This article was published in the Teton Valley News on November 5, 2015. It is republished with permission.
Due in part to our title, “Teton Valley Community Recycling,” it’s natural to think of our organization as solely a recycling organization, yet I’d like to take a moment to shine the spotlight on waste REDUCTION and REUSE rather than recycling. Don’t get me wrong, a world where everything could be recycled is great in theory, and indeed recycling has tangible environmental benefits and provides revenue, jobs, and taxpayer savings to our community. However, factors like energy and natural resource use; the fluctuating commodity markets for recycled materials; infrastructure expenses;, and the financial and resource expenditures associated with hauling make recycling NOT the most effective way to save natural resources, protect the environment, and save money. Let me explain.
Teton Valley Community Recycling’s mission is to develop ethical waste reduction solutions for our community that are financially and environmentally sound. As a grassroots organization that originally was formed to encourage recycling in Teton Valley, we have accomplished a lot with the help of dedicated volunteers, government employees, elected officials, and local business support—we now have county-run recycling and waste diversion services at our local transfer station and curbside recycling services to boot! However, each year, more and more waste is trucked over 50 miles to the Circular Butte Landfill in Jefferson County. While recycling and waste diversion from the landfill has increased from 20% in 2013 to 28% last year, our community’s landfill-bound garbage has increased even more. In fact, from 2013-2014, the amount of landfill-bound garbage collected at our transfer station in Driggs climbed by 10%, from 5,345 to 5,882 tons. As a society, our consumption of material goods and waste generation continues to climb. The best way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place—while manufacturers play a large role in reducing waste, as consumers, we have the ability to play an even larger role in waste diversion. This starts with waste reduction and reuse through careful shopping habits, as well as keeping the following suggestions in mind:
1) Buy products with less packaging and in bulk, and use reusable shopping bags and containers when shopping, traveling, or eating out. Although the package of spring mix at the market may come in a hard plastic container that has a #1 or #2 recycling label on the bottom, that plastic bin is manufactured and recycled differently than #1 or #2 bottles, and at this time, is not accepted for local recycling. Only #1 and #2 plastics with a bottle shape (the neck is narrower than the base) are accepted for local recycling. If there aren’t other options, buy in large containers, and try to use the plastic container again, or repurpose it. For instance, I have a friend who uses lettuce bins for planting garden seedlings. Teton Valley Community Recycling will be giving away hundreds of reusable shopping bags at Broulim’s Supermarket on Saturday, November 14th in honor of America Recycles Day (celebrated nationally on November 15th).
2) Buy reusable items over disposable, single-use products (e.g., avoid plastic or paper dishes and cutlery, single serving yogurt, bottled water, etc.). Purchase items like laundry detergents and dish soap in concentrate forms.
3) Buy items made of recyclable content and use them as much as possible (e.g., print on both sides of paper or reuse paper that has been printed only on one side).
4) Maintain and repair products, and buy used when possible. Teton Valley Community Recycling manages a popular public Facebook group called “Teton Valley Free Swap Site”: https://www.facebook.com/groups/tetonvalleyfreeswapsite/. Posted items can be swapped or given away for free. Also consider borrowing, renting, or sharing before shopping for items that will only be used occasionally.
5) Plan your meals in advance so that you know what and how much you need to buy when you go grocery shopping. This can save you a lot of money by reducing food waste, and can save time and reduce stress when preparing meals on busy evenings.
6) Compost your food scraps and yard waste instead of throwing them away. Composting is nature’s way of recycling and can be quite simple to implement. My favorite way to compost food scraps is through worm composting (vermicomposting). Vermicomposting doesn’t smell, can be done year-round, and turns vegetable and fruit scraps into a rich, natural fertilizer in just a few short months. With grant support from the CFTV Youth Philanthropy Grant Program and Targhee’s Protect Our Winter’s Program, TVCR will be hosting a worm composting workshop on Saturday, November 14th from 9am-11am at the Teton Valley Chamber of Commerce in Driggs. More information can be found on our website at www.tetonrecycling.org (advanced registration is required).
7) Reduce your junk mail! While recycling your unwanted mail is better than throwing it away, try to prevent receiving unwanted mail in the first place. This often seems like an uphill battle, but it is possible to control the exposure of your mailing address by thinking about how often you give out your personal information on things like warranty registrations, online orders, contest sweepstakes, etc. Call companies that send you catalogues and ask to be removed from their mailing lists and to not have your information shared with third parties. You can also register with the Direct Marketing Association to remove your name from catalogs, magazines, and other mail offers. More information about reducing your junk mail can be found on our website at https://tetonrecycling.org/deal-with-junk-mail/. All of these steps are practical, effective ways to reduce the amount of waste in your life and help to protect the environment by saving natural resources, energy consumption, and expenses. The holidays are a great time to practice even just one of these tips. You’ll find that you can save lots of money and time, and reduce stress and clutter in your life, helping you to live a happier and healthier life!
Jen Werlin is the Executive Director of Teton Valley Community Recycling. For more information about waste reduction, reuse, and recycling, and/or to become involved with our community-wide efforts to reduce litter and landfill waste, please visit tetonrecycling.org.