In a Dying World, Individuals Must Be the Agent of Change

I heard two disturbing news reports in the last two weeks. The first was how the carbon dioxide has reached record highs. Here is the story on USAToday, “Emissions of carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere reach record high”. With evidence like this, it boggles the mind that anyone can possibly think that mankind isn’t responsible. In addition, the Scientific American  article, “CO2 Levels Just Hit Another Record-Here’s Why It Matters”, made the event sound like a domino effect in that the more the we have global warming, the more the ice caps melt, releasing ancient carbon compounds to add to the problem.

CO2 emissions

The second nightmarish article Came from Forbes Magazine, entitled “We’re Now at a Million Plastic Bottles Per Minute – 915 of Which Are Not Recycled”. The last blog I wrote was on how plastic was not going away so we must reduce our single-use containers: bottles, bags, straws, take out containers. I still proudly agree with this and would scream RECYCLE, REUSE, REPURPOSE! daily from the rooftops if that would help.

Government Help?

When I see news like this, I feel overwhelmed by the sheer numbers. Trillions of bottles, 37 billion tons of CO2 emissions due to humans. All those numbers must decrease dramatically and they must do so by 2030 or in 11 short years. Companies must be forced to change packaging and one way to do that is make plastic use not as profitable. Governments must enact legislation that encourages research into and development of more economically sound recycling technologies for plastics and other waste products. We need those industries inside the United States so when we have problems with China or other countries, it doesn’t shut down the recycling like it has this year.

For instance, a Utah based company, Renewlogy basically melts down plastic back to its carbon core and changes it to diesel, kerosene, light fuels, and natural gas. The natural gas is pumped back into the factory to keep the process going. The process has only a 5% waste and no toxic emissions. Unfortunately, this company is overwhelmed with supply now that China is refusing our plastic. We need more factories like this. If we can spend tax dollars bailing out the auto and bank industries, why can’t we create low interest development loans on these types of recycling or reusing industries?

Individual Help?

None of this answer what I or you can do now about rising CO2 and global warming. The options seem overly simplified for one individual, which is discouraging. Not just a drop in a bucket but a micron of effort in a container the size of the Empire State Building. But collectively we can make a difference if we all change our lifestyles. Think of it as one drop of rain doesn’t do much, but a thunderstorm swells streams and rivers. It is time for all of us to be that thunderstorm of change to so we can save our planet.

Plant a Tree, bush, or flowers, or lots of them. We need to reduce CO2 emissions and deal with what is in the atmosphere now. Plants are the natural recyclers of the air. However, Americans have cut down most of our original forests and South America is losing the great rainforest. One small way to fight back is to plant trees in your yard, bushes along your walkway, flowers in a bed—any plant will do. Your grass helps but larger plants can do recycle the air more. Trees are the best because of their massive size makes them large recyclers. Flowers also help bring back pollinating insects like bees and butterflies, which are in grave trouble as well.

Make good recycling choices. By that I mean carry the bottle/can you used in the car back home again to clean and recycle properly rather than throwing it in a local trash can. Know what your recycler will and will not take so that you don’t contaminate large loads of plastic. For instance, I just learned deli take-out containers used in many grocery stores are not recyclable. This includes the large hot-chicken boxes many grocery stores use. See the recycling rules here. 

reyclingReject single-use items. The easy step is using canvas and net bags in place of store plastics. Refuse to use straws in restaurants. If you want to focus on not using single-use plastic bottles, then buy all your soda/water/whatever drinks in aluminum or glass and then always recycle those containers. Even better, buy a reusable drinking container (lots of types available) and fill it up at water fountains.

Change your use-and-discard habits. So many things we throw away can be reused or donated for others. Can you turn that old leaking plastic container into something else? A planter? Some folks make CDs into toys or mandala art projects while others use them for mosaics. Several websites will tell you how. Consider making a rag rug out of old sheets, clothes, t-shirts. Lots of instructions are online for doing so. These are just a few ideas you can find by doing searches on the Internet.

Hopefully you already are an agent of change. I believe it is a learning process and I can always improve. However, we need more “rain drops.” We need friends encouraging each other to recycle and reject one-use items. We should teach our children a more sustainable lifestyle since it is their future that is endangered. We must vote in leaders willing to make the hard decisions to limit some wasteful/toxic industries while encouraging other renewable or recycling companies. We need sensible environmental legislation. With everyone being agents of a better world, we can create a global thunderstorm of change and stop humanity from drowning in a sea of carbon emissions.

 

Recycling Rules and Options

In writing a book about a family living inside an asteroid, I thought about how their daily lives were spent. One factor that became clear early on was that they must recycle and reuse just about everything. In a way this is like living in an Old West frontier town. Food was “canned” in reusable glass jars; old fabric found new uses in quilts, wiping rags, and smaller clothes; and tin cans became flower pots and storage areas. After all, these people knew that new items or replenishing their supplies meant a rare and expensive trip to the distant town. Another reason was that they probably didn’t want the trash to build up behind their homes. Our modern world could learn from such ideas.

I am an ardent recycler but it has become harder and more selective over the years. More than ten years ago, we took our bags of paper, cans, aluminum, newspapers to a central unit in a small town and dumped them in big bins. High school students fulfilled their community hour requirements by working there. The recycling center wanted it sorted and I didn’t care if it was in bags because I emptied the bags into the bin.

Fast forward to now. For the last ten years I’ve set up five separate “trash” cans in order to sort all my recycling and then just put each individual bag in the recycling bin for pickup. I figured the recycling people would be glad not to have to sort it themselves. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

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The Recycle Porter County Facebook page has been posting do’s and don’ts and I’ve learned just how far off I’ve been. A video that they posted explained a lot about why they have restrictions on what is acceptable and not. Unfortunately, because the information has come in bits and bytes over several weeks, I became more confused than ever until I sorted through and pulled together all the information. So for those of you who want to know more, here is a condensed version of how to recycle in Porter and Lake County, Indiana.

Things to recycle at your curb (from the Indiana Waste Service page):

Paper: This includes just about most things you can think of including telephone directories, corrugated cardboard, office paper, and paperboard. No shredded paper though. Also make sure the boxes and magazines are clean. This means don’t put in that greasy pizza box or paint splattered newspaper.

Plastic: Bottles and containers only with the symbols of 1 through 5 in the recycling triangle are accepted. They must be rinsed out and clean. However, no K-cups, bottle tops or lids because they are all too small. Surprisingly so are pill containers.

Metal: Only aluminum or tin cans and steel. Don’t add the cut off or peeled off lids. This creates a hazard for the workers.

Glass: Brown, green and clear glass bottles are welcomed. The Center wants you to leave the caps on because the caps roll around in the machinery and jam it up. They also want the bottles rinsed out and cleaned. This means no sheet, broken, or window glass.

They suggest that you put everything in paper bags or dump them directly into the enclosed recycling containers. Big machines do all the sorting so no need to keep them grouped together.

Don’t rules for curbside pickup

No batteries, Styrofoam, plastic grocery bags, toys, or any form of electronics. No hangers, light bulbs, or ceramics. No plastic packing material from Amazon or anyone else.

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Other Options for Recycling

Plastic grocery bags are easy. Most grocery stores have a drop-off box right inside their doors for old bags. In addition, you can add any clean cellophane wrappers like the plastic around toilet paper or Kleenex boxes. You can even add Saran wrap as long as it is clean. Also consider switching to reusable fabric or paper bags, which are recyclable, so you can stop using plastic bags.

Most lightbulbs can be dropped off at Home Depot, Lowes, and maybe even Menards for recycling, along with those rechargeable batteries that power tools use.

The Valparaiso Compost Site takes fluorescent bulbs and many electronics like TVs, computers, and disc players. They also take smoke detectors, batteries, and printer cartridges. You can drop them off at the same time as when you are getting rid of your branches from all the recent windstorms. Batteries can also be dropped off at all of these locations. Printer cartridges can also be taken to Staples or Home Depot and you can earn a small amount of cash rebates (given monthly) for each one.

Unusual Options for Recycling

Wands for Wildlife will accept old mascara wands to help with cleaning up animals. In truth I never thought about this one. However, more information is available here.

Pill containers can go to  Matthew 25 Ministries but you have to go to mail them in. So save up a bunch and then send a package to the address given at the website.

CDs, DVDs and their cases can all go to the CD Recycling Center of America. Just go to their website and print out a mailing label. Of course if you are into arts and crafts, check out Pinterest for a number of artsy ways to reuse these plastic discs.

Locally, Opportunity Enterprises welcomes donations of a number of objects including buttons, keys, beads, old CDs and DVDs, magazines, phonograph records, and more. Check them out at this page.

I hope this list helps you recycle better. So often people want to do the right thing and help the Earth. We should start thinking about our home as an isolated place with limited resources even though we are billions of people instead of a few. The billions will cause more damage if we as caretakers of the Earth don’t change our mindset. We can’t continue trashing it up. Like the frontier people, in space or otherwise, we need to recycle and reuse what we have and be smarter about how much we throw away.