Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

About recycling, a hard truth & what we can do October 27, 2022

A graphic on a recycling dumpster in Northfield inspires. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

JUST INSIDE OUR GARAGE, a green plastic tote rests on a shelf. It’s located a few quick steps from the kitchen door, providing easy access to our temporary recycling box. Once the box fills, Randy dumps the contents into the official hideous dark-blue-with-bright-yellow-lid plastic recycling bin. Every other week the refuse hauler picks up our recyclables for delivery to the Rice County Recycling Center.

The City of Northfield “Youth Live Green Recycling Team” program aims to get youth involved in recycling corrugated cardboard. Participating groups get monetary funds for monitoring the public recycling containers, keeping the area clean and informing the public about cardboard recycling. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Now I should feel mostly good about that, right? I’m placing milk jugs and other plastics, cans, newspapers, envelopes, an excessive amount of campaign mailings, other paper products and more into recycling. I’m doing my part to keep stuff out of the landfill, to protect the environment.

Rules on a recycling container in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But when it comes to plastic, most of my efforts may be for naught, according to a recent report by the environmental education and awareness group Greenpeace. The nonprofit shared that less than five percent of recycled plastics are made into new products. Why? Simply put, it’s costly to collect and sort the plastics. I’m not surprised by that explanation. Money factors into most business decisions.

Youth and adults painted a mural on Just Food Co-op, Northfield. Among the themes, Mother Earth. Rice County Neighbors United led the grant-funded project. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Yet, I’ll continue to recycle and hope for an environmentally-friendly shift in attitudes on both consumer and corporate levels. We as consumers need to consciously choose non-plastics. I’m as guilty as anyone else in not thinking often enough about what I personally can do to reduce my use of plastics, focusing on reduce before I focus on recycle.

Mother Earth in progress on the Just Food Co-op mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

What am I doing right? This has nothing to do with plastic, but rather with reducing energy use. I either line dry my laundry outdoors or indoors on drying racks, with the exception of sheets and towels in the brutal cold of winter. Come a 40-degree sunny January day, though, and you will find my laundry on the line, snow layering the ground.

Mother Earth a month later. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I also buy used. And I donate or give away—rather than toss—items I no longer need. The boulevard along our busy street has proven an ideal location to give away a swing set, bookcase, headboard, recliner and much more. Recently Randy and I hauled several purple dove tail drawers from a vintage school art table to a downtown shop, Lily of the Valley. The owner sells repurposed furniture, gifts, clothing and more in her boutique and I figured she could use the drawers to display merchandise or come up with some other creative use. We kept the maple top to possibly reuse ourselves.

Then there’s our yard. We live in a city with a compost center, a place to haul leaves and plants that are composted, basically recycled back into a nutrient-rich natural fertilizer for flowerbeds and gardens. This time of year we make multiple trips to the compost site to dump off mulched leaves fallen from the single tree on our property and from neighborhood trees. I feel good that we are keeping yard waste out of the landfill. I use some of the leaves as winter mulch for my flowerbeds.

A shopper rolls out her cart of purchases in reusable bags. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Sometimes I use cloth tote bags while grocery shopping, but sometimes I don’t. I could do better.

Northfield’s recycling containers are outside two grocery stores. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My efforts may not seem like much in the all of the environment. Yet, I know the recycling, the reusing, the things I do matter. What you do matters. Together we can make a difference by our choices.

TELL ME: Do you recycle? I’d like to hear more about your efforts to protect the environment.

FYI: To read the Greenpeace report on plastic recycling, click here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


13 Responses to “About recycling, a hard truth & what we can do”

  1. beth Says:

    I think we all do what we can to help the greater cause and that will help the collective, at least make the outcome a little less worse

  2. I come from a long line of recyclers — my parents recycled long before it was cool. Having 3 wildlife biologists in the family also encourages me to be mindful. I have also used reusable grocery bags since we got used to doing that when we lived in Australia. I read the same article about plastics but I am hopeful that things will shift to make it more economic to recycle those plastics.

  3. I was reading your post and I thought about how much plastic is around us. From the things we use to those that we buy. We do our part in using a recycling bin. The city offers pick up on the curb for lawn debris. There are people that come around to scrap metal. My work organization does a recycle the tech annually (i.e., laptops, printers, etc.). We recycle, reuse, donate, etc. as much as we can. We can all take part and every thing helps. Happy Day – Enjoy

  4. Valerie Says:

    I recycle as much as I can. And reuse, repurpose, and buy at thrift stores and give away to thrift stores/charities. It’s frustrating to see such waste in packaging…

  5. S.Bessingpas Says:

    There are so many little things that collectively can make a big difference. Always bring your own bags when shopping, both for groceries and other things. Learn to bake your own bread and other baked goods. That eliminates a lot of plastic and wasteful packaging and is more economical too. Buy from farmers markets and direct from producers. Don’t buy produce wrapped in extra packaging or plastic boxes..wash your zip lock bags and reuse them. Use empty mayo and peanut butter jars or mason jars instead of buying Rubbermaid or hefty take alongs..our library has a free table for magazines you are finished reading..buy in bulk from a food coop and bring your own containers ..refill gallon jugs of water and use a personal water bottle instead of buying individual water bottles. I could go on and on..I do not have garbage pickup and recycle everything that comes into the house..our county has an incinerator that burns everything burnable to generate heat that heats our hospital and other buildings in town and has bins for anything compostable and they sell the compost every spring for gardens..there is even a big bin for clothing and other fiber items that get recycled.

    • I appreciate all of your suggestions. This is a great list of practical ideas that any one of us could implement. I’m impressed by all your county does. Thank you for taking the time to comment in detail on this topic.

  6. Nice blog topic! Do we have any idea where those things that are plastic and recycled are really going to? Here there was a report this last week that found here (The Netherlands- which has a robust recycling program that is easy for all people to use) was no longer shipping the plastics to China to be recycled but to Turkey. Great if they were being reused or recycled into useable plastic items again, but the investigation found that most of it was dumped back into the environment and was breaking down into smaller and smaller micro plastics that were running into the waterways and polluting the soils!🤨😳👎👎👎👎 So even when each of us try’s to do better sometimes the results are the same. I think we should all know the following, where and how our food is produced, how the products we use effectively reduces waste, and to reuse what we can before throwing it out, lastly… if you don’t need it don’t buy it!!! All these tools helps our pocket books, our neighbors, and our entire planet!
    Thanks for sharing your efforts Audrey.😊

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