This blog is posted on behalf of Taimur Burki, Intel’s Global Waste, Recycling, and Green Building Program Manager. Taimur has been focused on environmental leadership for more than 20 years including leading Intel to reach our 90% solid waste recycling goal, driving LEED certificated construction, and developing of company-wide green building policy.
Did you know 75% of America’s waste is recyclable, yet we only recycle around 30% of it ? This is one reason I try to get people to think differently about “trash.” Very little in our world cannot be reused, repurposed, transformed, or reinvented—it just takes a bit of effort to make those connections and a mental shift to see a world without waste.
I strongly believe we all have the responsibility for our own waste, in industry and in our homes. So while I work to reduce the waste in Intel’s world of manufacturing, building, and technology innovations, you can tackle the waste in your daily life. Here are five tips to own your impact and recycle better today.
- Start with the basics.
If you’re just getting started, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by local rules, plastics recycling numbers, and the endless “Is this recyclable?” game and just opt out. Instead, focus on the most widely accepted materials by recycling programs: paper and cardboard, metal cans, and hard plastic bottles. When you are ready to take on more, add glass.
- Paper and cardboard: package delivery boxes, cardboard beer/soda boxes, newspapers, and junk mail. If materials start to get mixed (i.e., wax-coated to-go boxes, envelopes with plastic windows, milk cartons), you have surpassed these rules (reference #3 below for help on mixed items).
- Metal Cans: soda cans and canned foods. Remove paper or plastic labels and make sure they are dry. (Fun fact: There’s no limit to the number of times you can recycle an aluminum can.)
- Hard plastic bottles: laundry soap, water bottles, and milk jugs. Make sure they are empty and dry. Do not include flexible plastics (grocery bags, bubble wrap), which have different rules.
- Clean it.
Food residue and contamination ruin everything. You don’t need to wash recyclables like your dishes but rinsing out residue and dumping the last of your soda is critical. If you don’t, it can contaminate other items. When contamination gets too high, a whole bag, or even a truckload, of recycling can be landfilled.
- Check a recycle database.
Again, recycling can be tricky because the rules aren’t universal. Local programs differ and change from time to time. For items beyond the basics mentioned above and specialty items (batteries, chemicals, clothing), check out an online database like this one on the American Recycles Day website. Simply input your zip code and the item to discover how to recycle it.
- When in doubt, don’t recycle it.
This one is hard to accept but it is better for our overall success. Just like contaminated recyclables, when too many non-recyclables end up in a batch of recycling, it all gets landfilled. If you don’t know for sure if an item is recyclable and you can’t find a clear answer for your local recycling program on an online database, put it in the trash bin.
- Don’t think of it as waste.
My job often includes finding uses for odd items we don’t want to send to a landfill. Items that don’t have a straight path to reuse or recyclability. I’ve donated shipping pallets to build fences, coffee grounds to fertilize botanical gardens, copper deposits (we are a manufacturing company) to art students, and even a shade structure to a football team. I encourage you to ask yourself “What really is trash?” and consider if there is something else you can do with an item before it hits a dumpster or recycling bin. If not, ask around your community. Schools, churches, and upcyclers are often looking for supplies for crafts and projects.
While I’ve focused on specific tips for recycling since it’s America Recycles Day, I can’t let you go without mentioning one more way you can reduce your waste significantly: buy less packaged things. Whether buying food from bulk bins, bringing your cup to the coffee shop, checking out a local second-hand clothing store, or skipping an impulse purchase all together, being thoughtful about the items you buy and use is just as important of what you do when you’re done with them.
Interested in hearing what I’ve been up to lately in the world of waste at Intel? Read about our progress in recovery and reuse in a new case study.
- Indiana University. “Waste & Recycling.” Web Accessed April 25, 2015.↩︎
- Rubicon Global. “50 Recycling & Trash Statistics…” Web Access November 5, 2019. https://www.rubiconglobal.com/blog/statistics-trash-recycling/