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By Ronald Missel

Friday is America Recycles Day. It’s a reminder to all of us that recycling starts with the individual. Some of the recycling process is straightforward (the blue box); other recycling requires a little investigation and additional effort. Regardless, an improved recycle rate is good for the environment, the landscape and our health.

Today, about 35 percent of waste is recycled in the United States. That percentage is increasing each year but it’s not nearly as good as it can be. Case in point: San Francisco recycles almost 80 percent of its waste. By comparison, New York State is at 35 percent, and Buffalo and New York City around 16 percent, although Buffalo’s rate is increasing thanks to new city-provided totes and more aggressive recycle initiatives. Needless to say, however, there is much room for improvement.

Why is recycling so important? For one, we keep the size and number of landfills down by keeping out unnecessary waste, like plastic products that take hundreds of years to break down. Also, extracting and processing raw materials such as crude oil and bauxite to make products can be energy intensive. Making the same items from recycled materials eliminates the need for that additional energy.

Crude oil (petrochemicals) is the basis for making synthetic fibers found in many of our clothing and plastic products. But recycled plastic, such as from water bottles, can be used to make some of those products. Similarly, mining and refining bauxite, the raw material in aluminum, is extremely energy intensive, so more than 90 percent of the aluminum produced today is recycled.

Going forward, what can we do? First, get rid of the mind-set, “I’ll just throw it out.” Instead, assume there is something that can be done with any item or material you intend to dispose of, then determine what your options are. Items that can be recycled curbside are fairly obvious, but check your municipal website if you’re unsure. Some items, like batteries, electronics and hazardous waste, can’t be recycled curbside but can often be dropped off at a town, village or city facility, or on a specified day dedicated to that item. Other items may have to be taken outside of your municipality.

A great resource is the website earth911.com. Or log into the Buffalo Recycling Alliance website for general recycle information and specific recycle options: ppgbuffalo.org/citizen-power/buffalo-recycling-alliance/.

We can all take actions that contribute to a better environment. In addition to buying a more fuel-efficient vehicle or making our homes more energy efficient, we can ramp up our recycling efforts. It may seem like a small contribution, but collectively it can make a really big difference.

Ronald Missel is Sierra Club representative to the Buffalo Recycling Alliance and writes a recycling column for the Sierra Club Trailblazer.