In elementary school, we used to have docents come in to teach the class about alternating topics. I remember horsehair brushes were distributed to my classmates and I when we learned about Chinese ink painting, and I remember our ensuing field trip to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. A docent came to my fifth grade class one day to discuss waste with us. I learned the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” slogan and the unmistakable triangular shaped circulating three arrowed icon was burned into my brain. I couldn’t stop thinking about the process: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and in that order. It always made so much sense to me, like the way math makes so much sense to some people (read: not me). Our ensuing field trip to the Davis Street Waste Management site in Oakland was an event I will never forget. Each of my classmates and I were given shoelaces made from recycled plastic water bottles, and my nine-year-old mind was blown when I attempted to consider how the plastic was transformed into the soft, synthetic material that made the new shoelaces. In red writing, the shoelaces read “I used to be a plastic water bottle”. I never laced them in my shoes, I kept them on my desk in my bedroom to look at and remember from time to time.

This lifestyle weaved itself into my life and ultimately became a personality trait. I was very adamant about proper waste sorting techniques throughout the rest of my formative years in my parent’s home. It didn’t make sense to me how this didn’t make sense to other people. My older brother in specific would purposefully throw plastic recyclable water bottles in the trash bin to get a rise out of me. It’s been years since we lived together in high school, but he still throws food waste in the trash bin.

I want to teach people to understand and appreciate recycling and compost the same way I do. People have so much going on in their life, it’s hard to compartmentalize new information that goes against everything they have done for their entire life. It’s hard to kick old habits and retain new information. That’s why I want this resource to remain static and available for everyone who has recognized the benefit of sustainable practices.

If you live in an urbanized area, chances are you have three bins on the side yard of your house, in your parking garage, or perhaps on the street. Do note that these bins vary in colour, for some reason, but typical waste diversion programs will brand recycling to be blue (although I have seen gray), gray to be trash, and green to be compost. The idea of branding certain colours to each bin is really such that it’s easier for the consumer to identify their garbage’s destination. This isn’t to brainwash you, it’s like learning that green means go, yellow means slow, and red means stop. It’s the same idea with sorting waste. In this case, blue (or your recycling) means dry paper, cardboard, empty bottles, cans, etc. Green (or your compost) means food waste/scraps, yard or organic material, soiled paper products, etc. Gray (trash) means anything that doesn’t fit within the previous categories.

These three coloured bins aren’t meant to represent the colours of a stoplight, but to help associate your trash with bin locations. However, I want to emphasize that technically all waste should be reduced so look at each bin like you’re at a yellow light. Take time to consider. Look at the item in your hand and think about which bin it belongs in. It does become more natural to sort effectively, but for now taking the time to pause and think about the next step is important in the learning process.

I plan to update more about the basics of recyclable vs disposable plastics, what their numbers mean, and substitute materials.

Join Sustainability Champions

Join 20,000 other sustainability champions to receive sustainability stories, eco inspiration and environmental updates every week! We cover everything sustainablility so learn, grow and share together.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.