Donate
News

Watch Your Wasteline – 5 Things Coloradoans Should Be Recycling Instead

For a state with such a green, outdoorsy reputation, Colorado is pretty bad at recycling.

Before you skip the trip to the recycling bin, consider the following: Only 19% of what we throw away is diverted away from landfills, compared to the U.S. average of 35%. In fact, our state is setting its first ever waste diversion goals in an effort to correct our preference for tossing trash into the recycling bin.

In August, the Colorado Solid and Hazardous Waste Commission approved state plans to bring up the recycling rate for household and commercial waste to meet the national average by 2026, with a more ambitious goal of 45% by 2036. Gary Baughman, the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division director said these goals “seek to increase awareness of [our] below-average diversion rate and create opportunities to improve recycling and composting rates statewide.”

While many homeowners know that they should be recycling newspapers, cardboard, and soda cans, there are many common household items finding their way into trash cans or cluttered desk drawers that people don’t realize are recyclable.

What’s more – our state offers a number of disposal sites and pick-up options that make it easy to give these goods a second life and keep Colorado green!

“Technotrash”

The average American buys a new cell phone once a year, but according to the EPA, fewer than 20% of cell phones are recycled each year.

Most people don’t even know that recycling their electronics is an option, much less the law. The Colorado Electronic Recycling Jobs Act banned the disposal of electronics in landfills in 2013. When technology breaks down it can introduce toxic and hazardous materials into the environment, including mercury, lead, cadmium, and chemical flame retardants. These materials can leach into soil and water and be dangerous for wildlife.

Additionally, the energy that it takes to mine the metals and plastics used to make cellphones is costly. According to GoWireless GoGreen, a program specializing in reducing cell phone waste, recycling one million cell phones has the same impact on greenhouse gas emissions as taking 1,368 cars off the road for a year.

There are a number of companies who responsibly and securely dispose of electronic waste and obsolete technology, recovering reusable components and shredding plastic to be reused in product packaging. The SEI Recycling and Baling Center in Greeley collects these items and offers pickup for a small fee.

Recyclable “technotrash” includes:

  • VHS tapes
  • Televisions and computers
  • Printers and fax machines
  • Stereos
  • Video Players

Yard Waste

Grass clippings, leaves, and branches are biodegradable, so you can just dump yard waste wherever and let Mother Nature take her course, right?

Wrong.

“In reality, decaying organic matter can have a big impact on the environment,” says Brad Woods of  American Turf and Tree Care in Greeley. “Piles of decaying organic matter can attract rodents. It can also become a fire hazard if it dries out, and it can smell if it’s wet.”

Even worse – it can end up in landfills. When yard waste breaks down, it releases methane emissions, acidity, and other greenhouse gases. While it is completely biodegradable, yard waste can take up valuable space in a landfill and release harmful emissions from waste management tactics like burning or burying.

Unfortunately, because tipping fees at Colorado landfills are below the national average, there is little to incentivize municipalities to push recycling programs or fund curbside yard waste collection.

“Most do have regulations that prevent homeowners from raking leaves into the street, as leaves can block stormwater drainage and cause backups,” says Woods. “Yard waste can be treated and recycled into healthy soil or mulch for use in farming, landscaping, and gardening.”

Don’t have a green thumb? The Fort Collins Leaf Exchange Program connects residents with leaves to get rid of with farmers and gardeners who want them to use for mulching, soil, or to be repurposed in public landscapes. Green or dry leaves, small branches, twigs, straws, grass clippings, garden prunings, and even entire trees can all be broken down and recycled.

Packing Peanuts

As online shopping increases, so does the presence of packing components like plastic, cardboard, and foam packing materials in landfills. Nearly 36 million tons of it, to be exact.

According to researchers at Stanford University, we discard our own weight in packaging every 30 to 40 days, on average. While today’s shipping materials can be made from recyclable materials or compostable ingredients, there are plenty of companies who opt to use materials that are economically cheap, but environmentally expensive.

Bubble wrap is made of polyethylene, which is a component manufactured through environmentally unfriendly practices that can take hundreds of years to break down.

White and pink packing peanuts are manufactured from 70% raw, non-recycled materials. These are recyclable, like most plastics, but because they are lightweight and difficult to transport, finding local recycling options is difficult. Even green peanuts, which are plant-based or vegetable-derived and made of 70% recycled materials, can be harmful to the environment if not disposed of properly.

The easiest way to help keep packing materials out of the environment is by finding alternatives. Scrunched newspaper or cloth can serve as eco-friendly padding for household moves. If you’ve already amassed a collection of styrofoam peanuts, call your local pack and ship store to see if they will accept used peanuts. The EPS website provides drop-off locations for homeowners looking to recycle packing peanuts.

Being informed about the shipping practices of your favorite online retailers can also make a difference. Some retailers have already changed their shipping practices to be more environmentally healthy, utilizing biodegradable packing materials or more eco-friendly paper fillers. Others will honor customer requests for more eco-friendly packaging options.

Sneakers

Most running shoes have a shelf life of three months before they’re sent to the trash.

If you’re just refreshing your wardrobe, you can donate gently worn athletic shoes to One World Running, a nonprofit headquartered in Boulder. This program collects running shoes and distributes them to needy athletes in the US, Africa, and Central America.

Have a hole-y, threadbare pair of sneakers hiding in the back of your closet? Those can find a second life, too. Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe program collects old, worn-out sneakers of any brand, keeping synthetic rubber, foam, and polyurethane out of landfills. They take rubber from the outsole, foam from the midsole, and fabric from the upper part of the shoe and transform it into “Nike Grind,” a material used to build tennis courts, running tracks and playground surfaces.

Plastic Bags

The average American family uses 500 Ziploc bags every year. If you pack a lunch for yourself or your kids, odds are at least a portion of those baggies are ending up in local landfills and incinerators.

These products are made from film – thin, clear plastic made from low- or high-density polyethylene. While these materials can be recycled into composite lumber to be used in decks, benches, and playground equipment, they can also be a hassle to collect. Film is lightweight, meaning that even the pieces that do make it into the recycling can fly out and litter neighborhoods and waste management stations. These plastics can also get caught in recycling machinery, damaging the equipment in recycling centers.

In most cities, plastic bags can’t be put in the same recycling bin as paper, aluminum or glass. A small but growing number of communities have begun adding plastic bag collection to their curbside programs, while others encourage residents to bring film plastic to local recycling centers.

In Colorado, many of these drop-off locations are grocery stores that collect clean, dry, resealable bags for recycling. They also accept dry cleaning bags, produce bags, and toilet paper, napkin and paper towel wrap.

Get in the habit of bringing empty snack bags home from work or school to reuse or recycle. All plastic bags should be rinsed, cleaned of crumbs and other food remains, and dried, and should be stuffed inside one sealed bag for ease of collection.

Waste Not, Want Not

Recycling doesn’t have to feel like a major lifestyle change.

Nearly all consumer goods have recyclable components. Through education and awareness of the lasting impact the materials we throw away can have on the environment, greater individual efforts to reduce waste, and vocal pressure from communities to hold government programs and corporations accountable for responsible waste management, we can better preserve and protect the things that make Colorado beautiful!

Hungry to learn more about other recycling programs in your area? Visit Earth911 to explore a list of recycling solutions in your neighborhood.