Chances are you recycle your newspapers, plastic bottles and cans; you pass on your used books and magazines to friends and your outgrown children's clothes to your neighbor; you BYOB when you shop; you made holiday cards with recycled paper; and the garland that surrounded your fireplace has now found a second life as mulch in your garden.
As a whole, our villages are getting quite good at this recycling thing. According to county statistics, Westchester's residential recycling rate in 2008 was around the 51 percent mark (the EPA's national recommended goal that year was 35 percent). Our efforts to keep unnecessary waste out of our landfills truly deserve a collective pat on the back.
But this may also be the perfect opportunity to give ourselves a little push on the back, a gentle nudge to challenge ourselves to explore even more ways to reduce our waste in the New Year.
We've talked about reducing and recycling over the past few days. Today brings us to the final and sometimes most challenging action in the famous eco-trilogy, and that is to reuse.
Give your trash a second chance (it's not as bad as it sounds)
When it comes to trash, the term "reuse" will no doubt strike fear in some. Images of re-purposing broken plates and old sweaters into Etsy.com masterpieces may first come to mind, yet, when you break it down, reusing is more about using common sense than it is about wielding a glue gun.
Reusing is about giving something that you might normally toss in the trash a chance at a second life. It's also about substituting an item you might use only once or twice with one that can be used over and over again.
Best part: when you begin a routine of reusing, you'll become enlightened to the actual amount of waste that you create each and everyday. No matter how diligent we are about recycling, a "waste not, want not" attitude will ultimately be our greatest contribution to the planet.
Here are some easy ways to begin reusing in the New Year:
1) Give your family an organic yard waste compost bin and lessen your home's waste output by 25 percent right of the bat.
The benefits: nutrient rich (and free!) topsoil, a more tailored grocery list (compost a few unused, fuzzy vegetables and you'll understand what I mean) and a quarter cut in garbage bags costs.
The Sheldrake Environmental Center will once again be hosting The Westchester County Master Composter & Recycler Course in March. Stay on the lookout for the dates and times for this six-week course taught by environmental educator Jennifer Jensen.
2) Re-think your paper habits and take control over how much paper comes into your your home this year.
This does not mean forgoing your favorite magazines and newspapers or skipping traditional holiday cards. Instead, it's a suggestion to simply investigate your family's paper trail, eliminating the unnecessary and reusing where you can.
Easy ways to get started: Stop unwanted junk mail and reduce your mailbox waste by up to 75 percent. Register today with The Direct Marketing Association. For a $1 fee, they will help you finally get your name off all those pesky mailing lists. Catalogchoice.org offers a free program to do the same, targeting unwanted catalogs.
Do your banking online and eliminate the need for paper bills. Let your printer and fax machine do double duty by always reusing the blank side of unwanted printouts.
Consider sending e-cards and paperless invites throughout the year. If you can't resist the urge to send out a proper card, chose one that is made from recycled paper or whose profits help to fund a local charity.
A great snow day project: Take the cards you received in December and have your kids turn them into photo collages of friends and family to display in their rooms. Turn the rest of the cards into gift tags for next year and recycle all leftover scraps.
3) Stop using disposable plastic bags by investing in reusable and recycled bags and containers. Whether shopping, packing lunch or storing leftovers in reusable containers or throwing out your trash in recycled trash bags, the future lies in using more eco-friendly plastics in 2010.
Same thing goes for single-use drink bottles and take-out coffee cups. Sadly, according to The Daily Green, only around 20 percent of used plastic bottles actually end up in the county's recycling plants. Disposable paper cups don't fair much better. I predict a good, old fashioned thermos will be this season's hottest accessory.
4) Planning a renovation this year? Enlist the help of either Build It Green NYC or Habitat for Humanity. These non-profit organizations are helping to keep hundreds of tons of unnecessary building material waste out of our landfills. Not only will they help place your unwanted kitchen cabinets, bathroom fixtures and doors, but your donations will be tax deductible as well.
For other reuse options for home improvement projects, Build It Green NYC offers a great lineup of local resources.
Extra credit: Identify all daily disposables in your home and substitute them for the reusable kind, just like our grandparents used to do. They survived without paper towels and napkins, disposable razors, take-out utensils and individually wrapped food and snack packaging, didn't they?
Ahh, don't you feel greener already?