The Ethics of Small Town Living: Recycling

Another small town challenge I’ve noticed of late: recycling.

Growing up, I had the good fortune to live in a pro-recycling household. My father, in particular, is a stickler for sorting the trash. And why not? It’s quick and easy and a simple way to feel like you’re doing something to help the environment. You’re not only preventing trash from ending up in landfills, which squander our remaining open spaces and pose health risks for nearby communities, you’re also extending the longevity of our natural resources, which allow us to do . . . well, pretty much everything. Try imagining a world without plastic. Not pretty, huh?

I was also lucky enough to see the recycling program in our county expand and develop. Where we once had to take recyclables to the dump, the county instituted a pick-up service, which made recycling easier (which is good — the easier something is, the more likely people are to do it). We progressed from recycling only plastics no. 1 and 2 to recycling 1-7. It was heartening.

Now that we’re living in a rural county . . . there is no recycling pick-up. The program is extraordinarily basic — glass bottles, cardboard, plastic bottles (plastic no.1 only), paper, aluminum cans.  It’s been on the frustrating side, to say the least.

So, what can we do about it?

1) The first step is always reduction. If you limit the amount of non-recyclable items you use, you decrease the impact. Moreover, it’s helpful to reduce the amount of packaging you use period. Individually wrapped snacks and frozen meals are major examples. That’s a lot of wasted packaging. And usually they’re more expensive and less nutritious.

2) Reuse. Yes, we’re going through the conservation cycle here. But it’s a solid one — and I’ll be the first to admit sometimes I focus too much on that last arrow. Reusing is especially easy with paper and cardboard. For example, I’m a chronic note taker. Writing is one of the key ways I remember things. Instead of using new paper, however, I scribble on receipts and business cards. Reuse requires more creativity than reducing and recycling, but that can also make it more fun, especially if you have young kids.

On the note of creative re-use, check out Emma’s stories about cutting down on trash in the Philippines. And consider supporting GarBAGS, an organization which recycles materials into purses, messenger bags, lunchbags, grocery totes, and more.

3) Compost. After you’ve cut down on your non-food, non-recyclable waste, attend to organic garbage in order to decrease your overall output. Compost doesn’t have to take up a large area in your yard** and, if done correctly, isn’t smelly. Add safe, biodegradable household items you might have picked up, too. Remember, the fact that it’s biodegradable isn’t all that helpful if you still send it to a landfill. And always read labels before you add anything to your compost.

**No yard? Look up your local school or community garden.

4) Write to your local government. The only way to make improvements to the system is to advocate for them. Yes, small towns might not have the resources to make extensive changes, but likely smaller changes can be made a little at a time, especially if there’s significant interest in the community. Put another way, it never hurts to ask.

How do you cut down on your trash output? 


4 thoughts on “The Ethics of Small Town Living: Recycling

  1. This hits close to home for us – our town used to have a recycling center on the edge of town where we took all manner of stuff. But then they instituted a curbside recycling program. Sounds great, right? Problem is, it’s only for residents within the town limits (we’re a mile or so outside), and they took away the recycling center. >.< So now our only choice is to pay to take stuff all the way to the dump, which is about 15 miles away. And, sadly, we just can't afford to do that. I've complained to the town gov't, but they tell me they can't afford both the recycling center and the curbside pickup… Sigh. One step forward, two steps back!

    • Man, that is the worst. Recycling is one of those programs that I wish was more standardized throughout counties — or even states. Everyone should have access to the same benefits.

  2. Thanks for the shout out, Julia! It’s a long shot, but on the off chance you know anyone who would like a Garbag, let me know and I can ferry the goods over when I come home next month. (NEXT. MONTH. *swoon*)

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