Recycling should be a habit like brushing our teeth. It should be something we don’t think about but just do.
We weren’t born knowing how to brush our teeth and had to be taught. It’s the same with recycling. So consider this like a dentist’s lesson, with the giant toothbrush and fake old-grandma teeth: Recycling 101.
The first challenge to recycling is really quite simple, and that is to think. Yes, that’s right, just think. Think about what you have in your hand and where it can go other than the garbage.
When you get good at recycling, believe me, it will become second nature. I have seen proof of how recycling can become automatic in my family’s evolution to reduce waste.
Everyone who lives within Tracy’s city limits gets a blue recycling toter, which is intentionally larger than the garbage toter. California cities were required to reduce the waste they send to landfills by 50 percent by 2004 or be penalized. Thus, the small green garbage bins became three: Green for garbage, blue for recycling, and brown for yard waste.
The challenge is to see how much you can fill the blue and brown bins and avoid the green one.
So let’s start with breakfast. Finished the last of the cereal and all the milk is gone. Both the empty cereal box and plastic milk jug can be recycled.
Finished reading the paper (Tracy Press, I hope!), and that can be recycled, too. If you made coffee or tea, the coffee grounds and tea bag can go in the brown toter or be composted.
Have to go through the bills? All the empty envelopes, junk mail (without personal information, which you shred before recycling) and fliers (especially around voting day) can be recycled.
Other items you may not automatically think can be recycled: Vitamin bottles, tuna cans, egg cartons, yogurt containers, mayonnaise jars, bread bags, toilet-roll tubes, aluminum foil, tissue boxes, grape and strawberry plastic boxes and, well, you get the idea.
The challenge in our house is not so much whether to recycle but what to do with it instead of throwing it away. In the beginning, it sat on the counter in messy piles, until someone went outside. But as we got better at recycling, the kitchen counter was lost to recyclables.
Since I couldn’t put bins in my tiny kitchen, we found two 2.5-gallon buckets (like mop buckets) just inside the garage, and we use one for items to go in the blue toter and the other for plastic drink bottles and cans, which we save and redeem ourselves.
Theoretically, the bins should be emptied daily, but my family has learned how to stack recyclables in creative and gravity-defying ways. Our blue toter is always overflowing, and we have reduced our garbage, for a family of five, to about one 13-gallon kitchen bag a week.
For a change: Think about it before you throw it away. Check out the lid of the blue toter for clues.
To make a difference: Create a family recycling station and make it a habit in your family.
To make a stand: Visit the dump and see what not-to-recycle means for our community. Challenge yourself to spare everything that can be recycled from being trapped for generations in a landfill.
• Christina D.B. Frankel is a 20-year Tracy resident, architect and mother of three. Her column, Living Green, runs twice-monthly in the Tracy Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.