How to Make Recycling Convenient

Monica Wilcox between Organics and RecyclablesTell me you’re not addicted to convenience and I’d have to call you a liar.

Our culture LOVES convenience: Clap on Clap Off, drive-thru, timers, DVR. We can’t wait for the next great invention. I wonder why, after a century of popularity, “convenience” hasn’t made our lives more stress free.  And then there are the “disposables”: wipes, brooms, contacts, razors, forks, plates, underwear…spouses.  Why, the medical industry alone has made disposable a veritable quest. The only thing my doctor touches me with that is reusable is his stethoscope. Even that thingy-majiggy used to check my ears has a disposable liner.

It you’re going to live green you’re going to have to make it convenient because the last thing Mother Nature wants to be is your greatest burden. Since our society has not made environmental living the easier choice that leaves us holding the recycle bag.

Recycling-Easy as 1, 2, 3… and 4?
On a recent survey I was surprised by the number of people who listed “recycling” as the number one thing they could do to improve their lives. Luckily, it’s one of the easiest green habits to pick up.

When I lived in Austin, Texas, recycling was the more expensive, time-consuming choice. This discouraged residents to line the streets with green buckets. Our waste management company was excessively finicky. They would only accept specific plastics and certain colors of glass. The only paper we could recycle was newspaper and office paper. That’s great, unless you enjoy eating.  The vast majority of our total waste was paper/plastic food packaging. So I set up a large cardboard box next to the trash in our walk-in pantry. Every week I would load it into the back of my van and drive it to one of the community recycling dumpsters. I admit, as I drove to the bin I’d ask myself, “Is the amount of fuel and personal energy I’m using to recycle this stuff completely obliterating the benefits of doing it?”  So I made a conscious (living green requires a bit of that) effort to haul the box only when I was driving in that direction.

If you don’t have a great city recycling program (or no recycling program) you’re going to have to get creative. Decide what you are willing to recycle over time because the goal is to make it habitual. This is not a short term goal. After that, you can establish a system that will require the least amount of energy and effort. Remember that composting your biodegradables on your own is a valid option.

The Art of Recycling
Mother Nature must have taken pity on me; before I knew it we were moving to the San Francisco area. Now California knows the art of recycling. They’ve made it a veritable quest. Our home came with four waste cans, the smallest of which (17 gallons) is for the actual trash. If we had wanted a bigger trash can we had to pay significantly more for it. Recycling is the cheaper option here.

One of the cans is designated for biodegradable waste (grass, weeds, meat, moldy cheese). Another can is for ALL recyclables (all plastic, glass and paper) while the fourth can is for aluminum cans, plastic bottles, and glass bottles. California charges a nickel for every can/bottle which you get back when you return them to a recycling center.

The problem became clear before we had our first moving box unpacked. How were we going to sort our trash without running outside every time to do it? I was unwilling to run my wine bottle out to the recycle can at midnight and my cantaloupe peels to the organic can seven hours later.

We needed four trash cans in our kitchen.

The Set Up
Because most builders are not installing a recycling station in the kitchen we had to construct our own out of the broom cupboard. We put two 13 gallon cans on the bottom, one for the recyclables and one for the actual trash. Then we installed a shelf to hold a smaller box (we bought a cat liter box for its open side) for all the aluminum/plastic/glass.  The kitchen compost pail is next to our sink, above the dishwasher for easy plate scraping.  It took us (and our guests) less than a day for this system to become mindless; the only way to live green.

Have you come up with a recycling system that works well for you? Did you have to convert a space in your home for a sorting center? We’d love to hear you ideas.  Just email Greenpsiration Home publisher, Trish Holder, at

Monica Wilcox blogs regularly for,, and Her work has been featured in Parent: Wise Magazine and on McSweeney’ She loves to write about the environment, women’s issues and anything woo-woo. When she’s not hashing over her first novel, she’s raising her kids, snuggling her husband and chasing down the family beagle. You can find more of her work at

9 Responses »

  1. Bravo…..Convenience sells!

  2. Great article!

    Here in Michigan, my township area in the SE corner of the lower peninsula anyway, does have a separate truck that picks up the trash (takes the family of 4 of us, 4 to 5 weeks to have enough to take out), another for yard waste (which shuts down during the winter months so the kitchen scraps. . . need to get stockpiled till April) and lastly another truck for recyclables.

    Maybe it’s me but I often wonder how the refuse company can easily recycle all the recyclable into their appropriate categories when they collect them all combined / unsorted / all-in-one-box (I mean paper and plastic and glass and metal just tossed together?). I don’t have the means to do it but it would be interesting, to me anyway, to follow the path of these recyclables once they leave the curb. Curious about yard waste too – “where does it go, after me???”

    We also have the pre-garbage day pre-pick salvagers (I admit, I too have found some really nice things that I / my family could use or that I could sell that my neighbors tossed out – Ex: a real good condition soccer net picked up on a Thursday evening was sold for $25 by the next Friday on Craig’s List).

    Then this past summer I was cleaning out a shed and I had found an old aluminum doorwall frame with screen frames. . . plus an old roof mount antenna (the aluminum part) that I threw in there thinking one day I would take that to the metal scrapyard for recycling and maybe make a buck or two. Well, this was the day, besides we needed groceries and the scrapyard was actually on-the-way. So I threw a tarp in the van, loaded up the aluminum stuff plus an old stainless steel well pump/motor then took that and the kids (two 7 year olds) to get a life lesson at the scrapyard. A “Gomer Pyle” moment followed (telling my age – lol) “Surprise, surprise, surprise!!!” – the aluminum netted $7.00 ($0.35/lb) and the well pump netted another $3.75 ($0.15/lb) – not a fortune but good for ice creams for all the family and a church donation!

    On my way out of the scrapyard’s office I asked if they take scrap lawn mowers. . . and they did as long as there was no oil or gas in them. Hence, I have been back several times! Last time came after we had a new roof installed on our 1200sq ft ranch and I asked the roofers to please throw the old vents, drip edges (they are aluminum too) on the side of the house – just that netted $10.40 ($0.40/lb)!

    In MI there is a $0.10 deposit on soda (carbonated stuff), wine coolers and beer cans / bottles so my family easily takes those back to the store plus if we find other people have thrown dimes away we grab those too. We have now started to collect and crush those energy drinks (aluminum cans) and other non-carbonated beverage container plus soup. . . cans, are tossing them into 5 gallon pails and we will see how much we will make (keeping track of the time frame. . .) the next time we swing by the scrapyard!

    Old car/cycle batteries (lead) bring good money too at either the scrapyard or sometime discount battery stores will buy them – check around!

    When I was a kid / Boy Scout my troop held paper drives – remember? Not much money in paper these days but I guess some core lessons run deep.

    Sell unwanted gold and silver if you have it but there is precious metals sitting in garages, basements, sheds, yards. . .

    Note: it’s not that my family needs to do this because we really need the money but we do this as life lessons / examples to help save our mother earth. We love her and she’s hurting. =]:’-(

    Have a blessed day all.

  3. When we started getting more into recycling we stepped up our bins, and our compost and found it did not reduce as much as we hoped for in the way of lessening the amount of garbage we take to the dump. We live in Chatham County NC and where we live, we take our trash to the dump so I have an intimate knowledge of how much trash is being sent to the landfill. After reading a book on composting I learned about digesters and how they function. They accept your dairy, meat, cheese, and other products that do not go into a vegetable type composter. They are installed partially in the ground and literally allow the worms and bacteria to digest and liquify the meat and dairy products into the ground. I purchased one of these and was instantly impressed with how this helped augment and finish off our recycling efforts. Once we had the composting, the approriate number of bins to seperate out the maximum amount of posible recyclable material and the composter we were able to from 2-3 bags of trash a week into the landfill to 3 bags a month.

    • That’s awesome, Britt! Could I twist your arm into being a guest blogger for Greenspiration Home, expanding on what you have just shared? We include a bio with one link to your website. I’m very interested in this, because we try composting to but there is still sooo much wasted food that we throw away that we can’t put into our composter.

      • I would love to! Let me know what I can do and would welcome the opportunity!

      • While recycling IS great, I also think bfeore I buy–for instance when I buy soda pop (yep, not at all healthy, but can’t do without my diet Pepsi), I buy it in cans instead of plastic.Plastic can be upcycled–reused only once or perhaps twice. Cans can be recycled over and over and over…Our town has a great program too. We are fortunate! With recycling and now composting, we only have about a bag of trash every three weeks. Yay!

    • This is fantastic Britt, and shows the effort that must be put in by the consumer to get a green system working efficiently in their home. If S.F. wasn’t composting as a community I would have bought a personal one for our home.

      Unfortunately, the amount of materials being recycled is still not very high in the U.S. but hopefully, if we put the pressure on our communities, it will grow steadily.

      Keep living green!!



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