glass

Paper: Compost or Recycle?

A while ago, a friend asked me which was better, composting paper or recycling it.

the funnies

That is a really good question that required me to do a bit of research.

And the answer is that it depends.

Paper is not infinitely recyclable (unlike glass), it’s fibers eventually degrade in quality after being recycled 5-7 times. Printer and office paper require strong fibers, so its fibers have only been recycled a couple times. Newspaper, wrapping paper, and tissue paper, on the other hand, can use lower quality fibers.

Here is what should be recycled and what should be composted and in what situation:

Recycle

  • Glossy magazines, advertisements, and catalogs (these are more likely to contain toxic additives you won’t want in our compost if you are using it to grow produce)
  • Office paper
  • Sticky notes

In general, paper that is of higher quality should be recycled so that it can be used again, thus saving resources compared to virgin paper production.

Compost

  • Paper products that are soiled with food waste, like napkins, paper towels, and paper plates (they can’t be recycled anyway)
  • Newspaper
  • Tissues
  • Brown paper bags with food stains from takeout
  • Greasy pizza box
  • Shredded paper (even if it is shredded office paper, it cannot be recycled)

As for composting, it is better to add lower quality paper that is less likely to be recycled. In addition, adding paper is good for the health of your compost pile, helps keep it from being smelly, and absorbs water.

Unfortunately, some paper products can’t be recycled or composted and have to be reused or ultimately end up in the trash can.

Landfill

  • Plastic coated paper products like coffee cups
  • Glittery, glossy, and metallic wrapping paper
  • Glittery tissue paper

So there you go!

There are some other things to remember though.

  1. When buying paper products, opt for post-consumer recycled content to save as many trees as possible. There needs to be a demand for it!
  2. Soley composting high-quality paper keeps those good fibers from the production stream, meaning there is less recycled paper to work with, also meaning more virgin resources being used.

 

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An Audit of Our Recycling

Yeah, our recycling in Chicago is pretty much the pits.

I am pretty skeptical that anything we put in the recycling bin actually gets recycled, and that is why many people don’t even bother. I totally get that.

But recycling is a habit that I don’t plan on breaking.

We have a legitimate recycling bin in our house and it was one of my most favorite Christmas gifts. That’s right, I wanted and received a recycling bin for Christmas a number of years ago! I feel no shame!

recycling audit3

Our bin gets filled up every week or so, depending on what is going on. When it is full, I take it downstairs and dump it into the recycling tote sans bag like you’re supposed to.

Since I basically recycle on autopilot, I wanted to actually pay attention to what is in my recycling bin by taking an audit of what’s inside. 

Below is probably about a week’s worth of recycling. 

recycling audit1

 We have:

  • 1 dishwasher detergent bottle
  • 1 cardboard beer caddy
  • 4 glass bottles
  • 1 aluminum can
  • 2 plastic salad containers
  • 3 cardboard boxes
  • 1 plastic bottle
  • 1 aluminum takeout container
  • 1 milk carton
  • 3 paper bags
  • 1 pile of junk mail, envelopes, newspaper and paper

That’s not too bad. We can definitely do a better job of buying plastic-free lettuce, and we usually get milk in returnable glass bottles. 

Each week is different and I am going to start noticing what goes into my bin more and see where I can make changes.

Up next, a waste audit! Yup, going to go through the garbage. Stay tuned! 

Registering for Things that Will Last

Apparently, the time has come for us to register for wedding gifts.

At first, I thought there was nothing that we really, truly, needed. Maybe some new towels and sheets. But the more I looked at it, the more I realized this was a time in our lives to upgrade to high-quality items that could legitimately last forever.

We have recently started figuring out where and what we want to register for. As we walked between three different options, K said: “I want the items on this registry to last the rest of our lives.”

And that has basically become the theme of our registries. We are looking for tools that are made from stainless steel and glass, not cheap plastic.

 

william sonoma

image: William Sonoma

 

For instance, K really wants a mandolin to slice vegetables nice and thin. As I have looked about for them, the only ones I can find are mostly made of plastic. I was shocked because the mandolin my mom has is entirely made of metal and that is what I thought all mandolins were made of.

Alternative facts. Fake news.

Just like my grandma’s, we want our pots and pans to able to be used by our grandchildren 65 years later.

copper pans

We use my grandmother’s copper bottomed pots that she received for her own wedding shower in 1955.

No matter what the stores tell us we need to register for, we are only going to register for items we are going to use in the long run. We don’t need fine china. We are not going to register for a fondue set because it’s on a list somewhere.

I have made it a habit to poll all my married friends and family on what they use the most and the least from their wedding registry.  Hopefully, down the road, we will be able to say we use absolutely everything.

 

 

Beach Clean up with Zero Waste Chicago

Cool things are happening in Chicago, and the creation of Zero Waste Chicago is one of them.

They host monthly events and this month they asked me to lead a beach clean up since I am an Adopt-A-Beach Team Leader. (Check out my other clean up posts here, here, here, and here.)

We headed down to 31st Street Beach, a beach I have not been to or cleaned up before.

31st street beach

For a Tuesday night, it sure was hopping. Families were out barbequing and kids were splashing in the water, trying to squeeze the last few days of summer before back to school.

31st street beach2

A great crew of volunteers showed up and spread out all over the beach armed with bags and litter monitoring surveys.

31st street beach3

Overall, we collected 35.66 lbs of trash, recycling, and compost!

31st street beach4

Some highlights:

  • 609 cigarette butts
  • 221 food wrappers
  • 200 pieces of plastic
  • 135 metal bottle caps
  • 110 pieces of foam
  • 94 pieces of glass
  • 69 balloons
  • 56 pieces of paper
  • 54 plastic bags
  • 46 straws
  • 18 band-aids
  • 7 hair ties
  • 1 razor
  • 1 tampon
  • 1 condom

 

 

How I Pack My Lunch

Back to the days of packing my lunch for work!

I pretty much never buy lunch and I never did even in my school days when we could purchase “hot lunch.”

 

 

snacktaxi1

Locally produced turkey sandwich

 

Not only does this practice save me money, but it also saves on food packaging and waste. Ziploc bags are never on my shopping list because I use SnackTaxis to hold all my snacks and lunch essentials.

snacktaxi2

I have had them for a number of years and I love them. They are machine washable and I just let them air dry over night. They even stand up to a PB&J with a bit too much jelly. Just wipe it off and toss in the washer!

Their fun designs also can make a boring lunch a little bit more exciting! And my lunches are pretty boring (see the turkey sandwich with just bread and turkey above).

snacktaxi5

My handy lunch bag has also been hanging around since my college days and it too is machine washable. So when I leave something in there just a little too long and it starts to get a bit funky, that can easily be fixed.

snacktaxi6

For foods that cannot go in a SnackTaxi, I just use Pyrex glass containers for everything from yogurt to soup. Yeah, glass is heavy, but whatever, bring on the muscles!

snacktaxi4

Our regular silverware from home comes with me to work when necessary and then I just bring it home every day to pop in the dishwasher. I don’t find it to be any extra work.

snacktaxi3

On top of all the other necessary pieces, I keep a napkin in my drawer at my desk! It definitely comes in handy when I am eating a juicy peach or there is a snack to grab in the break room.

How do you keep your work day lunches package-free?