We are continuing to adjust to a new way of life, and for many of us doing so has seen holidays come and go with a fraction of the fan fare that they are used to, that includes last weeks Earth Day!
In honor of Earth Day/Earth Month 2020, I've asked Emily Kaps, Recycling Specialist for the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment to give us her thoughts on how minimizing waste can affect our financials:
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Minimizing your impact while strengthening your financials
There’s a lot of talk around waste minimization these days. And lots of buzz phrases are frequently being thrown around like “circular economy,” “closed-loop,” and “reduce, reuse, recycle.” But what do all of these mean and how big of an impact do these concepts have?
First, let’s start with some background information. Currently in Colorado, only 17.2% of waste is diverted from landfills, the national average is 35.4%. Additionally, Coloradans on average produce 6.8 pounds of trash per person per day. That’s a lot of waste! Most people who live in the Denver-Metro area have access to recycling. Whether that be through curbside collection or local drop-offs. And many of the Denver-Metro area municipalities are looking into how to bolster circular economies in the region and some local governments are even passing ordinances to mandate certain practices.
The term “circular economy” at a high level describes an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources. This circular system is an alternative to a traditional linear economy (take, make, use, and waste) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible through various means (Figure 1, below). Regardless of one’s belief about recycling, a circular economy just makes sense from a financial perspective. Another term that goes hand-in-hand with a circular economy is “closed-loop.” The closed-loop term refers to a production process in which waste is collected, recycled, and used to make new products, ideally all within one geographic region. This process can be as simple as using recycled aluminum to make cans, or as complex as weaving used plastic bottles into polyester for clothing.
Did you know Colorado has a closed-loop system for glass? This means that when you put glass into your recycling bin, it’s transported to a local company where it’s then turned into a new glass bottle all within 40 days or so. This whole process occurs in the Denver-Metro area and is an excellent example of a closed-loop system! Not only is this great for advancing a circular economy in Colorado, but it creates many local jobs.
When talking about waste diversion, most people rightfully think of recycling. However, there are two more preferred practices to waste minimization that are more impactful than recycling. Those practices are reducing the amount of waste you create in the first place, and reusing items before recycling or throwing away (Figure 2, below). For example, bringing your own reusable totes to the grocery store instead of using plastic or paper bags is one way you can reduce your waste. If you must use the plastic bag, reusing that bag for trash can liners is an example of reuse. Please note, plastic bags can’t go in your curbside recycling bin! In fact, they cause massive problems for recycling facilities. Instead, you can recycle your plastic bags by depositing them in containers found at the entrance of most large grocery stores if reuse is not an option.
There are huge financial benefits to implementing a reduce and reuse mindset along with many environmental perks as well. Reducing the amount of waste generated in the first place means that one is not only consuming less but utilizing their resources to their full potential. For instance, that cute top on Amazon might only be $15 but how long will it last? Spending a little bit more money for better quality will likely ensure that item will last longer, thus reducing your consumption. So while the upfront cost might be higher, over the product life cycle, you’ll save money by consuming less. Then, when that item does come to the end of its life, get creative! Consider reusing that article of clothing for a garage rag or sew it into reusable napkins. Reuse of a product at the end of its life can save money by substituting a reused item with a new purchase. Then your last resort should be recycling.
Recycling alone will not fix the waste crisis we’ve bought ourselves in to, but it is one component to the solution. As consumers, we have a lot of power within our purchasing and consuming habits. Sometimes it feels like small, personal changes don’t make a big enough difference but I can assure you that collectively all of our small changes can lead to a big shift!
Have questions about waste diversion? Feel free to email me, firstname.lastname@example.org (Recycling Specialist for the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment and Board Member for Recycle Colorado).
Please note, this is an op-ed article and does not express any official stance of the state.