Q: When it comes to recycling, I've got to admit, I'm kind of lazy. I'm not one of those people who goes overboard recycling things, especially because it's not the law here where I live. I throw out a lot of stuff — old electronics, paper towel rolls, water bottles — and I'm starting to feel a bit guilty. In your opinion, what are the most important (but easiest) things I should be recycling if I want to do a little bit (but not too much) for the environment?
A: Um, I'm not sure how I should respond to this one, seeing as I work here at MNN, where we recycle everything. Is it possible to pick just three things to recycle? Well, it's possible to pick 10, according to the National Recycling Coalition. On their website, the NRC lists 10 items you should definitely recycle (www.nrc-recycle.org/top10itemstorecycle.aspx), and their top three happen to be extremely easy, in my opinion. How's about you start with those three? And in case you need a little bit more guilt to push you over the edge, I'll give you good reason, too.
The No. 1 item on their list is aluminum. That's because aluminum cans are 100 percent recyclable. In fact, recycled aluminum can be back in use to hold a new drink a mere 60 days after being recycled, according to Earth911.com. And, to boot, aluminum can be recycled over and over again. Add the detail that turning recycled cans into new cans takes 95 percent less energy than making virgin ones, and you have a real recycling champ in that soda can you're holding. You can actually recycle anything made out of aluminum, but how about starting simple with just recycling all your soda and juice cans?
Next on their list are PET plastic bottles, in other words, bottles labeled with a 1 as their resin identification code (like all those soda and water bottles you go through each week). Plastic bottle recycling is important because, to put it simply, as Americans leading a fast-food lifestyle, we use a ton of it. The more we recycle, the less that goes into the landfill — simple as that. Earth911.com also reports making plastic out of recycled resources uses about two-thirds less energy than making new plastic. Because plastic bottles, more than any other type of plastic, are the most commonly used type, they're usually the easiest to recycle, which is why I'm encouraging you (gently . . . I don't want you to hurt yourself) to recycle these as much as you can.
Next on their list: newspaper. How easy is it to set up a recycling bin next to your garbage can for the paper, any circulars you get in the mail, old magazines, scrap paper, etc.? And why is it so important to recycle paper? According to the EPA, paper makes up about one-third of all the MSW (municipal waste stream, i.e. garbage, not Master of Social Work) in the United States. That's a lot of paper, and recycling all that paper conserves resources, saves energy and preserves valuable landfill space — and all the more reason to rescue that newspaper from the trash and put it into the recycling bin.
Find out when your county picks up recyclables and if it doesn't, throw your bags of each of these items into your trunk, find a local recycling drop-off center (check Earth911.com for locations), and you've done your not-too-difficult part for our pretty little planet. In my opinion, it's the least you can do for the environment. Well truthfully, the least you can do is nothing, but I hope you start somewhere. Cheers to your initiative (or guilty conscience or whatever) and happy recycling!