Let’s talk trash: Recycling and composting at home

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May 4, 2020

Grace Tai



In times of crisis, it’s heartwarming to know that so many people are asking, How can I help? We’ve been asking the same question. With food insecurity soaring in the United States, we felt it was pertinent that before we did anything else, we would donate toward this need first. The Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) team partnered with the San Francisco Marin food bank to raise $1000 then matched that donation with another $1000. Cash is often the biggest constraint with food banks, and a little can go a long way. For every $1 that you give, the food bank provides two meals for those in need.

Our second initiative turned toward our own homes. The Contentful team is spending a lot of time at home, and there’s a good chance you’re in the same position. We’re all learning to rely on small joys like cooking a delicious meal or ordering take away from a local restaurant. With most stores closed that stock non-essential items, we’re also ordering more items from online stores.

A side effect of this new way of consumption is that we’re producing a lot more household waste. In an average year, the United States produces more than 262m tons of municipal waste, with more than half going to landfills. Only 35 percent of this waste is recycled.

A small upside of being home so much is that some of us have more time on our hands. We thought this would be the perfect time to up our recycling and composting game. The CSR held a lunch & learn where we covered topics such as the types of packaging that could be recycled, how to “pre-cycle,” and what you need to start a home countertop compost. We highly encourage doing a similar Lunch & Learn with your team. In the meantime, here is what we learned.

Recycling 101: How to up your recycling game  

When we learn how to recycle more and recycle smarter, we’re keeping trash out of the landfill. Germany, one of the most efficient recycling countries, recycles about 68% of their municipal or household waste. That’s almost double what the U.S. recycles. Here are our tips: 

  1. You can’t recycle or compost as many things as most people think. It’s important to “pre-cycle” and start by looking at your purchasing habits. While recycling is good, reducing your household waste is better. Did you know that common household items like paper towels and unwashed plastic utensils end up in landfills? Think before you buy, and buy items you know can be recycled or composted. 

  2. By including items in your recycling that aren’t clean, dry, or empty, you’re making things worse. Dirty items can contaminate the items around them in the trash and the result is that everything gets sent to landfill. It’s the reason why items like greasy pizza boxes and used napkins can’t be recycled –– too much residue stops an item from being recyclable. Before you put items into your recycling, treat them like your dirty dishes. Give them a wash and dry them on a rack before putting them into your recycling. 

  3. Smaller isn’t better. Items that are smaller than a credit card cannot be recycled (except paper).   

  4. If you’re not sure something can be recycled, don’t just throw it in there. Including non-recyclables in your recyclables slows down the whole process, and can lead to your whole bag of recycling being sent to landfill. Educate yourself about your city's recycling program; what might get recycled in one country is sent to a landfill in the next. 

  5. Order from online shops that use eco-friendly packaging that you can recycle. More and more brands are using “dirt bags,” which are 100% biodegradable and can be composted. The next best thing is cardboard. The worst is plastic sacks. 

The important thing to remember with recycling is that even though it seems small, it does matter. Whatever you do, keep trying to do your best. That’s the most important thing.  

Countertop composting: Easier than you think  

Did you know that when you compost your organic materials, they don’t produce as much methane? On the other hand, when organic materials are sent to a landfill, they decompose without oxygen and release more methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. 

By starting a kitchen compost bucket, you can help keep your organic materials out of landfill. When most people think of a compost pile, they think of a smelly tub of rotting materials in the backyard, but did you know that it’s really easy to compost from your kitchen counter? All you need is a compost bin and compostable bin bags. If you’re worried about the smell, or your bin has the feature, you can purchase charcoal filters. Once your countertop bucket is full, it’s easy to transfer your organic material to your outside rotating bin, compost pile, or your local composting drop-off point. 

Once you have your bin, you can compost: 

  • Anything edible, but you need to avoid meat and bones because they will attract rats and meat-eating bugs. 

  • Paper products soiled with food such as paper plates or napkins  

  • Anything that is marked “compostable” including coffee filters (and coffee grounds), egg cartons and packaging like dirt bags which are clearly marked for composting. 

It’s important to keep your compost aerated and moist. You can do this by shaking your compost bin, or getting in there with a small trowel. By incorporating air, you're giving your compost a better chance of breaking down. Every week, you can dampen your compost with a spray bottle. If it gets too swampy or wet, add in more dry absorbent materials like shredded newspaper or torn-up egg cartons.  

Now what?  

The next part where you dispose of what you’ve collected in your compost bin depends on which city you live in. Some places, such as Germany, have special compost bins that are treated like your other bins and emptied regularly. Other cities require you to take your compost to a composting location. 

Are you interested in learning more about environmental CSR policies? You can learn how to craft an impactful corporate social responsibility document for sustainability here

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