Based in Lake County, Illinois, Heidi Cardenas has been freelancing since 2000. She studied business administration at the College of Lake County and has a background in human resources administration. She has written for "Chicago Parent Magazine" and guest blogs for The Herb Companion, Natural Living and TribLocal. She enjoys writing on a wide range of topics, but especially gardening, natural living, and home and family eco topics.
Have you taken the pledge? “For America Recycles Day 2011, I pledge to learn about recycling options in my community. I will find out what materials are collected for recycling in my community at americarecyclesday.org. I pledge to reduce my personal waste by recycling. Within the next month, I will start to recycle one new type of material.”
America Recycles Day is November 15. I never knew that until I saw it mentioned in my Earth911 email newsletter this week, although I have been recycling for some time. America Recycles Day is a program of Keep America Beautiful (in operation since 1953, before I was born—why haven’t I heard of KAB before now either?), which strives to unite individuals and organizations to find solutions for preventing litter, reducing waste and beautifying communities. Keep America Beautiful also sponsors the Great American Cleanup each spring, a huge volunteer event to beautify parks, clean seashores and waterways, and coordinate mass recycling collections.
Reading about America Recycles Day in my email made me start thinking about all the things that I can’t get into the recycling stream in our area. That includes the hard plastic caps from soda bottles, laundry detergent bottles, ketchup bottles, alkaline batteries, hard plastic breadbag clips, waxed cartons from orange juice and other food products, and pizza boxes if they have any grease residue on them. I actually can get plastic bottle caps recycled if I take them to Aveda in the shopping mall that is 40 minutes away, but I don’t go there often. I mailed our caps in one time, but it cost almost $8 to send them. Our school district’s after-school coalition collects them for Aveda’s recycling program, so I send take them there.
I think the batteries bother me the most. My family has stopped using alkaline batteries and uses rechargeable batteries, which are accepted in numerous places for recycling, although not through our curbside recycling program, which we must pay for monthly whether we use it or not, thanks to our village administration entering into a contract for waste disposal. Alkaline batteries contain zinc powder, manganese dioxide and potassium chloride; some produced before 1996 may contain mercury. They end up in landfills, leaking these toxins into the soil, water and air because there aren’t any universal mandates to recycle them and few programs to do so. A Google search of how to recycle alkaline batteries where we live in Lake County, Illinois, gets me a free ride down the rabbit hole of recycling batteries, always ending up in the same place—dispose of them with your regular garbage if you don’t have any BigGreenBox programs near you (which we don’t). Supposedly Walgreens and Whole Foods have BigGreenBoxes, but none of those stores near, or even far from our house has them. BigGreenBox is a program run by Toxco Corporation, which provides the collection boxes for a fee and recycles the batteries it receives.
The Environment, Health and Safety Online website claims that “each person in the United States discards eight dry-cell (including alkaline) batteries per year” and “Americans purchase nearly three billion dry-cell batteries every year.” That’s a lot of hazardous material contaminating our environment, although the federal government classifies alkaline batteries as non-hazardous waste.
Plastic doesn’t really break down in landfills, because of restricted sunlight and oxygen and the fact that nothing living eats polyethylene, its main component. It doesn’t biodegrade, stays around for a very long time, and may become part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an enormous floating patch of garbage that is 80 percent plastic, weighs more than 3 million tons and is twice the size of Texas. Greenpeace reports that 80 percent of litter in the ocean is from onshore sources, and advises limiting or eliminating the use and manufacture of plastics. California is the most active state regarding batteries and plastics, but the plastics industry has a strong lobby.
It makes me feel guilty to think that the plastic bag or plastic bottle cap from items my family consumes would end up in our oceans, killing marine animals and poisoning our environment. That’s why we recycle instead of just discarding much of what goes through our home. But I can’t help wondering what would happen if more Americans took the personal responsibility for our world’s environment and found a BigGreenBox location for their eight alkaline batteries each year instead of throwing them in the trash. What if more of us felt guilty about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch floating in our ocean between San Francisco and Hawaii? What if more of us were willing to go down the recycling rabbit holes to find out what to do with all our personal flotsam and jetsam instead of sending it off to the landfills and the oceans? What if we all took the America Recycles Day 2011 pledge?