Recycling Challenge: All the Stuff You Never Knew Could Go in the Blue Bin

story by Samantha WittchenFact: Aluminum foil and bottle caps are recyclable curbside in Philly.

Problem: You’ve just hosted a rockin’ holiday party, complete with the best local, seasonal brews, as well as several platters of Grandma’s famous holiday cookies. As you survey the party wreckage, you notice there’s a bunch of stray bottle caps littering your house, and the aluminum foil from Grandma’s cookies is now strewn across the dining room table. You’re not sure what to do with this stuff, but more importantly, why is your dog wearing a lampshade?

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Recycling Challenge: Vinyl Records

story by Samantha WittchenFact

Last year, 3.9 million vinyl records were sold in the U.S., the highest amount since 1991.

Problem

With vinyl records making a resurgence, you might be thinking twice about tossing those old 45s. But if you do trash them, the landfill is not the best place. Most old-school vinyl records are made with Polyvinyl chloride (PVC). When buried, PVC can leak dioxin, a toxic chemical that can contaminate groundwater. Since dioxins are fat-soluble, they concentrate in human tissue. Additionally, chlorine production for new vinyl manufacturing releases more than 200,000 pounds of mercury into our air, water and soil each year. Recycling vinyl bypasses that chlorine use.

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Recycling Challenge: Fire Extinguishers

story by Samantha WittchenFACT: Fire extinguishers should be inspected annually to make sure they’re charged properly and in working order. Every six years, an extinguisher must be taken apart, examined and recharged.
 
PROBLEM: Fire extinguishers in the U.S. are often filled with Halon 1211, the trade name for an ozone depleting gas that is hazardous to breathe. When empty, fire extinguishers are completely recyclable since the bodies are made of steel. Empty canisters can also be recharged. When full, they’re treated as hazardous waste.
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Recycling Challenge: VCRs

story by Samantha WittchenFACT: The International Association of Electronics Recyclers estimates that on average 400 million consumer electronic products are thrown out each year.

PROBLEM: As more people switch to DVD players and online video services, VCRs are being kicked to the curb. But when VCRs go to a landfill, they also bring heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium and lead, which can leach into the ground and contaminate water sources. VCRs are considered e-waste; their disposal contributes to the more than three million tons of e-waste sent to the landfill each year in the U.S. You can’t recycle VCRs in your blue bin, but it’s worth taking the time to find a place that will accept them.

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Recycling Challenge: Child Car Seats

story by Samantha WittchenFACT: Americans are estimated to buy as many as 12 million car seats a year.


PROBLEM: Kids outgrow car seats, and the seats have expiration dates (usually five to six years after manufactured), as the materials eventually degrade from ultraviolet light exposure. So, parents generally buy multiple car seats for their children during the period when they are required by law to use one. These seats are made of plastic, metal, foam and fabric that could be recycled if the seats are deconstructed. Yet most car seats end up in a landfill, and there are only a handful of programs nationwide that accept car seats for recycling.

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Recycling Challenge: Sneakers

story by Samantha WittchenFACT: It takes approximately 5,000 pairs of sneakers to create an elementary school playground surface.

PROBLEM: The average lifespan for sneakers is 500 miles. For most people, that means replacing their sneakers every six months to a year, which results in somewhere between 300 and 600 million pairs of sneakers destined for the landfill annually.

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Recycling Challenge: Yard Waste

FACT

Yard waste, consisting of grass, leaves and other garden debris, comprises an estimated 18 percent of the annual municipal waste stream.

PROBLEM

Sending yard waste to the landfill puts an unnecessary seasonal burden on the municipal garbage collection system.  Leaf waste can account for as much as 60 percent to 80 percent of the waste stream in the fall, and grass clippings can make up 50 percent.

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Recycling Challenge: Construction Waste

FACT

Building-related construction and demolition waste totals approximately 170 million tons per year, roughly two-thirds of all non-industrial solid waste generation in the U.S.

PROBLEM

Total annual construction and demolition waste (“C&D waste” in the biz) equates to 3.2 pounds of building-related materials per person in the U.S., per day. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 52 percent of this ends up in a landfill. Sources of building-related C&D debris in the waste stream include demolition (approximately 48 percent of the annual waste stream), renovation (44 percent) and new construction (8 percent). It is economically viable to recycle the majority of this waste, as the cost to transport and dispose of C&D waste can be more than 2 percent of a project’s cost.

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Recycling Challenge: Eyeglasses

FACT: More than 4 million pairs of eyeglasses are thrown away each year in North America.

According to the World Health Organization, 1 billion people who need glasses lack access to them. In developing countries, and here in the U.S., inaccessibility means that these people are losing educational opportunities because they can’t see clearly to read, and they are excluded from productive working lives, thus suffering economic and social consequences. The cost of glasses in developing nations is high, frequently exceeding three months’ salary. Most bespectacled Americans have at least one old pair of glasses sitting in a drawer in their house. Instead of becoming a dust magnet—or worse, going to a landfill—those specs could have a second life improving someone else’s.

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Recycling Challenge: Cell Phone Chargers

FACT: Globally, 51,000 to 82,000 tons of cell phone charger waste is generated per year.

PROBLEM: One hundred million cell phones become obsolete each year and, in most cases, so do their chargers. The European Commission has recently solved this problem for residents of the European Union by persuading 10 major cell phone manufacturers to sign an agreement that takes effect this year to make a universal charger for all phones. Unfortunately for those of us living on this side of the Atlantic, without governmental pressure to change, cell phone manufacturers are in no rush to provide the same waste-reducing technology to the American market.

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Recycling Challenge: Metal Clothes Hangers

FACT: 3.5 billion metal hangers, the equivalent of 200 million pounds of steel, are used each year by the dry cleaning industry alone.

Problem: Metal (or wire) hangers are the scourge of the recycling industry. In addition to the low percentage of steel reclaimed per hanger, they can catch on recycling equipment and cause jams and damage.

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Recycling Challenge: Pots, Pans & Pyrex

The Challenge: Those cheap Walmart pots and pans you bought just out of college are reaching the end of their usefulness, but there’s a good chance they’re made out of aluminum or stainless steel, which are both recyclable. You can’t put them in the blue bin at the curb, but, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, recycling aluminum instead of mining virgin ore for new products results in up to a 95 percent reduction in energy use.
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