Our Earth citizenship carries with it rights and responsibilities, including the responsibility to protect nature and people for the benefit of the common good. One way Americans strive to meet this responsibility is through recycling. However, only about 34% percent of the trash Americans generate is recycled. Experts indicate that less than 10% of all plastic in the U.S. is recycled. While some of it is burned, and some of it is exported, much of it goes into landfills where it can take hundreds of years to break down. Consequently, millions of tons of U.S. plastic make their way into the ocean every year, in their original form, in the form of tiny beads of plastic from breakdown over many years, or in some condition in between. Most of us have seen the startling pictures of islands of trash, such as the 79,000 plus tons of plastic covering an area about twice the size of Texas called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Or the pictures of whales, birds, turtles, seals, and other wildlife killed from ingesting plastic. So, yes, we should absolutely recycle everything we can at home and work.

  • Find out from your local recycling center what materials are acceptable. For other items, like used motor oil or used paint, ask your local recycling center for a referral to the nearest recycler or safest method of disposal.
  • Some cities offer "commingled" recycling programs that don’t require sorting (also called "single-sort" or "single-stream"); the sorting is done at a separate facility or by the recycler. Even if your city offers commingled recycling, practice "kind-recycling" by separating your recyclables. In other words, put your paper and cardboard together, separate glass by color in paper bags, put your plastics together, put your aluminum and steel recyclables together.
  • If recycling services aren’t offered, organize a collection of recyclables in your neighborhood, and take them to the nearest recycling center yourself.
  • Don’t stop with what your local recycling center accepts. Believe it or not, there are recycling programs for items like crayons, tennis shoes, tennis balls, and oral-care items. An Internet search will help you identify which programs are available nearest you.
  • Remember that recycling isn’t the only option. Multiple charities can make use of your old electronics, like your cellphone or computer. With electronics, it’s best to donate them as soon as you can. Organizations like Charity Watch and Charity Navigator can help you make informed choices about your donations.
Habib Todd Boerger in Practicing Democracy with the Earth