Making Recycling Easier

zero-wasteby Michelle Millet

Knowing that my family is attempting to reduce the amount of waste we generate, especially the type that ends up in the landfill, a friend who has a similar goal made the following two suggestions:

* Make our trash cans smaller and our recycling cans larger; and

* Put recycling containers in every room in our house.

She said these simple solutions helped her family reduce its waste, so I started thinking about how they could do the same for my family. I also started thinking about other simple solutions we could implement that would lead to fewer items being tossed in the trash. Here are a few of the ideas I came up with.

Make it hard to throw something away: This happened in our house at the beginning of last summer, when we brought home a 12-week-old Labradoodle puppy. We soon learned that one of our new dog Forest’s favorite activities was to knock over our trash can and spread its contents all over the house. To avoid this outcome, the trash can was moved to the top of the refrigerator.

Not only was it harder for him to get to the trash up there, it was harder for his owners as well. This extra effort, and a step stool — which we now needed to throw something away — meant that things were no longer mindlessly being tossed into the garbage can.

Getting the stool in place gave us time to consider if the object headed for the trash could instead be placed in the more conveniently located recycling bin.

I also found that just thinking about the extra effort required to put something in the garbage — for starters, trying to find the step stool that people kept moving and not putting back — made me more reluctant to generate it.

While making the trash less convenient to access started out as a way to avoid coming home to find garbage scattered all over my house, it ended up being a very effective waste reduction strategy, and thus I find myself having to ask the question “where is the step stool?” far less often these days.

* Make using disposable materials less convenient: When I started paying more attention to what my family was throwing in the garbage, I realized we were using a lot of paper towels, often in mindless, wasteful and unnecessary ways.

So I applied the same strategy I did with the trash can: I put the roll of paper towels in a high, hard-to-reach spot. Again, this forced us to become mindful of what we were using the paper towels for, how many we were using and whether it was necessary to use one at all.

I also filled an easy-to-reach drawer with cloth napkins and kitchen towels.

Recycle in the bathroom: After the kitchen, the room in my house in most need of a recycle bin is the bathroom, where recycling opportunities are numerous.

Here is partial inventory of things I found in my bathroom that can be recycled: shampoo and conditioner bottles, my kids’ fluoride mouth rinse container, empty pill bottles (see note below), saline and contact lens disinfectant containers, lotion containers and old plastic bath toys.

As far as plastics go, basically any rigid plastic container is accepted for recycling in Davis, and if your bathroom is anything like mine, it’s full of these types of containers.

(Note: I double-checked with Davis Waste Removal on pill bottles and learned that while they do accept empty plastic pill bottles for recycling, prescription and over-the-counter medication should never be flushed down a toilet or thrown in the trash. Medications can be brought to the household hazardous waste drop-off days at the Yolo County Landfill on County Road 28H northeast of Davis.)

Putting a plastic recycling bin in the bathroom makes it easier, and thus more likely, that these items will make it into our curbside recycling bin, instead of the garbage.

A paper recycling bin is useful for newspapers and magazines that find their way into the bathroom as well as empty toilet paper rolls and cardboard boxes packaging things like my saline solution, over-the-counter medications and feminine products.

Over the past few months, while looking for ways to reduce our waste, I have confirmed what I already knew about myself and my family: When something is easy, it’s more likely we will do it.

With that in mind, I will continue to look for ways like these to make reducing, reusing and recycling as simple and convenient  for us as possible. If you have ideas, suggestions or comments on how to do so, I’d love to hear them.

About The Author

Michelle Millet is a 25-year resident of Davis. She currently serves as the Chair of the Natural Resource Commission.

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  1. Frankly

    To avoid this outcome, the trash can was moved to the top of the refrigerator.

    Interesting. Why not put it on the roof of your house to REALLY make it inconvenient?

          1. Frankly

            LOL! I can’t keep up with your digs.

            Funny you bring up easements, because I have been dealing with that all day at work.

            I am thinking about a conservative libertarian easement though… to keep Davis liberals from impacting my land with more rules to live by.

      1. Frankly

        Good point GI.

        How about this…

        At the grocery store you can only purchase what you can eat in a day and can carry in your hands. And none of it can be enclosed in any container… it all has to be in its natural state of being.

        Then you consume it without generating any waste.

        But then you would have to put the commode on the roof too.

    1. growth issue

      Not putting me to shame. Like I’ve said before, the zero waste environmental enthusiasts can do whatever they like, knock yourselves out and I will defend your right to do so if that’s what floats your boat. But leave others alone and don’t try and force your causes and beliefs on the rest of us.

      1. Frankly

        Her comeback was almost as good as my initial post.

        I am just irritated that she is so much a better person than me doing all this impressive environmental correctness stuff.

        She has had some impact on me… I actually pay attention to product packaging now, and I have downsized my city waste bin.

        But I will never catch up to her high levels of progressiveness. I am humbled.

  2. Day Man

    Attacking Michelle for this is like yelling at your TV when a “The More You Know” PSA comes on, “STOP TRYING TO CONTROL ME, YOU LIBERAL ELITISTS!”

    Even if you don’t care one wink about increasing waste, expanding our landfills, the enormous carbon emissions that can be mitigated by increased recycling, etc.; you must admit that where Michelle puts her trash can doesn’t have any negative impact on your life.

    There are people interested in reducing their waste. Michelle offered some tips that those people might find helpful. This is not an attack on your civil liberties.

  3. Day Man

    Now for my question, directed to anyone who knows the answer, but most likely Michelle:

    This question might sound ridiculous, but I’ve been wondering for years. You bring up the specific example of shampoo-type bottles. When I’m through with a shampoo bottle, or a bottle of any viscous liquid like that (honey?), the inside is hardly clean. And the design of the bottle often makes thoroughly washing the insides a pain (and water-intensive). Does anyone know how clean/empty it needs to be to be efficiently recycled? Can I just toss it in the recycling even if the inside is still coated with shampoo? Maybe I’m too paranoid about contaminating the recycling stream…

    1. Michelle Millet

      Good question. I checked with Davis Waste Removal, and they told me that as long as there is no standing liquid in the bottle it’s fine to recycle. So no need to go to extra effort to clean it out.

      As an aside, I have started just putting empty food/beverage containers into the dishwasher before I toss them into the bin. If nothing else it helps keep the recycling container cleaner.

        1. Michelle Millet

          A lot of this information was a surprise to me as well when I started researching what I could and could not recycle.

          I’ve called DWR a couple of times and asked questions and they have always been friendly and helpful.

          FYI-When the city moves to a containerized organics collection program, you will be able to add milk and juice boxes, frozen food boxes, and paper towels to yard waste and food scraps for composting.

  4. Roger Bockrath

    I applaud your thoughtful recommendations on waste reduction. As I have become increasingly aware of our current water crisis in California I have begun to run my dishwasher less and less. I have also begun to capitalize on those increasingly rare rain days by recapture of rain water to irrigate my increasingly large food garden. Less use of the dish washer has not only reduced my water consumption, it has also reduced my energy bill. As I wash the dishes I place them in one side of my sink and them rinse them over a plastic dish pan so I can use the rinse water to irrigate my ornamentals in the front yard. Works Great ! Keep up the good work!

    1. Michelle Millet

      Roger-Thanks for the water conservation tips. I have been experimenting with some water conservation measures as well. I’ve put a rain water collection/irrigation system on my husbands to do list, maybe by next winter we will have something going….

    2. Frankly

      We are looking at replacing our two small lawns (front and back) with artificial turf so we can save on water.

      Apparently the stuff has really improved.

      However, is does not last forever and has to be replaced every 7-10 years.

      That means discarding the old mats.

      Which brings up another environmentally-correct conundrum.

      Any advice?

        1. Frankly

          Okay… as long as we don’t start talking about banning lawn watering. And if you tell me that will never happen, I would have said the same about bag bans and woodsmoke bans several years ago. The reach of the progressive to try and control everyone’s life has been well documented at this point.

          I will take a look at these. Our front lawn is sloped and south facing. With the clay soils the water just runs off and then the grass burns. We have to water it every single day in the summer.

          1. Don Shor

            I generally advise against daily watering, but I understand that people in West Davis, North Davis, Binning Tract, North Davis Meadows, and other areas with higher clay content find that they get runoff too quickly to do otherwise. Often they can replace their sprinkler heads with low-gallonage types and get a timer that allows multiple start times on the same day (3 intervals of ten minutes in one day, for example).

            Another option is to replace the lawn with turf block, back-filled with decomposed granite or interplanted with more ornamental, informal grasses and mixed ground covers selected for much lower water. Things like Sedums, or creeping thymes. Really depends on the look you’re after and the typical use patterns as to which plants you would choose.

          2. Tia Will

            Have you considered replacing the lawns with drought resistant plantings?

            We just made that choice for our yard and although the plants are still “babies” so you have to use a bit of imagination, I am quite happy with the results so far. My next door neighbor did this years ago and his yard is mature and beautiful. You are welcome to come by and check it out if you like.

      1. growth issue

        Frankly, I can’t imagine all the oil and other hazardous environmental products that go into making the artificial grass. Then we have the loss of carbon dioxide from the removal of your natural grass. What’s a person to do?

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