THE STATE WE’RE IN: Recycle your way to zero waste


Share post:

Trash seems to be an inevitable part of life in our modern culture. But is it possible to reduce your garbage by half? How about 75 percent … or even all of it?

New Jersey has always been in the forefront of trash reduction. In April 1987, this state we’re in became the first in the nation to require recycling. But some people are going further.

- Advertisement -

Proponents of the “zero waste” movement say it’s possible to create so little trash that you can eliminate garbage cans and curbside pickups. Some zero waste devotees manage to fit an entire year’s worth of trash in one small glass jar.

In nature, there is no waste. All materials – dead trees, animal remains – break down naturally and become resources for other creatures. The idea behind the zero waste movement is to do the same with our trash and send nothing to landfalls and incinerators.

But saying goodbye to garbage takes lots of planning and tough choices, including recycling, composting, reusing or repurposing everything you would otherwise throw away. But even if you can’t go trash-free, just about everyone can reduce their waste.

Here are a few tips:

  • Avoid one-use items like plastic shopping bags and bottles. Bring reusable tote bags and containers to stores, use refillable water bottles and buy products with minimal packaging.
  • Compost food waste, as well as grass clippings and leaves. Invest in an indoor composter, or simply start an outdoor compost pile. Try vermiculture and feed your scraps to worms.
  • Recycle everything possible. You may be surprised how many everyday items don’t need to go in the trash.

Most recycling programs pick up the basics: glass, aluminum cans, plastics, newspapers, magazines, loose paper and metal cans. Many offer electronics recycling and household hazardous waste collections.

But what about the items recycling programs don’t accept?

That’s where a Trenton-based business called TerraCycle comes in. Founder Tom Szaky started his business in 2002 by turning biodegradable food waste into “worm poop” fertilizer packaged in recycled plastic soda bottles. Before long, TerraCycle carved out a new business by recycling waste items previously considered non-recyclable.

TerraCycle partners with food, beverage, cosmetics and cleaning supply manufacturers to offer free recycling of many types of packaging – including food and drink pouches, toothpaste tubes, snack bags, lipstick cases, toothbrushes, drinking water filters and plastic cups. The company separates plastic items by composition, then shreds and melts them into hard plastic that can be remolded to make new products.

The company also sells “Zero Waste Boxes,” which are especially popular with schools and businesses that want to responsibly dispose of hard-to-recycle items. These boxes are used for dozens of items, including coffee capsules, disposable gloves and even chewing gum and cigarette butts. Part of the proceeds from sales of TerraCycle boxes is donated to charitable organizations.

To sign up for TerraCycle’s free recycling programs, go to brigades. To learn about buying Zero Waste Boxes, go to https://zerowasteboxes.

You can also make sure your old clothing, furniture and other household items don’t end up in a landfill. Donate them to a thrift shop, give them away through a local “Freecycle” organization, hold a garage sale, or sell items online or at a consignment shop. If you’re crafty or artistic, unleash your creativity and “upcycle” them on your own.

According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, as of 2015 New Jerseyans recycled 43 percent of their residential waste. This is above the national average of 34 percent, and within reach of the state’s longstanding goal of a 50 percent – but so much more is possible.

To help us know when and how to recycle, the state is now offering a new app called “Recycle Coach” to residents for free.

Recycle Coach provides information about recycling programs in your area. You can access your town’s schedule, find out which materials are accepted for recycling or set alerts so you never miss recycling day. Recycle Coach also answers questions about recycling and suggests do-it-yourself projects for repurposing unneeded stuff. To find out more about Recycle Coach, go to

So what are you waiting for? Why not up your recycling game and reduce your waste?

To find out more, search “zero waste” on the internet or any social media platform. You’ll find plenty of groups and individuals sharing their own experiences and offering helpful tips.

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website or contact me at

Michele S. Byers is executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation in Morristown.

Stay Connected


Current Issue

Latest News

Related articles

Warmer winters shift plant growing zones

by Jay Watson, Co-Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation Most longtime New Jerseyans – especially gardeners and growers -...

Shy, elusive bobcats rebounding in New Jersey

by Alison Mitchell, Co-Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation You might think a biologist who's spent nearly two decades...

Can New Jersey cities become more ‘spongy’ and green?

by Jay Watson, Co-Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation Ever heard of a "sponge city?" Sponge cities are urban...

Thank this New Jersey woman for your blueberries!

by Alison Mitchell, Co-Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation Walk into nearly any grocery store, any time of year,...