By Laura Turner Seydel

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just released its most recent waste and recycling facts and figures, and reported that in 2010 Americans generated about 250 million tons of waste. Break it down and that means you personally throw away 4.43 pounds of refuse each day.  However, of that 250 million tons of waste, we recycled 85 million tons, for a national recycling rate of 34 percent.

The Tellus Institute (tellus.org), a non-profit research institute focused on environmental and social challenges, sees a need for improvement. In their report “More Jobs, Less Pollution: Growing the Recycling Economy,” they summarized that if we could increase the national recycling rate to 75 percent by the year 2030, our planet would see a monumental decrease in pollution and a much needed improvement in public health. Carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced by 276 million metric tons, the equivalent of taking 50 million cars off the road, and create more than 1.5 million jobs nationwide. Both would have a major impact on our overall economy.

Reaching this 75 percent recycling rate is easier for some states than others, specifically the 10 states who support the Container Deposit Law. These states, including Connecticut, California, and Vermont, provide a small monetary incentive to return beverage bottles and cans for recycling. Since Georgia is not one of these states, we have to work harder to do our part. Luckily, we are blessed with many in town organizations, like Georgia Recycling Coalition (georgiarecycles.org), Keep Atlanta Beautiful (keepatlantabeautiful.org) and Atlanta Recycles (atlantarecycles.com), who are each dedicated to educating, motivating, and inspiring us to do our part. From monthly newsletters to hosting electronics recycling drop-offs, these organizations have become instrumental in helping our community citizens become more avid and responsible recyclers.

In your day-to-day, think about the products you consume and how you can get creative to reduce, reuse or recycle to minimize your overall personal waste stream. Refrain from using one-use, throwaway plastic items, like drinking straws. Did you know that Americans throw away 500 million straws a day? That’s enough to fill 127 school buses, so you can imagine their impact alone on our landfills (bestrawfree.org).  Also, make sure you use reusable shopping bags whenever possible, use reusable glass food storage containers instead of disposable containers when storing leftovers, and simply place a recycling bin next to your trashcan to remind you to think twice before throwing something away. With our powers combined, we can make a difference for our community, state, and planet.

For more eco-living tips and news, visit lauraseydel.com.