Conservation Station: Back to School (Part 2): Recycling 201

By Stacy Martin on September 10, 2012 from Conservation Station via

Well, we are now fully back into the school season and football, soccer, cheerleading, and all of the other numerous after-school activities are in full swing.  Last week I went back to the basics with the 3 “R’s” – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, but now you are ready for the more advanced, detailed lesson on recycling (if only real school moved this fast).    This is a lesson focused on additional terms, some biodegradation timeframes, and some great ideas.  So get your pencils out, your glue gun ready, and let’s get busy!
Terms & Definitions:
Biodegradable – able to break down or decompose rapidly under natural conditions and processes
Compost – nature’s way of recycling which refers to a solid waste management technique that uses natural processes to convert organic material to a mixture that consists largely of decayed organic matter used for fertilizing and conditioning land
Conservation – the wise use of natural resources (nutrients, minerals, water, plants, animals, etc.) and planned action or non-action to preserve or protect living and non-living resources
Contaminant – item or material that reduces the quality of paper for recycling or makes it unrecyclable
Landfill – a disposable site where solid waste, such as paper, glass, and metal, is buried between layers of dirt and other materials in such a way as to reduce contamination of the surrounding land
Redemption – to turn in a secondary material to the original supplier (i.e. you can redeem Capri Sun™ used pouches for community/school benefits from TerraCycle, Inc.)
Refuse Reclamation – transformation of solid waste into useful products, such as soil conditioners or recycled materials
Remanufacturing – process of disassembly and reassembly of products where parts are cleaned, repaired and/or replaced
Reprocessing – operation of reforming reclaimed materials into new products
Reuse – to use a product repeatedly in the same form (i.e. glass bottles, cloth diapers)
Upcycling – process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value
(Sources:  Wikipedia;;
An Apple Core
In a landfill: Never*
In a backyard compost: 2 weeks
In an industrial composter: days
In the ocean: 8 weeks

Your Starbucks Coffee Paper Cup
In a landfill: Never*
In a backyard compost: One Month
In an industrial composter:
In the ocean: 6 Weeks

A Biodegradable Bio-Plastic Cup
In a landfill: Never*
In a backyard compost: Unknown
In an industrial composter: Less than 3 months
In the ocean: Unknown

A Regular Plastic Cup
In a landfill: Never*
In a backyard compost: Unknown
In an industrial composter: Unknown
In the ocean: Turns into trash island for 450 years

A Styrofoam Container
In a landfill: Never*
In a backyard compost: Unknown
In an industrial composter: Unknown
In the ocean: 50 years

Biodegradable Diaper
In a landfill: Never*
In a backyard compost: 6 months
In an industrial composter: Less than 3 months
In the ocean: 1 year

There is now a certification process for products to be able to claim that they are biodegradable. The ASTM states that compostable plastics (ASTM D6400) and compostable packaging (ASTM D6868) be able to fully degrade within 180 days, however, most testing is done using industrial composters which does not mimic real world composting or disposal and certainly not landfills. Of course backyard composting times can vary with moisture control, rotating, shredding, and the introduction of organisms so these times can vary.
* You are probably wondering why the bio-degradation timeline for landfills is always ‘Never’, this is because that is the way landfills are designed.  Contrary to popular believe, landfills are built to prevent items from biodegrading to keep from contaminating groundwater, releasing methane gas, and causing unstable soil conditions. In fact they are built in a way that promotes the mummification of our trash much like the Egyptians preserved their pharaohs. While one should ‘never say never’, in this case, lets just say it will last a much longer time than you would imagine, or want.
References:  taken from
There are a ton of great ideas out there in the internet world for how you can reuse products and waste, recycle products and waste, and upcycle products.  Here are a couple of my favorite ideas and websites:
Websites: – “100 Amazing Upcycling Ideas Anyone Can Do”– website with upcycling ideas and cool products from everything from jewelry and gardening to crafts and furniture
Pinterest –– if you haven’t gotten on this site it is a MUST!  You pick your interest (such as recycling, cars, environment, crafts, restoration, etc.) and thousands of pictures and links will appear.– no brainer – Waste Management’s site is full of information and great ideas on how to reduce, reuse and recycle – tons of videos on how to be more eco-friendly – 50+ Mason jar décor ideas for those people who don’t recycle their Mason jars for canning
Favorite Ideas:
Using newspaper for lining mulch beds from
Using soup cans for awesome crafts/decorations from
Reusing pallets at
Creative gift containers at www.jengrantmorris.blogspot.comand
And some decorations with glass bottles (Frappucino bottles shown here from
Enjoy my favorite ideas and I hope they inspire your own.  The primary lesson to be learned from Recycling 201 is almost anything can be recycled!  You just need to understand the terms and definitions, know why it is important – KEEPING OUT OF THE LANDFILL, and creative ways to reduce, reuse and recycle!

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