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Monday, June 24, 2024

Fostering Accessibility in the Zero-Waste Movement

Your Guide to Recycling and Composting

Part 5 – Your Guide To Recycling And Composting

By Kait Spielmaker

The 411 on Recycling

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. A phrase most of us learned in elementary school. Recycling is great in theory but it is very tedious task that most of society does not fully understand. Countries around the world used to sell much of their recyclables to China to be processed into new material. However, during the last year, China laid out much more stringent rules on what they would accept from recycling centers around the world. So exactly what can you recycle? The answer is not definitive. Most cities have their own rules and regulations. It is important to know material accepted for recycling where you live, especially since it may have changed in the last year due to China’s strict mandate.

What Can Go in Your Recycling Bin?

Not knowing can be harmful because recyclables that are contaminated will end up at a landfill. Plastic grocery bags, single use coffee cups (due to the film that lines the inside), and greasy pizza boxes, unfortunately, cannot be recycled.

People want to feel like they’re doing something good and for many people that may mean putting everything in the recycling bin. According to the New York Times, about twenty five percent of all recycling is contaminated and sent to a landfill. Waste Management has seen its fair share of bowling balls roll down the conveyor belt with other recyclables.

A lot of what we dispose in our recycling bins is piling up at recycling centers with no where for it to go. An advantageous way to alleviate some of this problem is by reducing the packaging you purchase with the intention of recycling it. I have begun thinking of the three R’s in order. First reduce, then reuse and as a last resort recycle. The key is focusing on breaking away from our dependency on recycling.

The 411 on Composting

Okay, so what about composting? Composting is great for people with a garden or a yard to keep compost essentials. Unfortunately, many of us living in the city lack even a parking spot, let alone space to compost.

I used to throw unconsumed food in the garbage and not think twice about it. It’s organic matter that will break down no matter what, right? Unforturnely, no.

Food scraps that end up in a landfill usually do not have access to the oxygen they need to decompose properly and in turn, the process of breaking down emits methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is approximately 30 times more potent as a heat trapping gas than CO2.

Why Composting Makes a Difference

According to the EPA, landfills are the third biggest contributor to methane emissions in the US, behind natural gas and livestock. Guess what makes up the largest percentage of waste in a landfill? That’s right, food waste. The USDA estimates that 30-40 percent of food supply ends up being thrown out. That equals about 133 million tons of unconsumed food. The resources being utilized to process this food (water, energy, land, transportation) can also be factored in when considering this waste.

This is where composting comes in. Options are plentiful when deciding what fits best in your routine and budget. Individuals with a yard or neighborhood garden can utilize those options. As someone with a busy schedule, paying for services such as composting curbside pick up that will do the work for you might be a great option. Here in Phoenix, Recycled City offers those services.

Gardens, farms, or even schools within your community are a great option too, many are willing to accept compost since it is needed in their routines. Call around your community and find one that best fits your needs.

Similar to recycling, different places accept different material so it is important to know when making arrangements.

Composting is not only great for the environment but it is an interactive way to get involved in the community and be a part of something good.

Final thought: Aside from composting, everyone should be focused on mindfulness around their food. Make a conscious effort to buy local when possible and only what is realistically needed. When going out to a restaurant, try not to over-indulge so food ends up being thrown away. This is something we all can collectively improve on in our society.

Previous articles in this series:






Kait Spielmaker is a Michigan native who relocated to Phoenix in 2018. She is an employee and regular contributor to Green Living Magazine. She is an avid hiker and is working on her master’s degree in Sustainable Tourism at Arizona State University.


  1. Good day Kate: Nice reminders of the little things we can do. But next time can you include the massive houses being built since the opulent 80’s when expectations changed dramatically and bigger is better spread like a cancer. What was once considered a luxury or treat became a daily expectation and demand. We’ve been programed convenience and excess since the 1950’s from shows like Leave it to Beaver, the media and advertisers for profiteers. The Cleavers had a large 2 story house with all the modern day conveniences but had to get a huge house for just 2 kids. As you know houses have doubled in size since 1980 while we average just 1.4 kids per family from 4 or more.

    I’ve been searching central and south Florida for a true environmental community and was thrilled to find the Babcock Ranch outside Fort Myers. It has the largest solar system in the country powering the whole town and other sustainable amenities like China, Germany and other countries. Unfortunately they reversed all good by building giant houses.

    We had 10 people in our small house with one bathroom on the farm with no problems. I had three brothers in my room.

    If you know of, or find, a community similar to Babcock Ranch that limits houses to 1600-1800 sf in central or south Florida please let me know. For me a 2 bed with 1000 is fine. Hopefully my daughter will visit some day.

    Darrel Cass


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