America Recycles Day
It ain’t always easy writing about the environment. Each week I find myself more and more painfully aware of every bad choice I make that will negatively impact the Earth, the community or my health. But sometimes a wake-up call is what changes perspectives and attitudes, so when I hauled a bag of trash from the RN&R office to the Bureau of Waste Management in Carson City for a waste audit in honor of America Recycles Day on Nov. 15, I was ready for a hard lesson in consumer habits.
A waste audit is an evaluation of waste generated by an organization or community. An audit will help determine the composition of the materials—what kinds of things are being tossed, and how much of it? According to Jasmine Vittori, Northern Nevada Recycling Coordinator for the Bureau of Waste Management, companies and organizations like to find out the percentage breakdown of their waste in order to make smarter choices.
“When you do a waste audit, you learn about what’s in there, what’s being used,” Vittori said. “You think that everything can be recycled, but it can’t.”
Vittori brought several bins to sort the materials by what could be recycled and what couldn’t. I figured the majority of it would be filled with used Post-Its or old notebooks—journalist stuff—but apparently we like to snack here at the RN&R. A good portion of the 13-gallon bag was filled with food packaging, such as plastic coffee cups, containers that once held salads, and granola bar and candy wrappers. Some of the items like napkins, tissues, and orange peels can be composted. Cans, bottles and paper can be recycled—except for the several papers stuck together by a huge wad of gum (gross), which is considered contaminated. Certain plastics are OK.
“The most commonly recycled plastics around here are plastics 1 and 2,” said Vittori. Plastic 1 is often clear and includes items like peanut butter containers or salad dressing bottles. Materials made from plastic 2 are sturdier and is used for shampoo bottles, buckets or pipes. The type of plastic can be identified on the underside of an item.
Paper cups with laminate, like the ones often found in fast food chains, can’t be recycled. But Styrofoam can, unless it has been contaminated with food, and there are Styrofoam recycling services in Nevada. There are also recycle-friendly office supplies like 3M’s Post-its—even the sticky adhesive is recyclable.
As it turns out, of the sample bag that weighed approximately two pounds, one pound will end up in a landfill.
“We have recycling options in every county in the state, but some places are better equipped than others,” said Vittori. “Also, places like Portland or the Bay Area have a lot more services. They take it to a whole other level.”
Vittori urges individuals and organizations to contact the BWM for a waste audit. The holiday season is especially wasteful. The wrappers of Halloween candy can’t be recycled because of the shiny gloss, and neither can gift wrapping paper adorned with sparkles or other metallic décor. However, there are alternatives that can be found on the web, and there’s something a bit retro about using old newspaper to wrap Grandma’s socks.