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Responsible Recycling Options for Apartment Dwellers

Recycling is an important environmental duty that demonstrates good stewardship of the resources we’ve been given, saving both materials and energy while reducing waste. Many cities provide tax-paying homeowners with both curbside waste and recycling pickup, and a large number of apartment complexes provide recycle bins for their residents near trash dumpsters. In fact, valet trash services used by some facilities also take recyclables.

Environmental duties aside, what if your apartment complex or single unit doesn’t include a recycling program? What do you do with your recyclables? If you live in a particularly small apartment, do you even have the space to recycle?

These are questions I grappled with while living in apartments without convenient recycling options. My current home offers a valet trash service that also takes recyclables (and sorts them!), but it hasn’t always been as easy to have a clear environmental conscience. The good news is that you do have feasible alternatives for maintaining a recycling habit regardless of where and how small you live.

No Recycling Program? Ask For One.

The first matter of business if you live in a complex that doesn’t offer a recycling program is to lobby for one. Talk to management, send emails to the main office, and express your desire for this important service. Find out if any of your neighbors feel the same way by posting a flyer near the mailboxes or common area, asking for collaboration. The more people around you that want a program, the more pressure your facility will feel to provide it. A good argument is that if your facility already provides waste service, there may be an affiliated recycling service that can be easily added on at little or no additional cost.

Recycling on Your Own (or with a Neighbor)

Meanwhile, you can still recycle on your own, but it will require a trip to the nearest recycling center every few weeks. Don’t know where your recycling center is? Find one at earth911.com. Be sure to follow the center’s instructions for how to sort and prepare your recycling to stay on good terms. Many centers will also pay you for valuable materials. If any of your neighbors have expressed a desire to recycle, see if you can take turns rotating drop-off duty. Otherwise, plan your errand route so it becomes just another part of your weekly routine.

Recycling Storage

Even if you transport recyclables to bins outside your apartment, it’s important to have a convenient location to accumulate materials on a day to day basis. The best advice is to keep just one container for all your recycling. Yes, they have to be sorted by material when they reach their final destination, but maintaining one container will save space in your apartment and eliminate the need to sort when you’re in a hurry.

Ideally, you’ll want to keep your recycling bin in or near the kitchen, where most of your recyclable materials are emptied, and there’s sink access to thoroughly clean containers before throwing them in the bin. If you go with one bin, make it larger than your trash to encourage more recycling versus pitching (if you recycle everything that’s eligible, there should be much less going in your trash, anyway).

A simple trash can will usually do the job, but if you want to sort as you go or find something more aesthetically appealing, there are numerous cheap options across the Web, ranging from individual plastic bins to three-drawer units. IKEA options alone are anywhere from $3 to $60. Another easy idea is to label a few color-coded canvas tote bags and hang them from hooks to free up floor space.

Reducing Recycling

The less recyclable materials you create, the less frequently you’ll have to unload your bin or make a trip to the recycling center —another practical perk of minimal living. Here are a few ways to reduce your recycling load:

  • Drink less soda. Soda is bad for you, anyway, but that’s a different subject. If you can’t cut out your syrupy beverages, consider getting a Soda Stream device to save on all those aluminum cans in your recycling.
  • Avoid buying bottled water. Install a filter attachment to your faucet or purchase a filtering water pitcher/dispenser that will fit right in your refrigerator.
  • Use reusable shopping bags. Tired of wads of trashy-looking plastic bags you just have to return to store, anyway? Purchase a few cheap canvas tote bags and leave them in the back of your vehicle or on your coat rack so you won’t forget to take them when you go for groceries. Not only do they reduce your accumulation of non-recyclable plastics, they hold a lot more and don’t rip as easily. If you live in an upstairs apartment, you’ll truly appreciate this.

Recycling Isn’t Always Easy

The truth is that recycling can be tedious and inconvenient, but so are many other worthwhile pursuits and disciplines in life. Following these tips and eliminating excuses for recycling regardless of how much space you have or how convenient it is will, if nothing else, ensure you reap self-satisfaction in doing the right thing.

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