Make America Recycles Day Every Day

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Tompkins Weekly 11/12/2012
By Kat McCarthy

For many, November marks the kick-off to the holiday season. With this season of celebration comes feasting, festivities, and gifting. New gadgets, new toys, delicious food… and lots of packaging.  After all, this is a material world – from the bed you sleep in, to the food you eat, to the phone you call your friends and family on, and even the shoes you use to get around with – products are a part of our everyday lives. And all of these products are made from resources – resources that have come from somewhere, and have to go somewhere once we are done with them.

It is estimated that Americans throw away 25% more trash during the holiday season than any other time of year. To put it into perspective, in Tompkins County, we produce about 150,500 tons of waste a year. Of this, 41% goes to a landfill, while 59% is recycled and composted. For trash alone, this amounts to 1,223 lbs/person/year, or 3.3 lbs/person/ day.

Therefore it is fitting that America Recycles Day falls on November 15th, right before the holidays. Recycling is a simple step that we can all take to save money and resources. With single stream recycling, it is as easy as collecting your paper & containers together, and setting them at the curb every other week. Pizza boxes, solo cups, take-out containers, whipped cream cans, aluminum foil, and broken plastic toys can all go in the bin. Not only is it painless, but it’s also free, saving you the money that you would pay if you threw away these items.

Residents aren’t the only ones seeing the benefits of recycling. In 2008, Dryden Elementary school students and staff were generating 20 bags of garbage every day. With help from the Go Green Initiative, the school set out to recycle and compost waste generated in the cafeteria. In just three years, they kept 206,000 pounds of food out of the landfill by composting and recycled 15,200 pounds of milk and juice cartons. By cutting down to three or fewer bags of trash per day, the district has seen an overall cost savings of $4,200. “It has been a cultural shift through the whole district,” Danny Fairchild, Dryden Elementary’s Green Team Coordinator said. “It’s become just what we do here at Dryden.”

And, as Dryden Elementary School found, recycling isn’t the only thing we can do to cut back our waste. Composting is nature’s way of recycling, and just like recycling, it’s free. At home you can compost fruit and vegetable scraps, leaves, and brush. Residents can now bring these items and more to the Recycling and Solid Waste Center, free of charge. Food scraps accepted through this program are then composted at Cayuga Compost. This holiday season bring us your party remains – turkey bones, expired leftovers, paper plates and napkins, and even your spoiled cheese – we’ll take them at 160 Commercial Avenue.

But there are still other things we can do to cut our holiday waste. Practicing the 4R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle, and rebuy) helps us save money and resources. Reducing avoids creating something in the first place. For instance, you can remove your name from junk mail lists by signing up for Catalog Choice for free. Reuse avoids creating new products by using existing materials. There are many local stores, like Finger Lakes ReUse, that sell one of a kind used items. Recycling, as you know, provides material to make new things. Rebuy, or buying green then closes the loop. Seek out products that are durable, multi-purpose, made from recycled content, and recyclable- like greeting cards made with recycled content.

To change our current pattern of product use, we need to change the way we think about materials. Simple steps, like practicing the 4R’s, can help our community work together to save money, reduce our environmental impact, and build social connections that will sustain us far into the future. We hope you’ll join us in taking a simple step in reducing waste this America Recycles Day, and throughout the holiday season.

Learn more about recycling at, or by calling Tompkins County Solid Waste at 273-6632. Find out about more steps that are good for your pocketbook and the planet—and share your own—at

Holiday Waste Prevention:

Dryden Schools Waste Reduction:

Kat McCarthy is the Waste Reduction and Recycling Specialist for Tompkins County Solid Waste.

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