Before I began this class, I was already somewhat environmentally aware. I knew that the amount of driving I did should probably be reduced (by a lot), that my household used products that were a drain of resources, that more things my family used could be recycled, and that though I was aware of these issues, I didn't do much to change it initially. I told myself that it was too much of a hassle to find recycling locations for cans and bottles (I lived in Vancouver, and Washington does not have a bottle/can deposit, and therefore, fewer recycling locations), that there wasn't much I could do, since my roommate and boyfriend probably wouldn't change, and that I would make more of an effort once we moved out on our own.
Well, we didn't move out on our own. Our circumstances were such that my boyfriend and I were forced to move back in with my parents around the same time that this term started. It effected an interesting change, though. My mother had begun a system a few years ago in an effort to be more environmentally positive (and less nobly, to have fewer bills to pay) that revolved entirely around recycling everything possible that came into the house. Initially, I was frustrated because I couldn't remember what went in what bin. However, I saw something that interested me - my mother's system reduced the amount of actual, un-recyclable trash that went out of the house to nearly nothing. Everything is recycled - paper, cardboard, glass, any kind of metal, hard plastics, and all food waste is composted. The only material I have noticed that goes into a larger bin (to be taken to the local dump at a later time) is soft plastics, such as yogurt seals. Not only was the drastic reduction in waste impressive, but her recycling system actually saves her a large amount of time and money. No longer does she pay for garbage service. No more does she have to drag the trash cans out to the end of the driveway.
I came the realization that I was under the misapprehension that recycling was difficult and more expensive. Frequently, I have discovered that not only I, but many other people shared the thought that specifically "recyclable" products were more expensive, when the reality is that more household products, containers, etc. are recyclable than one would think. There are websites that will tell you exactly what kind of plastics are coded for recycling, which I will include at the bottom of this post.
My mind was so drastically changed by this experience that I started thinking about what else we had that could be recycled. I chuckled a little when my boyfriend pointed out that the broken arrows we had (he is an avid archer) could be grouped in the metal bin.
Not only do we follow a recycling system in this house, but just last year, my parents had also installed solar panels on the house. These, unlike the ability to make sure that materials are reused, are cost prohibitive. There are only enough panels on the house to power it about 50% of the time, and cost roughly $10,000 to install. However, we all believe it was worthwhile. The panels have reduced the power bill substantially, and store enough energy to run the water heater for all four adults in the household to shower and then some. My parents' eventual goal is to install another set of solar panels, so that the entire house will be powered by solar energy instead of relying on the power companies, thereby eliminating another bill and providing a much more environmentally-friendly source of energy.
In the long run, slight changes in habits help give environmentally positive results. However, the largest problem in trying to get people to change these habits is education. Far too many people have misconceptions about the financial impact of recycling, thinking that it will cost them more to purchase recyclable materials, when in fact, it will save them money and often, will put money back into their pockets. Many recycling locations will pay for certain materials. Another idea that is worth trying is purchasing used items instead of new - it's not recycling in the sense of reusing the raw materials, but it's also a method that will save people money and put less of a strain on resources. I never thought about it much before, but I do a fair amount of shopping at thrift stores and via eBay, where frequently you're purchasing a used product for a lower price.
Obviously, at this juncture, installing solar panels is not feasible for everyone. While it's a fantastic idea, not everyone has $10,000 to spend on having them installed. But if the power companies could be persuaded to look into cleaner and renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, or tide power, the effects could be enormous.
Right now it is vital to inform everyone of the impacts they have on the environment. People can no longer stand idly by and ignore the problem. I wish everyone could have an epiphany like I did, but hopefully the website we're working on will have a similar effect. I hope we can change peoples' minds and show them that it doesn't take a massive change to be just a little more environmentally positive.
Oregon Department of Energy, Business Energy Tax Credit Info:
Solar Panel Information:
Portland Electronics Recycling Info:
Portland Metro, Recycling at Home:
Portland Metro, Find-A-Recycler (has a guide on how to recycle ANYTHING you can think of):
PGE's claim that they are working on making 25% of their energy come from renewable resources by 2025 (do note that they don't specify what that renewable source is):