Project Recycling

By Amanda Peterson
You don’t need an excuse to start a new, environmentally healthy habit, but it wouldn’t hurt to use Earth Day, April 22, to kick off increased recycling in your home. It’s easy to get the entire family involved, one little step at a time, and you’ll find yourselves making a positive impact on our community.

Just ask the Runestads. The Moorhead family started recycling years ago. Today, it’s just old habit for Eric, Anna, and their two children, Ella, eight, and Leo, six, to drop used containers into recycling bags instead of the garbage. Like many families, they recycle all of the city’s curbside materials, such as plastics, glass, aluminum, newspaper, and corrugated cardboard.

But they also take it a few steps further. Used clothing goes to thrift stores or Churches United for the Homeless. Old furniture finds a new home at the YWCA. Paint cans are off to the city’s hazardous waste station. What about non-corrugated cardboard that can’t be recycled in Moorhead? Those go to the grandparents’ house out of town. “Every time we see my parents, we arrive with luggage and a bag of box board recycling,” laughs Anna.

Recycling has become a way of life in the Runestad household, an opportunity to teach Ella and Leo about taking care of their environment. “We recycle to be responsible,” says Anna, “to be caretakers, and because it’s one thing we can actually do that makes a difference in the use of our natural resources.”

Get Started
As you likely already know, recycling is part of a larger effort involving the three Rs—reduce, reuse, recycle. (Anyone else singing the Jack Johnson song in their head?) It’s all about being aware of what you consume and finding ways to minimize the waste left behind.

If you haven’t started recycling in your home, call your city for information. Fargo, West Fargo, and Moorhead all offer curbside recycling, picking up your recyclables at the same time they pick up your garbage. By getting a city recycling bin for free or a nominal fee, you can sort out your recycling and simply leave it at the end of your driveway each week. (See sidebar on page 41 for what your city recycles, curbside.) Many items not picked up curbside can still be recycled through city waste departments, drop-off sites, or independent businesses such as Minnkota Recycling.

Carrie Brusven, a business and home eco-consultant in Fargo, cautions against throwing yourself into recycling at full force. “The most important thing is to remember to go slowly,” says Brusven of Color Me Green Eco-Consulting. “If you try to do everything right off the bat, it will get overwhelming and you’ll quit. Set small, attainable goals for yourself and you’ll be much more likely to succeed.”

Say, for example, your family drinks a lot of milk in plastic jugs. Start out your recycling project by simply requesting a city recycling bin and filling it each week with empty milk jugs. As that becomes more common practice, take the next step by filling a recycling bag with tin cans or glass jars. Add one recyclable product at a time until you no longer even have to think about it.

Set Up a System
Families who recycle regularly say a convenient system is key. If you have to haul a soda can through your kitchen, past the dining room, out into the garage, and past your car to toss it into a recycling bin, it’s probably not going to happen. Instead, make recycling as convenient as throwing something away.

Supplies Needed:

  • #1 and #2 plastics, glass, aluminum
  • City recycling bin
  • Your whole family
  • The following ideas to get you started!

The Martin family in Moorhead set up a system near their kitchen to make recycling convenient for all four of them, including children Will, five, and Drew, three. “We put two paper bags by our back door—one for newspapers and the other for everything else,” says mom, Libby. “When it’s recycling week or when it gets full, my husband takes them out to the garage and separates them into their own paper bags according to Moorhead’s regulations. Done and done.”

Brady Brunsvold, recycling manager for Fargo, created a recycling station in his garage to make it easy for his whole family to get involved. “Every type of recyclable material is put into a different container,” he says. “Then, on Saturdays, we go over as a family to the closest drop-site and throw the stuff in the correct dumpster. It doesn’t take much time and it’s a great opportunity for the family to do something together.”
Think about how your own family works best. Do you need a recycling container in the kitchen? Can you simply set recyclables on the counter until the end of the day and then move them to the garage? Do you have space in a pantry or under the sink?

Try a few different options and see what works for your family.

Involve the WHOLE Family
Even very young children can get involved in recycling. Babies can flip through board books about recycling. (See sidebar above.) Toddlers can carry plastic containers to the recycling bin. Preschoolers can help separate recyclables and even carry bags of light items to the curb.

Janelle Leiseth, a Moorhead mom of four, works recycling into her children’s daily chores. Their simple system works for their family and instills a sense of responsibility not only to recycle, but to take care of the environment in other ways, too. “Our system is basic,” Leiseth says. “My husband and I wash dishes, empty containers, and set recyclables to the side. At chore time, at least one of the kids gets to take the recyclables to the bins in the garage. This also sparks creativity as they see a certain container and want to create something out of it, such as a bird feeder or mini-pail.”

The Martins get sons Will and Drew involved mostly by crushing soda cans. “We don’t go through many of them, but we do save them in a box, and when it’s full we let the boys go to town stomping on them,” she says. “They love it.”

Brusven says kids can participate in the entire process, including labeling the bins. For kids too small to read, have them draw pictures of the recyclables or cut out pictures in a magazine to tape to the bins. “Parents can involve their kids by explaining to them about recycling and having them help sort the items into their designated containers,” says the mom of two.

Make a game to find the most recyclables from items headed to the trash. Check out books on recycling from the library. Make a fun sign for the recycling station in your garage. “I think it’s important to stress that it doesn’t take much more effort to throw something into the recycling bin than it does to throw it into the garbage,” Brunsvold says. “And by involving kids and families, it makes it a fun activity that really passes the message of conservation to the next generation.”

Children’s Books About Recycling
Teach your kids more about recycling with these children’s books:

“The Adventures of an Aluminum Can: A Story About Recycling” by Alison Inches
“Don’t Throw That Away!: A Lift-the-Flap Book about Recycling and Reusing” by Lara Bergen
“Garbage and Recycling” by Rosie Harlow
“I Can Save the Earth!: One Little Monster Learns to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” by Alison Inches
“Michael Recycle” by Ellie Bethel and Ellie Patterson
“ReMake It!: Recycling Projects from the Stuff You Usually Scrap” by Tiffany Threadgould
“The Three R’s: Reuse, Reduce, Recycle” by Núria Roca
“Trash and Recycling” by Stephanie Turnbull and Christyan Fox
“Why Should I Recycle?” by Jen Green and Kyouko Kitazawa

Do a Little More
Even if your family has been curbside recycling for years, it’s a good time to assess whether there’s anything else you can do. Think about other items you use that typically end up in the landfill. Community drop-sites can take the magazines, office paper, phone books, plastic grocery bags, and other products that can’t be recycled curbside. Try setting up a station in your garage for those materials and let your kids help with the sorting.

The Runestads recycle vegetable scraps by composting. Ella and Leo help scrape leftovers into the compost bucket in the kitchen and then carry it out to the compost bin. “They’ve been involved in removing newly created soil from the bottom of the compost bin and spreading it in the garden,” Runestad says. “It’s the perfect project for kids.”

The Leiseths keep an eye out for additional opportunities, too. Janelle is looking into creating a rainwater collection system for her garden, such as installing a rain barrel. She also works with her family to reduce their overall use of plastics by using reusable drinking bottles and shopping with reusable bags. It’s all about finding more ways to help out. “Our kids know that our garbage goes to a landfill and should that landfill get too full, we would need to find another spot to put our garbage,” Leiseth says.

Watch it Become a Habit
Making recycling a habit doesn’t happen overnight, but with patience you’ll see changes in the way your family uses resources. Give yourself time and patience to make those changes. One day, you’ll see the impact it’s made on your family.

For Anna Runestad, that moment involved an old sock. “The other day Leo had a hole in his sock, so I threw it away,” she said. “He stopped me and said, ‘Don’t throw that away. Grandma can patch it!’” One more item saved from the landfill.

What Your City Recycles Curbside
Here’s a list of what can be recycled curbside in Fargo, Moorhead, and West Fargo. Six drop-sites are also located throughout each community.

Aluminum, steel, and tin cans
Clear and colored glass bottles and jars
Corrugated cardboard
#1 and #2 plastic bottles and jugs

For more information, contact Fargo Recycling at (701) 241-1449.

Aluminum, steel, and tin cans
Clear and colored glass bottles and jars
Corrugated cardboard
#1 and #2 plastic bottles and jugs

For more information, contact Moorhead Operations at (218) 299-5347.

West Fargo
Aluminum, steel, and tin cans
Clear and colored glass bottles and jars
Newspaper (non-glossy only)

For more information, contact West Fargo Public Works at (701) 433-5400.

Amanda Peterson is an award-winning writer with a love for the Web, social media, and magazines. She lives in Moorhead with her husband and two children, who haul the recycling to the curb.

Filed Under: Do It Together

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