By Penny Musco
EACH WEEK, AS I set out my
recycling, I wondered if I was
doing everything right. Should I
have washed out that last bit of mayonnaise? And what happens to this stuff anyway? More important, am I really making a
In honor of Earth Day on April 22, I
finally decided to find out.
The good news
According to the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA), Americans generate about 250 million tons of trash yearly,
recycling nearly 35 percent of it, up from less
than 10 percent three decades ago. That saved
more than 1 quadrillion units of energy
(British thermal units), comparable to the
power consumed by more than 10 million
U.S. households in a year.
According to the Institute of Scrap
n More than 65 percent of our paper is
recycled, mostly here in North America, but
also in more than 80 countries.
n Nearly 60 percent of U.S. aluminum
consumption comes from domestically
The Costco Connection
The bad news
Costco and Costco.com offer a variety of
recycling containers and composters, as
well as products made from recycled mate-
rials, including landscape mulch, trash bags,
office paper, cotton and paper towels, tis-
sue, food and beverage items and more.
Costco members can also bring their ink
cartridges in for refilling at Costco Photo
Centers, which saves money and keeps the
cartridges out of landfills.
n Around 80 percent of reprocessed glass
is made into new bottles.
n 4. 6 billion pounds of post-consumer
plastic become other goods for the U.S.
market; plastic scrap exporting is a $930
n 2 million tons of textiles are repurposed
each year into other materials for a variety of
industries. Also, secondhand clothing is sent
n The approximately 100 million used tires
recovered every year are used to make new
tires, as well as things like playground surfaces,
sidewalks, roofing tiles and flowerpots.
Astonishingly, we in the United States still
toss nearly two-thirds of our glass and about
87 percent of our plastics. The trend toward
individual plastic containers is part of the
problem: The Plastic Disclosure Project, an
organization dedicated to reducing the impact
of plastics on the environment, claims that
worldwide 38 billion plastic water bottles
(labeled No. 1) end up in landfills annually.
Numbers 3 through 7 pose another concern:
They’re often not collected in community
programs because it’s not cost-effective.
“Packaging is evolving at an enormously
fast rate,” says Costco member Michael
Timpane, director of municipal recycling and
diversion for Waste Management Inc., a
leader in environmentally sound waste disposal and recycling, and the technology to
deal with it is struggling to keep up.
Paper recovery also needs more attention,
says recycling expert and consultant Richard
Gertman, a Costco member. He notes that
although it’s the second-most-salvaged commodity, “national studies have found that of
everything people are throwing away, more
than 20 percent of it is paper that is recyclable.”
The EPA estimates that food is now the
single largest type of waste going to landfills,
averaging 20 pounds per person a month.
Discarded food produces methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change,
according to the EPA.
MOST OF US know that
Goodwill, the Salvation
Army and similar organizations take used clothing
and household goods (use
find shops near you; get a
receipt for tax purposes for
any donations). But there
are other places that reuse
or repurpose just about
anything, including these:
Animal shelters: Old linens
Earth911: The ultimate recy-
cling resource; takes items
such as crayons, keys, golf
balls, trophies, corks—and a
whole lot more (search:
Freecycle.org: Your trash
may be someone else’s
Some grocery stores: Foam
egg cartons; yogurt cups;
butter tubs; deli containers;
plastic shopping bags and
those from newspapers and
dry cleaners; wraps from
bread, bathroom tissue,
paper towels, etc.
Habitat for Humanity
( habitat.org): Paint, tile,
lumber, cabinets, fixtures
loads of used products into
I can recycle
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