Last September it was announced that Orlando had been chosen by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation to be the new home for the Beyond 34 pilot project. This program is designed to increase the current 34% recycling rate in the U.S. by providing a scalable model to improve recycling and recovery rates.
“[We are] committed to reducing our environmental impact and, as a result, we have a goal to become a zero-waste community by 2040,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. As Orlando takes the stage with an opportunity to show the world how large-scale sustainable growth can be achieved, it’s easier than ever for Florida residents to make simple switches to reduce their carbon footprints.
Many of us know that we should be putting newspapers, cardboard, and soda bottles into the recycling bin, yet there are still many recyclable common household items finding their way into garbage cans and landfills.
Luckily, with a number of tools and waste diversion strategies at the disposal of residents and area businesses, including streetside collection, e-waste drives, and backyard composters, our state makes it easy to give consumer goods a second life and keep Florida beautiful!
Technology moves quickly these days. When you upgrade to a better television, invest in a faster laptop, or trade out your DVD for Blu-Ray, it’s easy to leave your old technology to collect dust in your garage or ship it off to the dump.
When unwanted or outdated technology breaks down in a landfill, it can introduce a number of toxic, hazardous materials into the environment. Mercury, lead, and cadmium can leach into soil and groundwater where it can have a lasting impact on crops, fish ecosystems, and human exposure to metals in air and water.
Not only is preventing these harmful materials from entering the environment important, but recycling old technology can save time and energy used to mine metals and manufacture the plastics used to make new electronics. Copper, steel, glass, and other reusable components can be repurposed for new products.
The average American buys a new cell phone once a year, but according to the EPA, fewer than 20% of cell phones are recycled each year. According to GoWireless GoGreen, an organization that specializes in reducing cell phone waste, recycling one million cell phones would have the same impact on greenhouse gas emissions as taking 1,368 cars off the road for a year.
Recyclable “e-waste” includes:
- VHS tapes
- Televisions and computers
- Printers and fax machines
- Video Players
There are a number of local companies who responsibly and securely dispose of electronic waste and obsolete technology, recovering reusable components and shredding plastic to be reused in product packaging. Companies like Staples and Best Buy also typically have drop-off stations in their stores to bring old printers, laptops, and other outdated technology for recycling.
Recent natural disasters like Hurricane Irma have brought light to yard waste recycling programs and protocol as communities work to clear storm debris, but yard waste is still commonly mishandled. In fact, most homeowners assume that it’s safe to leave yard waste like branches, leaves, and grass clippings where they fall because they are biodegradable.
“Decaying organic matter actually has a big impact on the environment,” says Jim Fanning of Evergreen Lawn & Pest Control in Apopka. “As yard waste decomposes, it can attract rodents and other pests around the outside of your home. After a hurricane, it’s a risk because wind can pick it up cause more damage, or blow it into streets and storm drains. It can also become a fire hazard if it dries out.”
Even worse – it can end up in landfills. Though it is completely biodegradable, yard waste can take up valuable space in a landfill and release harmful emissions from waste management tactics like burning or burying.
“Instead, yard waste can be treated and recycled into healthy soil or mulch for use in farming, landscaping, and gardening,” says Fanning.
Green or dry leaves, small branches, twigs, straws, grass clippings, garden prunings, and even entire trees can all be broken down and recycled. Most municipalities in our area – including Orlando – offer weekly yard waste collection.
As online shopping increases, so has the presence of packing materials like cardboard, plastic and foam in landfills. Nearly 36 million tons of it, to be precise.
Researchers at Stanford University has shown that Americans discard our own weight in packaging every 30 to 40 days, on average. While today’s shipping materials can be made from recyclable materials or compostable ingredients, there are plenty of companies who still favor materials that are inexpensive, but costly to the environment.
Bubble wrap and plastic air bags are made from polyethylene, a component manufactured through environmentally unfriendly practices. These materials can take hundreds of years to break down.
White and pink packing peanuts are manufactured from 70% raw materials. Like most plastics, these are recyclable; however, because they are lightweight and difficult to transport, finding local recycling options is difficult. Even green peanuts, made from plant-derived, organic components and made up of 70% recycled materials, can be harmful to the earth if not disposed of properly.
The best way to do your part in keeping packing materials out of landfills is by finding alternatives. Crushed newspaper or cloth can become eco-friendly padding for household moves. If you’ve already got a collection of styrofoam peanuts, give your local pack and ship store a call to see if they will accept used peanuts. The EPS website provides drop-off locations for homeowners looking to recycle packing peanuts.
Paying attention to the shipping practices of your favorite online retailers can also make a difference. Some retailers have adapted their shipping practices to be more environment-conscious, using biodegradable packing materials or eco-friendly paper fillers. Others will honor customer requests for more eco-friendly packaging options.
If you’re an athlete, you know the importance of a good pair of sneakers. Most pairs of running shoes are used for three to five months before they’re sent to the trash.
If you’re ready to upgrade to a new pair of sneakers, you can donate your gently worn athletic shoes to One World Running, a nonprofit that collects running shoes and distributes them to needy athletes in the US, Africa, and Central America. There are four drop-off locations in our state, but you can also mail old pairs in – just be sure to skip the packing peanuts!
Have a hole-y, threadbare pair of sneakers hiding in the back of your closet? Those can find a second life, too. Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe program collects worn-out sneakers, keeping synthetic rubber, foam, and polyurethane out of landfills. They harvest rubber, foam, and fabric from old shoes and transform it into “Nike Grind,” a material used to build tennis and basketball courts, playground surfaces, and running tracks.
On average, a family in the U.S. goes through 500 Ziploc bags every year. If you pack your lunch, odds are at least a portion of those sandwich bags are ending up in local landfills and incinerators.
Sandwich bags are made from film –a thin, clear plastic manufactured with low- or high-density polyethylene. These materials can be recycled into composite lumber to be used in decks, benches, and playground equipment, but they can also be a hassle to collect.
In most cities, plastic bags can’t be put in your recycling bin for curb collection. They can cause jams in waste processing machinery. Additionally, because film is so lightweight, even the pieces that do end up in recycling bins can get picked up by wind, littering neighborhoods, waste transfer stations, and water.
In Orlando, there are a number of grocery stores and drop-off locations that accept resealable bags, as well as dry cleaning bags, produce bags, and toilet paper, napkin and paper towel wrap for recycling.
Get in the habit of bringing empty snack bags home from work or school to reuse or recycle. All plastic bags should be rinsed, cleaned of crumbs and other food remains, and dried, and should be stuffed inside one sealed bag for ease of collection.
Watch Your Wasteline
Recycling doesn’t have to feel like an overhaul of your entire lifestyle.
Nearly all consumer goods have recyclable components. Greater awareness of the lasting impact the materials we throw away can have on the environment can be a great first step.
Making individual efforts to decrease our economic footprint and holding our communities, government programs, and corporations accountable for responsible waste management can preserve and protect the things that make Florida a beautiful place to live.
Interested in learning more about other recycling programs in your area? Visit Earth911 to explore a list of recycling solutions in your neighborhood.