What I Learned From Doing A School Recycling Audit

One of my responsibilities as a Recycling Ambassador for my city involves conducting “recycling audits” on local schools. These audits aid schools in bettering their recycling practices by pointing out areas of improvement. After auditing schools, I gained a better understanding of what works in encouraging large groups of people (kids and adults) to properly recycle. So use these tips if you are looking to encourage better recycling practices at your office, school, or other community space!

  • Put trash next to the recycling. Like. RIGHT NEXT TO IT. Don’t stick it 5 feet away. Otherwise, people will just throw things away in whatever is closest/most convenient.
  • Put trash and recycling cans next to all exits, under sinks, in hallways, and in bathrooms. These are the top locations that people will be looking to pitch items.
  • Signs, signs everywhere. Preferably with pictures. Make it very clear what items go in each container. You would be surprised to learn how many times I’ve been asked whether paper towels can be recycled. (The answer is no. However, it can be composted!)
  • Make sure your janitorial staff is aware of the recycling guidelines in your city (i.e. recycling must either be unbagged or bagged in clear bags; glass and paper should be recycled separately, etc.). Put up guidelines (with pictures) in any cleaning closets. Ensure that trash and recycling are ending up in the correct outdoor dumpsters.
  • Finally — educate those around you. Tell people WHY they should recycle. Find out what would incentivize them to recycle more. Teach them about better recycling practices.
Encourage recycling at your school or office pin.
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My Zero Waste Fails

Zero or low waste is not about perfection. You do not need to fit all your trash in a mason jar or give up everything you love that comes in a non-recyclable wrapper. It is about being mindful. About finding alternatives when you can. Purchasing thoughtfully (good quality, not too much). With that said, I’ve definitely had some zero waste failures on my quest to send less to the landfill.

Here are my failed experiments:

  • DIY kefir: My husband drinks kefir every single morning. Sure, the kefir container is a highly recyclable plastic #2 but I do try and minimize plastic use (since plastics are downcycled). So. I decided to try and make kefir. And, yeah. Nope. My project lasted 2 months but it was. SO. MUCH. WORK. Taking care of kefir grains was like having an additional pet in the house. And the resulting kefir tasted nowhere near as good as what my husband drank every morning. Alas. The homemade kefir had to go.
  • Bulk rice: This one was an easy decision. Rice from the bulk section was SIGNIFICANTLY more expensive than the huge bags you can find at any Asian grocery store. To the point that it was absolutely not worth it to buy in the bulk section. I learned this the hard way when I needed just a bit of rice, didn’t look at the price (because how expensive could it be?!), and ended up paying a whopping $8 for a tiny bag. Nowadays, I just pop in to my parents’ place (where they are always getting huge bags of rice) and refilling my small rice container.
  • Home grown herbs: Obviously, this is easy to find at the grocery store and stick in my own bag — but I wanted to go one step further and grow herbs at home, reducing the need to pop in to the store every time I wanted a little something-something for my meals + drinks (since herbs really do taste best when fresh). Unfortunately, this didn’t work out for me (because I’m a terrible plant mom). But really, there wasn’t a great lighting spot (that my dogs couldn’t get to) to grow herbs indoor. I experimented with a grow light but the results were mediocre. For now, buying herbs at the store and drying/freezing what I don’t use shall suffice.
  • Natural deodorant: You know, the ones that come in lovely recyclable glass jars. The Meow Meow Tweet one (without baking soda) actually worked incredibly well for me UNTIL I started a SSRI. A lovely side effect for me was sweat. The stinky kind. Therefore, for the good of society, I had to switch back to a regular deodorant. The empty tubes go to TerraCycle.
  • Store bought flowers: I’m a sucker for making floral arrangements using various inexpensive bundles from Trader Joe’s. Unfortunately, these are always wrapped in wasteful plastic. And I have yet to find a floral market nearby. This is definitely a “luxury item” for me these days.

There you have it. What are your zero waste fails?

My zero waste failures Pinterest pin image.
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