals and only buying food that you can eat. Set a meal plan and get creative with those leftovers. Check out our tutorial on 9 Ways to Reduce Food Waste.
But what about the dates? Those generally reflect quality and taste rather than safety, no matter if it says “best by, “use by” or “sell by.” Only infant formula has a regulated expiration date. Of course, when in doubt of a food’s safety, throw it out, and work on preventing the waste next time with meal planning.
Organic food scraps in landfills break down anaerobically (without oxygen) to produce methane gas. To reduce sending food waste to the landfill, consider following our tutorial on how to begin a compost bin.
Household Hazardous Materials
Household Hazardous Materials (HHMs) exist in all of our homes, probably under your sink or in the garage. Common HHMs include all-purpose cleaners, window cleaner, wood and silver polish, paint thinners and compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, for example. Look for any products labeled with these signal words: “danger,” “warning,” “poison,” “caution,” etc. on the packaging. These materials expose dangerous pollutants to our environment and can create health risks for humans.
Before they pile up under your sink or on the garage shelf, use up what you already have and then seek out non-toxic alternatives. If you still have items you no longer need, seek out a hazardous waste material drop off, including your Regional Collection Center.
Do you really need that old cell phone or TV?
Plenty of old electronics find new purpose through different charitable and recycle/repair programs. Cell phones and tablets contain chemicals, like arsenic, lead and mercury that damage the land if tossed in a landfill. These chemicals, similar to HHMs, can impact the food chain, ecosystem and groundwater.
Many companies make recycling old electronics easy and beneficial. For example, EcoATM kiosks allows drop off for old cell phones, tablets and MP3 players. You even receive a few dollars back for each donation. Locate any of the 18 different kiosks throughout Iowa. EcoATM is just one example of how to recycle unused electronics. Cell Phone for Soldiers, HopeLine from Verizon, BestBuy, and the Environmental Protection Agency all offer easy ways to recycle your old devices.
When you buy a new TV or computer, or other electronic gadget, ask the store if they will accept and recycle the old one. You can also seek out an electronics de-manufacturing facility or other reputable electronics recycler.