I don’t have to extol the virtues of recycling. It’s like buckling up in the car: If you’re not doing it at this point, it’s because you’re ignoring it, not because you’re ignorant. But while I’m glad there are so many people who dutifully sort their stuff every week, it’s time to step it up. Because, really, how hard is it to stack your newspapers in a pile?

That’s why, on a sunny Saturday during a recent trip to Colorado, I worked with the folks at Eco-Cycle (ecocycle.org), a Boulder-based organization on the forefront of the zero-waste movement. Zero waste, if you can’t tell by the name, is all about doing everything possible to keep stuff out of landfills by reducing, reusing, and recycling. Throughout the day I spent with Eco-Cycle, people brought in all kinds of hard-to-recycle items like lawn furniture, toilets, and kids’ plastic toys, which we then sorted for recycling of some kind or another. Consider this your primer on the lifestyle—oh, yes, the lifestyle—that is extreme recycling.


That’s right, be choosy about who you recycle with. “Some people get upset that they have to pay to recycle certain items, like hard drives,” explains Kary Schumpert, Eco-Cycle’s Longmont community outreach coor­dinator, as we direct the business end of a donated toilet to the commode holding pen. But many free programs just ship their e-waste to African and Asian countries, Schumpert says, creating dumping sites around the world. Organizations that are part of the Basel Action Network (ban.org) ensure American trash is recycled responsibly—within the US.


Yes, worm bins are one of the greatest ways to compost because they poop out rich soil for you to use in your garden. “Worms make great pets: They don’t bark, you don’t have to walk them, and they don’t mind if you come home late from work,” Schumpert says. Point taken, but if you’re squeamish about having creepy crawlies in your kitchen, she’s willing to let it slide and suggests a regular tumbler composter or a chicken-wire bin in your backyard. But worms are definitely more hardcore.


Don’t worry, this isn’t a call for DIY or an endorsement of the Home Shopping Network. Eco-Cycle’s anti-overconsumption philosophy means that if you have a fancy apple peeler whose blade has become dull (guilty as charged), you don’t throw it out and buy a new one—you find out if the company sells replacement blades. In my case, they do. Duh. Now take this realization and apply it to everything in your house.


You know the drill: Every time you print single-sided, a giant redwood clutches its trunk and dies. Okay, not really, but simple stuff can save a bundle. Eco-Cycle also recommends asking to see if office managers can arrange a monthly supply swap with other divisions in your company or building. I mean, who needs to continue stockpiling highlighters for the end of the world? “Next, you can get your office cafeteria to begin composting,” Schumpert says. Let’s baby-step it with the highlighters first, though. Which brings me to the last tip I picked up from Eco-Cycle ...


It’s often overwhelming to reduce in-home consumption all at once, so Schumpert suggests zero-wasting one room at a time, beginning you know where. “If you haven’t already, put in a low-flow showerhead; cut back on your toilet’s water consumption by putting a weighted two-liter bottle in the tank; and take shorter showers,” she says. While riding that wave of accomplishment, zero-waste the next room. “People get too hung up on the zero in zero waste,” Schumpert adds. “You do what you can and it will build.”

Story by Annemarie Conte. This article originally appeared in Plenty in August 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008.