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Trash Talk

How To Recycle the Right Way

Last Updated on January 23, 2024

 On my way to work this morning. It's not uncommon to drive past a couple of trash bags tossed out into the fields the night before.  On my way to work this morning. It’s not uncommon to drive past a couple of trash bags tossed out into the fields the night before.

The average American generates 4 pounds of waste a day. There are 319,000,000 people in the US. That’s 1,276,000,000 pounds of discarded material a day. At first I was shocked, but then I realized it makes since. Our entire society revolves around disposable products. In a day you might throw out your morning Starbucks cup, an empty chip bag, a candy wrapper, a banana peel, a finished can of diet soda, a couple tissues, some paper towels, or a bag full of paper boxes, napkins, and straws from the drive through. It all adds up.

Since starting this journey, I’ve heard all sides of the story from “What you’re doing doesn’t matter; It won’t make a difference,” to “This is awesome! I want in,” to “But, I recycle everything!”

Recycling is wonderful. But, it’s not the solution to our problem. As you can see, we’re discarding over a billion pounds stuff a day. If it were all recyclable that would take a lot of energy, gas, water, transportation, and labor. Instead of viewing recycling as the almighty answer, it should be the last resort.

Reject what you don’t need.

Reduce what you have.

Reuse what you can.

Recycle or compost what you can’t.

There’s a reason recycle is last on the list. The solution to our problem lies in the first three. Reject, reduce, and reuse. If we can get in the habit of those things, we can cut down how much we’re contributing to the problem. When things are recycled certain parts are discarded in order to create a new product. Here are some fun facts about recyclable products listed in the order of recyclable content.


(If you can’t buy it in bulk, buying in glass is the next best thing. I wish they sold mayo in a glass jar.)

A 100% recycle rate.

There is no loss of quality or purity in the process.

Over a ton of natural resources are saved for every ton of glass recycled.

For every six tons of recycled glass used in the process of manufacturing new glass, carbon dioxide out gas is reduced by a ton.


A 100% recycle rate.

Aluminum is one of the most recyclable materials, and is worth the most.

Americans landfill almost a billion dollars of aluminum cans every year.

An aluminum can can be recycled and back on the shelf in 60 days.

There is no limit to how many times aluminum can be recycled. It is considered a self-sustaining metal.


A 65% recycle rate.

The typical American will use seven trees a year for paper. That is approximately 2,000,000,000 trees per year.

Half of that is landfilled.

Each ton of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, three cubic yards of landfill space, 4000 kilowatts of energy, and 7000 gallons of water. This represents a 64% energy savings, a 58% water savings, and 60 pounds less of air pollution.

It costs 50 – 80% less to use recycled paper, than it does to make paper out of new pulp.


A 9% recycle rate

The US consumes 2.5 million liquid filled plastic bottles every hour.  Only around 27% of them are recycled.

Americans throw away 25,000,000,000 styrofoam coffee cups every year.

Plastic that escapes landfills, recycling, or is disposed of improperly is likely to find its way to the ocean where it kills a million sea creatures a year.

66% energy is saved in the production of new plastic products from recycled materials instead of raw materials.

Are you reducing or reusing? Tell me about it!

Sources and more fun reading:

**For people with unavailable bulk resources, it will be difficult to eliminate food packaging. In that case recycling is your best option. Eliminate processed foods. Most baking items can be bought loose in cardboard and paper. Meat and cheese can be bought at counters with containers, and produce bagged in reusable cotton pouches from home. Other changes around the house should not prove difficult.

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  1. Thanks, Kathryn! Jumping on the band wagon and really really excited about it. Looking forward to reading more of your tips and learning more about my own impact and the way I can reject, reduce and reuse more!

  2. What a lovely post about trash. Thanks so much for the sobering reminder for all of us Kathryn! Those are scary statistics! Below, I just thought to share…

    Our Mayo Recipe (in case it might be helpful to anyone ;))
    4 egg yolks
    1 cup of oil
    salt and lemon juice

    1. Put egg yolks in a food processor.
    2. Add the oil in a very thin stream. This will help the emulsification process without having the mayo collapse into goop.
    3. Salt & lemon to taste

    Voila! (Disclaimer: This is Thomas Keller’s recipe btw.)

  3. Packinging is a big issue, way too much waste. I wonder if recycling is a joke, as more consumer items are packaged in layers and annoying to open with knives, etc. I encourage others to use reusable grocery bags.

  4. Damn, what do they put mayonnaise in in the US? Here in europe I’ve only seen it sold in glass jars with an aluminium lid. Ideal would be to be able to get the jars refilled at the store, though…

  5. I thought I would add to the mayo thread! Vegenaise is sold in glass jars (in Canada anyway!) and tastes EXACTLY the same as non-vegan mayo. I’m vegan, so I’m partial to it, but it’s a great option to try for non-vegans as well!

  6. Hi Kathryn,
    I’m new to this sustainable living/zero waste lifestyle but I’m very excited about this and I’ve been discussing with friends and family and they’re looking to hop on board with reducing/reusing/recycling. I feel like packaging is a major issue and I will likely be writing to many of the brands I purchase from; I have already written to amazon asking them to reduce the amount of plastic “padding” they put in my packages. If enough of us make small changes, I truly believe big changes can happen!