Since 1997, Americans have celebrated National Recycling Day on November 15. In the years since, recycling has increased considerably. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that recycling rates have increased from less than 7% in 1960 to the current rate of 32%.
This has important environmental implications since recycling conserves both energy and natural resources. However, when most people think of recycling, it’s finished products like glass, cardboard, aluminum and similar products that typically come to mind. By broadening one’s view of waste, people and businesses may find far more opportunities to reduce, reuse, and recycle—including unique ways to recycle food.
What can I recycle?
Data from the EPA provides evidence that processing materials that otherwise would be thrown away into new materials reduces our use of energy and natural resources. This is because it takes more energy to extract and process virgin materials that are then prepared for processing compared to processing recycled materials. EPA’s individual Waste Reduction Model tool calculates how much energy is saved by recycling various materials.
Only certain materials can be recycled, and the types of materials may vary based on your local recycling center’s capabilities. Adding unapproved materials can contaminate the recycling stream, damaging recycling center equipment and wasting time and money when those materials are sent to the landfill.
In general, however, you can recycle:
- PET #1 plastic bottles
- HDPE #2 plastic containers
- Paper, including newspaper and office paper
- Glass jars and bottles
- Aluminum cans
On an industrial scale, many building materials can also be recycled. Asphalt, concrete, wood, metals—including steel, copper, and brass—are all recyclable.
The materials listed here are some of the largest contributors to municipal waste streams, so recycling these materials is a big deal. In 2018, plastics and paperboard made up 23% of the total municipal waste generated, according to the EPA. Plastics (12%), metals (8%), and glass (4%) are also significant contributors.
However, the second largest source of waste—food, at 22% of the municipal waste stream—is rarely considered a recyclable source. That could just be because you’re thinking about recycling wrong.
Ways to recycle food waste this National Recycling Day
Recycling is about reprocessing materials, and there are surprisingly numerous ways to do this with food. Trying even one or two of the ways to recycle food listed below can make a powerful reduction in the 63 million tons of food wasted each year.
Cook it up: Slightly wilted vegetables can be incorporated into stews and other recipes. Use your softened tomatoes in spaghetti sauces and sauté peppers that are past their prime.
Freeze it: Foods can keep indefinitely once frozen. If you notice your produce or other food is nearing its prime, consider tossing it in the freezer for later use.
Donate it: Food production and retail organizations may not be able to sell products past their “sell by” date, but they can donate those foods. Many canned foods, prepackaged snacks, spices, and other foods are good beyond their sell by date and can be given new life at a donation station or food pantry.
Replant it: Many vegetables can be regrown from your store-bought produce. After trimming green onions, the bulbs can be planted for your own ongoing source of greens. Cuttings from celery, lettuce, peppers, and other vegetables can also be regrown.
Find partners in search of food waste: A number of beauty brands are turning food waste into restorative products. Researchers have explored using everything from citrus peels to coffee grounds as potential biofuel sources. Consider local organizations with which you might build a fruitful partnership.
Compost: Composting may be the most familiar strategy for recycling food waste. Appropriately composting food scraps can combat soil degradation and enrich soil. Through a natural, aerobic digestion process, food is broken down into nutrient-rich soil that returns carbon from the atmosphere and combats global warming.
Digest it: Because composting has its own limitations (the EPA cautions against composting dairy products, meat scraps, and fish bones) many large-scale food production organizations have turned instead to the use of biodigesters. An onsite biodigester is capable of breaking down a much broader array of food, emitting gray water that can be used for landscaping.
How will you celebrate National Recycling Day?
While National Recycling Day does an excellent job of bringing focus to the problem of waste, recycling measures must be lasting to be truly effective. However, there’s ample evidence to indicate that recycling must also be convenient for busy organizations and consumers to commit to this change. As one study found, something as simple as moving recycling bins closer to those activities generating waste can boost recycling by 141%.
We’re all busy and seeking to balance countless demands upon our time. Simple, proven solutions will play a critical role in driving recycling rates much higher on National Recycling Day and every day.
Biodigesters are one such solution. This easy-to-use, automated equipment is located in your food preparation area, where it minimizes the labor behind waste disposal while eliminating odor. In addition to reducing the amount of food waste going to the landfill, many food preparation organizations have found it can help significantly reduce operational costs.
To take the next step on your recycling journey, contact Power Knot today.