Recycling has been a part of mainstream knowledge since the 1970s, and most people are familiar with the principles behind the program. While imperfect, recycling programs worldwide go a long way in reducing raw materials energy consumption and are still very much an important part of our waste diversion efforts. While composting and overall consumption reduction efforts should come first, knowing how to maximize your recycling efficiency is also an integral piece of the climate puzzle. By reducing the contamination of our recycling plants, we can ensure that the energy used in the recycling process is being spent in the most productive way possible.
Let's start with what can be recycled.
Aluminum, tin, steel. Ensure there is little to no food residue (Hennepin County suggests 95% clean as a general rule of thumb). Avoid tossing pressurized cylinders, electronics, and scrap metals. Minneapolis has solid waste programming in place for the bigger, bulkier items you may need to get rid of, such as the aforemention electronics and scrap metals. Find more information here.
Cartons. Think milk cartons, juice boxes, and wine cartons. Toss the lids before recycling. If they’re dirty, give them a thorough rinse before tossing them in the bin.
Glass. Most glass bottles and jars can be recycled, but be more cautious with glass that does not contain a product upon purchase; many of these contain strengthening additives that can interfere with the recycling process. Instead of throwing these out at all, try out a new craft or two (ideas here) to reuse this non-recyclable glassware.
Plastics. Minneapolis accepts plastics #1-#5. Minneapolis is unique in that we have industrial composting facilities that can accommodate #7 plastics. However, #6 plastics still belong in the trash. Placing them in the recycling is counter-productive, as more energy will be wasted in the process of sorting them out than by simply throwing them away. Try to cut down on this waste by reducing your consumption of #6 plastics and by reusing or re-purposing them several times before finally tossing them.
Cardboard cans. These come from a wide variety of products, including powdered drink mixes, refrigerated dough, and even baby formula. Do not recycle grease or wax containers.
For a more comprehensive list of what can and cannot be recycled in Minneapolis, be sure to read this page with lots of helpful recycling information published by the city.
Another strategy to increase your recycling efficiency is to avoid “wishcycling,” or putting things in the recycling bin without checking recyclability in the hopes that it will be recyclable. This can contribute to inefficient recycling processes, which can be more energy intensive in the long run than it would have been to toss it in the garbage in the first place. Unfortunately, the current rule of thumb is “when in doubt, throw it out.” This wasteful adage can be countered, however, by the reduction and reuse of household waste products.
Remember that recycling programs vary from city to city. In Minneapolis, we are incredibly lucky to have curbside, one-sort recycling, but that is not the case in all cities across America. Remember to check for local recycling and organics recycling rules when traveling or visiting family. Following the city or county rules goes a long way in increasing recycling efficiency. If you don’t feel comfortable throwing things out that you could otherwise recycle (or compost!) at home, consider bringing a paper bag along to bring them home with you.
Take a moment and reflect. Now that it’s almost March, how are you doing on your New Year’s resolutions? Are you sticking to them? Did you forget about them? Or have they simply fallen by the wayside? If you’ve fallen off track (or even if you haven’t), try picking up two or three of the following tips to reduce your environmental impact in the new year. You might surprise yourself with how much better you feel both physically and emotionally; when we take care of the environment, she takes care of us.
At this point in the winter, it’s hard to avoid looking toward summer. With summer often comes the promise of traveling, whether it’s to visit family or to do some adventuring. However, there are a lot of questions to answer when making travel plans. Today’s blog post will seek to demystify the question: is it better for the environment to drive or to fly?
To answer this question, we will start with some background information on the fuel expenditure of cars and planes, as well as their respective short-term and long-term environmental impacts. From there, we can draw conclusions about making the right travel decisions.
Light vehicles (read: cars) contribute 59% of the United States’ domestic transportation emissions. Meanwhile, the US aviation industry contributes just 11% of domestic transportation emissions.
Additionally, one gallon of jet fuel produces relatively similar carbon dioxide emissions to gasoline. However, air travel includes several other concerning emissions: water vapor, nitrous oxide, and sulphur oxide, all of which contribute to the global greenhouse effect.
While airplanes have (along with cars, buses, and trains) gotten more fuel efficient over the years (per passenger per mile), studies indicate that these reductions are tapering off. To make matters more confusing, a University of Michigan study conducted by Michael Sivak found that car travel to be two times as energy intensive as flying. This finding comes as a result of the fact that cars are increasingly being driven with only one person in them.
So, what does this all mean for you? Is there even a right choice? Yes, but it depends. Namely, on the distance traveled (short trips versus long trips) and the number of people traveling. For example, consider the difference in travel needs between a cross-country business trip and a family road trip to Wisconsin.
For a short trip with one person, take a plane. Driving by oneself can be very energy-intensive. For a short trip with multiple people, take the car. If someone has a hybrid or an electric car, opt to use that vehicle. For a long trip with one person, take a plane. Choose economy class; a full plane is more fuel efficient than an empty one. For a long distance trip with multiple people, the answer lies in the fuel efficiency of the vehicle being used. Wherever possible, opt for the smallest, lightest, most fuel-efficient option available for use. If the only option is an excessively large SUV, air travel may be a more efficient alternative.
Bear in mind that these are just general guidelines. If you are curious to learn more about the carbon emissions of a specific trip, try these online carbon-calculator web tools to get the information you’re looking for. This one, from CoolCalifornia, calculates carbon emissions from various sources, including household, travel, and even shopping. Another web tool, this one from the Nature Conservancy, offers specific ways to drop your carbon footprint from 16 tons/year to 2 tons/year. Lastly, ICAO’s Carbon Emissions Calculator tackles air travel specifically.
As with any travel, there are certain steps you can (and should) be taking to cut down on your carbon footprint, whether it’s driving or flying. Here are five rules of thumb to consider when planning your transportation, especially in and around the city. These will save you time, money, and carbon emissions.