If you’re old enough, you might remember a cute cartoon owl imploring you to “Give a hoot — don’t pollute.” Or perhaps you’ve seen a tear roll down the cheek of a Native American man lamenting air pollution. Those moments are in our collective memory of the beginnings of the recycling movement born out of the environmentalism that arose in the latter half of the last century.
While Depression Era America was prone to skimp and save out of necessity so as not to throw out anything of remote value, post-World War II America created a disposable culture and the rise of single-use products. By the 1970s, the effects of that disposable culture were visible in our air—smog and acid rain—and in our soil—the first U.S. landfill, Fresh Kills on Staten Island, becoming a symbol of our national waste, holding so much waste that it has become one of the largest man-made structures in the history of the world.
Rampant pollution gave way to the recycling movement, including a corporate coalition called Keep America Beautiful, which was responsible for the “Crying Indian” ads. As part of a nationwide competition to draw attention to products that could be recycled, Container Corporation of American chose a design by a college student, Gary Anderson, as the winner. Now, Anderson’s three-arrow recycling symbol is ubiquitous on package containers. Gradually, states came on board, with Oregon leading the way by passing a beverage container deposit law to curb glass litter. Today, about one-third of the U.S. waste is recycled or composted.
Greater awareness now
Consumers today are much more aware of single-use products, such as the recent controversy over plastic straws and trends to get reusable metal straws instead or drinking without straws. As the Environmental Protection Agency says, “The most effective way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place.” Reducing waste and reusing materials prevents pollution by reducing harvesting of raw materials, saves energy and money, reduces greenhouse gas emissions that create global climate change, sustains the environment, reduces landfill and recycling waste and allows products to be used to their fullest extent.
Consumers can reduce waste and reuse materials by:
- Buying used goods, from clothes to building materials
- Choosing products that use minimal packaging
- Choosing reusable products rather than disposable, single-use items. For instance, bring your own silverware, plate and cup to work.
- Maintaining and repairing products as needed so they don’t need to be replaced
- Borrowing, renting or sharing items that you don’t use as often such as party decorations, tools or furniture
- Donating unwanted items to a secondhand store and letting someone else use them
When you recycle, not only are you helping the environment, but the economy as well by creating jobs in the recycling and manufacturing industries in the United States, according to the EPA. According to the 2016 national Recycling Economic Information Study, in one year, recycling and reusing activities brought 757,000 jobs and created $36.6 billion in wages and $6.7 billion in tax revenues.
Cleaner apartment communities
Of course, most people measure recycling in more personal ways. It’s especially helpful to those living in apartments because every inch of space is valuable and if it’s taken up by clutter that could be recycled, you’ve got a problem. Recycling and reusing also can help your apartment community, as well. The Arizona Department of Environment Quality encourages residents to recycle to:
- Keep the community cleaner and healthier
- Bring residents together for the common good
- Teach children waste reduction habits and respect for the environment
- Divert waste from landfills
- Save money
Recycling programs vary by city and community. Follow these links for tips on recycling