Thinking Outside the Bin - Part 2
- April 20, 2022 |
The good news is that our recycling trend has improved in the United States over the past several decades. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans recycled less than 10 percent of their household waste in 1980. In its most recent data from 2018, the EPA found that we now recycle slightly more than 32% of it.
It’s a terrific improvement, but, on the downside, Americans now produce 1.25 pounds more waste per person annually than we did 40 years ago. The same EPA findings reveal that in 2018, Americans generated a total of 292.4 million tons of trash. Of that amount, 146.1 million tons ended up in landfills compared to the 94 million tons that were recycled or composted.
As we keep improving our personal, daily recycling practices, we should also think outside of the bin. Here, it’s important to get creative about how we can upcycle, or transform unwanted or used products, into new items with a greater artistic, environmental, or monetary value than what they had originally.
Some local agencies within Mast General Store’s region are leading the way in this field.
ReCraft Creative Reuse Center in Greenville collects lightly used, unused, and discarded products from its community. Focusing on creative reuse, last year, the agency provided 1,348 children with school and art supplies. ReCraft also hosted a supply drive for Greenville County first-year teachers. It distributed more than $36,000 of classroom items that otherwise would have been thrown out to these young educators.
Through its combined yearlong efforts, in 2021, ReCraft spared 97 cubic yards of material from area landfills.
Another regional group, Asheville GreenWorks, has existed since the early 1970s. Recently, however, it implemented a new program called Hard 2 Recycle, which is a series of collection events encouraging people to drop off used products that can’t be recycled in a traditional way. The products include many devices that don’t fit familiar recycling categories like computers, cell phones, cables, yard tools, home appliances, books, water filters, and more.
Asheville GreenWorks partners with local agencies to upcycle these products and reinvest them in the community through various non-profit groups. What can’t be upcycled or repaired is sent to other partners to be broken down into recyclable scrap parts.
Since it began in 2016, Hard 2 Recycle has diverted 751,305 pounds of material from landfills.
One nearby municipality that has “gone green” is Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce offers a voluntary program that recognizes member businesses who’ve made a commitment to reduce their environmental impact. The program, “Gatlinburg Goes Green,” outlines detailed points for businesses to educate their staff members and customers about conscientious environmental practices, buy and sell reusable, recyclable, and local goods, and practice sustainable operations procedures.
Businesses are scored on a tiered point system of Gold, Silver, and Bronze that encourages continuous self-assessment and improvement. In 2011, the Gatlinburg Chamber was honored as the Green Plus™ Chamber of the Year for Leadership in Member Sustainability for its innovative Gatlinburg Goes Green program.
Even we Mast General Store folks pride ourselves and our development practices for making the effort to always upcycle. Mast General Store is dedicated never to use a new-build model, and each Mast Store location operates in a refurbished, renovated, or “upcycled” space within a historic district. This reduces our own environmental impact, reuses functional, previously developed spaces, and, we like to think, encourages our potential neighbors in every community to take the same approach toward revitalizing the downtowns we share.
As Earth Day approaches this Friday, April 22, take time to incorporate a few new “R’s” into your own recycling routine. Try repairing an old tool or appliance before throwing it out. Get creative and repurpose an item as new artwork for your home, yard, or garden. Visit a shop that sells recovered goods and focus on buying items that either are or can be reused.
Most of all, keep recycling at home! And if recycling isn’t already a part of your routine, don’t be ashamed. Let this year’s Earth Day mark the time you started changing your daily practices. Just remember that it’s relatively easy to make sure recyclable items are empty, clean, and dry before you place them in the bin, and most of all, know that even the smallest actions go a long way toward reviving, refreshing, and rescuing our planet.
More resources to up your recycling game:
Recycling Basics from the EPA - https://www.epa.gov/recycle/recycling-basics
Find Out Where & How to Recycle at Earth911: https://earth911.com/recycling-center-search-guides
Join with Friends & Neighbors to purchase a Zero Waste Box from TerraCycle: https://shop.terracycle.com/
Recycle Denim (for when your jeans can’t be worn even around the house): https://bluejeansgogreen.org/
Composting Made Easy: https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/home-composting-zmaz06onzraw/