Is Recycling Worth It?

Ah, recycling the one thing that everyone grabs onto in the hopes that they are a GOOD environmentalist. Did that read too negative coming from this website?

You know me, I love positivity and I love talking about small actions that people can take to be more eco-friendly, but I’m tired of hearing people say, “I love the planet! I RECYCLE!” like that’s the only thing that matters.

Is recycling even worth it? Tips for being a better recycler from #zerowaste #recycling #ecofriendly #sustainable #reducereuserecycle

Don’t get me wrong, recycling is great, and I think it’s important, but we can’t stop at recycling.

There are two other words in the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” and we just glance over the first two like they don’t even matter. And, that’s totally not our fault. That’s what’s been drilled into us since we’re kids for one very important reason.

If I’m a business which of these words will sell more products?

  1. Reduce

  2. Reuse

  3. Recycle

If you picked #3, you’d be correct! If your only goal was to make a huge amount of money and encourage consumption, what better way than recycling?

Recycling is green and good for the planet, but it doesn’t hinder sales. In fact, it’s been proven to increase consumption.

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A study was done at a sampling table. If there was a trash can by the drink sampling table, people would reuse the first cup to sample the different flavors. If there was a recycle bin by the drink sampling station then people would use a new cup every time.

When we recycle we get this really good feeling, it makes us happy. We feel like we’re AMAZING all the while glazing over the fact that we need to first reduce and reuse.

This is because we don’t think about a products life span. Most people just think, “I like it, I get it,” never stopping to consider where that item came from or how it was made, etc.

We tend to put a lot of blind faith in recycling without recognizing that recycling has a lot of issues….

Everyone tends to view recycling as a charity, but it’s a business. In order for something to be recycled there has to be a demand in the market for that product.

Often times, especially plastic, it’s cheaper to use virgin materials than it is to use recycled materials.

I made a video series that goes over all of my thoughts on recycling.

  • Why the recycling system is broken

  • How we can improve recycling

  • What is recycling contamination and how we can fix it

  • A breakdown of materials and the right way to recycle things like paper, glass, plastic, steel, and aluminum

  • Why I have hope for the future of recycling!

I want to write a bit more about solutions and my hopes for the future of recycling because I’m your favorite source of environmental positivity - obvi. ;) And, I’m actually glad that China stopped accepting our trash.

Is recycling even worth it? Tips for being a better recycler from #zerowaste #recycling #ecofriendly #sustainable #reducereuserecycle

the FUTURE of recycling:

If you remember from the post on eco-anxiety, getting a good view of the future is one of the ways to encourage positive change and help others see what they’re fighting for.

banish single stream recycling:

Many countries have different bins for different types of materials. In the US most of us have a single stream which means we dump all of our recycling into one bin because that’s supposed to make it “easier.” Of course, this leads to contamination, and I think it makes recycling harder.

Many people don’t know what is and isn’t recyclable. When there’s only one bin, a lot of wishcycling happens.

Wishcycling is when you put something in the bin HOPING that it will be recycled even though it won’t be.

Think Christmas lights, water hoses, dead animals, dirty diapers, bowling balls, shower curtains, shredded paper - yes these are all very common items at the recycling plant. And, no, none of them are recyclable.

When you put something in the recycle bin WISHING for it to be recycled, you do more harm than good.

Recycling is a business! When incorrect materials arrive this can clog the machines, slow down the workers, stop the machines, and create contaminated bales of recyclables that no one will purchase. I.e. result in all of the correct recyclables being landfilled.

Yep. A rogue contaminated recyclable can cause an entire BALE to go to the landfill.

The best way to avoid this is to look up what your waste hauler accepts on their website.

But, I think switching to multi-stream recycling system would really help too. If you had multiple bins and if they only accepted certain items it would take a lot of the guess work out.

If you had a bin that said Plastic 1-5, tins and cans, glass bottles, cardboard and paper. The likely chance of throwing in a bowling ball or hose is a lot less likely since each bin is so clearly labeled. This is also how most of the world recycles, and it seems to be working out a bit better for them!

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I love the idea of turning eco-friendly living into a game. There are so many ways to do this effectively.

Think getting a smiley or frowny face on your electric bill or anonymously comparing the neighborhood’s electricity consumption to see how you stack up. This encourages people to save energy because they want to be the best!

Many electric cars rate your driving. When you see a score, you want to improve it! This means you’ll be driving more efficiently and saving energy.

The same thing is happening with our recycling. Waste Management has cameras on their truck so they can see how contaminated the residents recycling is. If you’re doing an excellent job of recycling, they’ll put a smiley face on your bin! If you do poorly, they’ll put a frowny face and more information to help you recycle better.

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We honestly need more regulation when it comes to recycling. Recycling varies wildly from town to town, county to county, state to state, sometimes it feels like block to block.

The best way to combat this is to get some generic rule out there for everyone to follow. Let’s regulate the most commonly recycled items and make sure that everyone knows how to recycle at least the basics! Then make it CLEAR on every waste management companies website what else they accept above the regular.

Is recycling even worth it? Tips for being a better recycler from #zerowaste #recycling #ecofriendly #sustainable #reducereuserecycle

design for it:

Why aren’t product designers creating products with the end of life in mind? Waste, trash, it’s all poor design. We can design ourselves out of this problem fairly easily.

If we had better regulations and standards on what is actually (not metaphorically - yes companies use the excuse it CAN be recycled all the time even though they know just because it CAN theoretically be done, doesn’t mean it’s scaleable, cost efficient, or practical) recyclable, we could present different types of options to designers and then they could work backwards knowing that their product will have second life.

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corporate responsibility:

Lastly, we need more corporate responsibility. We need companies willing to step up and take their products back, offer warranties, aiding in repairs, and generally facilitating the circular economy. I’m excited that many companies are stepping up to take control over end-of-life.

We’re seeing this a bit with Terracycle. Companies are committing to having their products repurposed, but I would really like for companies to take it further. I’m especially excited about Loop which is returning to the milk man model.

I think this is just the beginning and more companies will be moving to circular models as long as we keep encouraging them!

I really hope that you enjoy the videos!

7 Ways Tech Can Help You Live More Sustainably

I have written about tech a few times on the blog, but TBH I’m more of an analog girl. I like my dumb watch, my grandma pedometer, and my physical planner. You will have to FIGHT ME to switch over to a digital calendar. I don’t trust them. The only thing I trust is me and my fountain pen.

Speaking of planners and fountain pens, be sure to check out my guide to eco-friendly office supplies!

At the same time, I do love getting to stream TV shows, music, and dimming/changing the colors of my LED lights. I think tech is amazing although it can be a bit problematic from an environmental point of view.


Hellooo, super, energy-sucking servers…. You can learn more in my blog post, How Eco-Friendly is Technology.

Tech is awesome and it certainly isn’t going away.

Instead, it’s about finding ways to make it more eco-friendly like sinking servers in the ocean, and using tech to help us live our BEST eco-friendly lifestyles.

I have rounded up several gadgets that can help you slash your carbon footprint!

Making your home eco-friendly/energy efficient is a great way to have a positive impact on the environment. When we think big picture stuff, beyond just our own personal shopping habits, it’s time to look at your commute, your home, and what’s going on with your money in the bank.

1. temperature regulation:

There’s no need to waste energy heating up and cooling down your home if you’re not even going to be there. When its warm wear a tank top and open the window, when it’s cold throw on a blanket. There’s no need to hit the thermostat for every small fluctuation in temperature.

For the Winter: 65° F when not home and 68° F when home
For the Summer: 80° F when not home and 77° F when home

Programmable thermostats like Nest are all the rage these days. Nest knows when you’re home and when you’re not. It learns your habits, knows the weather, and will help maintain a schedule to keep you comfy, save on those energy bills, and give the environment a big high five.

check out Nest a learning thermostat

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2. kill switch:

Phantom electricity is scary. “Nationally, phantom power accounts for more than 100 billion kWh and more than $10 billion in energy costs each year.” (source)

This is the energy that’s being sucked from devices plugged in but not in use so if your laptop charger, phone charger, kitchen aid mixer, or curling iron are plugged into the socket but not in use, it’s still sucking power from the grid.

Of course, some things need to stay plugged in like your fridge, but most things you should unplug. However, if you’ve got a plug that’s hard to reach or it’s just a pain to plug and unplug like a desktop computer or toaster oven, why not try a smart power strip?

A smart power strip hooks up with your phone so you can kill phantom electricity from afar. With the device you can check the total power consumption of each device by day, month, year and see which appliances are drawing the most amount of phantom power, and then turn them off or put them on a timer.

check out a smart power strip

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3. analyze your power:

Are you ready to live your most streamlined, energy-efficient life? Good, cause I’ve got some tech for that. If The WeMo Insight adapter works similarly, to the smart power strip. Its main function is to analyze and track one devices energy usage.

This will be really helpful for figuring out which appliances or gadgets are draining your energy and bank account. For instance, if you have a fridge from the 70s, you might be spending an extra $70 in electricity alone! That’s not good for your wallet or for the environment.

RELATED: Save Money and Energy | Apartment Edition

Are you ready for the big leagues? Forget single plug analysis, why not analyze your home’s whole grid? With Sense Energy Monitor you can do that. Sense is on the pricier side, and it needs to be installed by an electrician, but it will help you monitor everything in real time. The best part, at least for me, is knowing that I didn’t actually leave the stove on…. my greatest fear and largest source of anxiety when I leave the home.

Have I had to come home from events and work because an overwhelming fear of “I LEFT MY STOVE ON,” yes, yes I have… on more than one occasion. With sense, I can check an app on my phone and know, everything is OK.

Your home might not be the only place you want to streamline for efficiency, what about your car? With Automatic Car Assistant, you plug it into your On Board Diagnostics (OBD) port. It can help track when things go wrong in the car like, “Why is my check engine light on?” And it will help you improve your driving habits through a series of beeps and app alerts.

When you’re using too much gas, accelerate too quickly, or slam on the brakes Automatic will let you know. This will extend the life of your vehicle - YAY less wear and tear! Will cut down on emissions - YAY the environment! And, will save you money, what’s not to love?

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4. powered up:

Why suck energy from the grid at all? Why not go solar? You may not be able to install solar panels right now, but that doesn’t mean your devices couldn’t use a little sun bathe.

Check out this portable solar panel that can charge your phone and tablet. It’s great for hiking, outdoor, adventures, or just enjoying a nice roof top lunch during the workday.

RELATED: How to Pack a Zero Waste Lunch

As someone who’s on the go and has to use my phone at a lot of events and conferences, this is a nice alternative to traditional battery packs - just make sure that the solar panels are fully charged when using! If your phone has more energy than your panels, your panels will suck the energy out of your phone… not what you want!

check out the portable solar panel

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5. light it up:

Talkin’ all about those light bulbs baby! I’m a big fan of LED light bulbs, not only are they much better for the environment - hello, energy saving - they’re also great for your wallet.

Just take a look at this chart from USA Today. You can clearly see how much LED bulbs will save you. Now, the number one complaint I hear is, “I don’t like the bright, bluish light these bulbs cast!” And, I feel that. I don’t like bright, bluish light either.

So, I got the Phillips Hue Bulbs with a range over 16 million colors. I can control these bulbs with an app, put them on timers, dim them, and feel like a god. Mostly because I say, “Hey Google, LET THEIR BE LIGHT!”

Feel like you don’t want to make investments in eco-friendly, energy saving tech because you’re renting? Well, fear no more. I’m a fellow renter, and I actually replace all of my light bulbs when I come into a rental, and then swap them all out when I leave. I do this for my shower head too!

You can read more about how I make my rental more eco-friendly.

check out my FAV LED light bulbs

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6. listen responsibly:

I know that I’m 1,000 years late to the audio book game, but OMG I love audio books. I still haven’t gotten into the podcast scene too much, if you have favorites let me know in the comments down below.

Instead of streaming music when I go on a jog or nice long walk with the pup, (cute dog photos and tips for raising an eco-friendly pet) I’m crushing some audio books.

I’m in the market for some new headphones. I’m currently using the iphone ear buds that came with my iPhone 4 purchase in 2010. Someone actually complimented me on my how well I took care of my old ear buds…. #10yrs #together4eva

But, I’m in the market for some new headphones. Some nice cushy ones perfect for 5-10 mile treks.

I have a House of Marley speaker and I’m a huge fan of the company. They are one of the few tech companies, that are really working to make their electronics ethical and sustainable. They use mindfully sourced materials including bamboo, FSC™ certified wood, recycled aluminum, plastic and fabrics.

please listen responsibly:

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7. accessorize ethically:

When it comes to our phones, laptops, and tablets, I’m a big believer in cases! I know some people prefer to go the risky naked route, but I will drop my phone… it’s inevitable. And, I’d prefer for my $1,000 investment to last AS LONG AS POSSIBLE.

This is a girl with earbuds from 10 years ago. I’m not zero waste because I love the environment, (I do love the environment) I’m zero waste cause I’m cheap frugal.

When it comes to protecting your phone, my number one recommendation is a Pela Case! I’ve been a proud Pela Case owner for a long time!

The case is COMPOSTABLE! How cool is that, it’s made up with flax shive a waste by-product of the flax industry and it’s super shock absorbent which is a must for me because I drop my phone all of the the time…

One of my favorite thing about Pela is that they take full ownership over the lifespan of their product. If you can’t compost it for any reason you can send it back and they’ll take care of it for you. Plus, with each purchase they donate to environmental organizations.

check out pela case

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Environmental Activism | 7 Easy Ways to Get Your Community Involved

With all the dismal news swirling around us we may feel helpless, insignificant, or as if our actions don’t matter. 

Well, I am here to tell you that they do! Seriously. And, getting involved in your community is one of the best ways to keep eco-anxiety at bay. Get more tips for banishing eco-anxiety.

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I am an environmental activist. I advocate for a less wasteful life in my community, and I am going show you how to do it too.

I’m a wife, a mom, I work, I know that time is SO valuable. I am just your average gal - I promise!

I’m going to be honest, being an activist can be a huge commitment, but it doesn’t have to be! Sometimes it’s as easy as asking a question or talking to the right person. Yep. It’s really that easy.

1. with the school:

During a meeting I asked if they would eliminate single-use, plastic straws in the cafeteria. 

It took some time, but eventually the did - which prevented 3,600 students from automatically being given a straw every day!

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2. with the PTA:

In 2016, I set a personal goal to reduce the waste at the school and school events in my district.  Every year we have a HUGE carnival where thousands of plastic trinkets are handed out as prizes.

  1. I decided to work with the event chairs and PTA president

  2. I explained why the prizes weren’t needed

  3. I explained the impact of plastic our environment

  4. Reminded them that most kids played with the toys for a few minutes before throwing them away or having to be decluttered a few months later

So, they decided to ditch plastic prizes! As a bonus, this also saved the PTA a significant amount of money.

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3. with a local non-profit:

I work with Go Green a non-profit organization that has really upped my community outreach.

I have worked with several organizations to “green” their events which means reducing landfill waste, setting up recycling, and composting. 

For instance, the Boy Scouts program is strong in our community and each troop has an annual Pancake Breakfast fundraiser that caters to more than 500 hungry guests.

While at the event one year, I looked around at all the waste and thought there had to be a better way.

I spoke with one of the troop leaders which then lead to me presenting a more eco-friendly pancake breakfast to the committee.

Everyone was on board so we swapped out the Styrofoam plates, plastic cups, plastic cutlery, etc. for either reusable or compostable items, while adding composting and recycling.

The original event created 18 large trash bags, the new zero waste event created only two! 

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4. with the grocery store:

I love to shop from the bulk bins when I can. This helps me reduce my packaging waste. Check out the Ultimate Guide to Zero Waste Grocery Shopping.

I use my produce bags to buy nuts, granola, rice, beans, raisins, etc, but I would love for there to be more of a selection so I’m collaborating with the Bulk Regional Manager at Whole Foods to expand their bulk section. 

Hopefully this will come to fruition, especially since Illinois is about to pass a bill (HB3440) which will (FINALLY!) allow customers to use their own containers at bulk sections. Cross your fingers!

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5. with gifting:

Speaking of my reusable produce bags, they always get attention when I’m grocery shopping, usually at checkout.  My rule is if someone asks me what they are or where I bought them, I give them one of mine for free!

I see this as a way of inspiring people to use reusable produce bags as well as paying it forward in hopes that they will do the same. In fact, while handing over the bag, many have excitedly told that they will do just that – how cool!

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6. with the local government:

A new eatery opened on Lake Michigan which is a hot-spot for waste!

I attended our Park District’s bi-weekly meeting to advocate for better sustainability practices.  Given the proximity to Lake Michigan, I lobbied hard for the elimination of plastic straws! A no-brainer in my eyes. It’s still a work in progress but giving up is not an option.

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7. with my neighborhood:

Lastly, block parties are big within my community.  Often times they create a lot of unnecessary waste.

To combat this, I created an Event Greening one-pager that provides suggestions on how to reduce waste at any type of event. 

I worked with our local government to have this one-pager added to the Village Block Party website right next to where the block party permit application resides so that residents can’t miss it! 

I am set to personally green two block parties this summer and the hope is that the one-pager will inspire residents to do the same.

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The best thing about working in your community is that you get to share the message outside of yourself. Think about ALL of the people you can influence.

Not only are you bringing awareness to the those working and volunteering, you’re bringing awareness to the guests who witness first-hand how a few simple changes can reduce waste significantly. 


Guest Post: Nicole Boomgaarden, from Chicago, is the founder of She works part-time as a Sr. Business Analyst in the financial industry. Serves as the liaison with local school districts to help them adopt sustainable practices and environmental education. Enjoys playing softball, volleyball, dancing, reading and sharing her knowledge around how to live a greener life on her Instagram account @imperfect_zerowate.