New Year, New You, Renewed Planet: One Planet Life Can Help You Live Sustainably

New Year, New You, Renewed Planet: One Planet Life Can Help You Live Sustainably

Resolve to Live Sustainably in 2023 and Track Joyful Changes in the One Planet Life App

New Year’s Resolutions can be tough. Establishing new habits often comes with a mountain of challenges, which can derail your goals for the upcoming year. It’s more important now than ever to shrink our collective carbon footprint and stay on track with our individual sustainability goals. The right knowledge and tools to support our efforts can make all the difference. How can we possibly stay motivated to turn new habits into regular routines when life gets busy? One Planet Life has the perfect tool for you.

The One Planet Life App, first launched last February, has grown into a wonderful community of like-minded goal-setters that support each other to make lifestyle changes that positively impact the planet.

In a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, How are habits formed: Modeling habit formation in the real world, researchers found that, on average, it takes more than two months (66 days) before a new behavior becomes second nature. Setting goals, tracking progress in real-time and having a community to share tips and struggles can help habits stick.

One Planet Life helps people track their sustainability goals in a familiar way, like tracking progress on a fitness app. 

Users can set goals for reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and celebrate everyday victories. With the Life Center Sustainable Living Dashboard, you can easily see just how much of an impact your Joyful Changes are making, and the pounds of CO2 emissions you are saving through each action. App users can also earn Planet Points, and stay motivated by seeing just how much of a difference their active changes make as they add up throughout the year. 

One  Planet Life App

One of the greatest aspects of the app is the community within it. Users communicate with others working through similar eco-journeys, offer tips, compete in challenges, share recipes, and more! The focused social platform makes it easy to stay motivated by sharing in each other’s sustainability goal achievements.

Knowledge is Power

The idea for One Planet Life has been over two decades in the making. Founder Lorie Buckingham was first inspired to create a platform like One Planet Life because she struggled to find accurate information about our individual impacts on the environment.

“There was an obtuseness to information and lots of dubious information to drive purchases,” she shared. “I was asking simple questions: ‘Where was this tomato grown? What chemicals were sprayed on it?’ It was almost impossible to get any information.”

One of One Planet Life’s best features is an active blog accessible online or through the app. Our team works hard to sort through the overwhelming amount of information online to bring accurate, peer-reviewed, relevant content to help our community succeed along their eco-journeys.

“The journey for information continued because knowledge is power,” Buckingham said. “Over time, I began to work to reduce my carbon footprint. Starting small, I have been decreasing it more each year. I continue to work on my journey to live a sustainable lifestyle.”

Jump into Eco-Journeys to Maximize Impact

Not sure where to start? One Planet Life has established six unique journeys that come with their own series of Joyful Changes, focusing on different types of sustainability goals. If these journeys don’t work for you, you can also customize your own path by choosing from 121 different Joyful Changes to pursue. Once you master a Joyful Change, you can then turn it into a Lifestyle Habit.


The Green Nest Journey focuses specifically on changes you can make around your home to reduce waste, energy, water, and more. Through this journey, you can make the largest impact and cut 1 ton, 1,405 lbs of carbon emissions per year.

Here are the Joyful Changes you’ll work toward:

  • Changing your thermostat one degree daily
  • Replace one incandescent lightbulb with an LED lightbulb once per quarter
  • Turn off electronics when not in use daily

CO2 Reduced: 1 ton, 1,405 lbs
Planet Points Earned: 37,550 
Duration: 12 Months

One Planet Life Green Nest Journey App Screen
One Planet Life Travel Lite Journey

This journey is perfect for the frequent traveler! It’s no secret that traveling can really add up when it comes to carbon emissions. On average, carbon emissions can total over 500 lbs per passenger, per hour of flight in a Boeing 737 or Boeing 747, Carbon Independent estimates. Choosing first class adds even more emissions, according to a 2020 study by the International Council on Clean Transportation. 

Through this journey, your goals can add up to saving 1 ton, 492 lbs of carbon emissions per year. However, by implementing additional changes, like choosing drivable travel destinations and dropping flights altogether, you can make an even larger impact! 

Here’s a sneak peek of the Joyful Changes you’ll work toward: 

  • Downshift from a flight to a drive for your next vacation
  • Bring reusable containers on your trip
  • Dine at a local restaurant on your trip

CO2 Reduced: 1 ton, 492 lbs
Planet Points Earned: 23,560 
Duration: 12 Months


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! By giving everyday items a second life, you are cutting down on the amount of waste that ends up in a landfill. This eco-journey helps you change your mindset in everyday situations that add up quickly. You can cut 1 ton 66 lbs of carbon emissions per year through this eco-journey.

Here’s a sneak peek of the Joyful Changes you’ll work toward: 

  • Use a reusable water bottle daily
  • Use reusable shopping bags four times per month
  • Buy recycled or secondhand products

CO2 Reduced: 1 ton, 66 lbs
Planet Points Earned: 65,005 
Duration: 12 Months

One Planet Life Reduce Waste Journey
One Planet Life Plastic Be Gone Journey

We all know that plastic has become a major environmental issue. By choosing to replace single-use plastics with reusable options, carbon emission savings quickly add up! You’ll save 1,078 lbs of carbon emissions per year by choosing this eco-journey.

Here’s a sneak peek of the Joyful Changes you’ll work toward: 

  • Buy dry goods in bulk every week
  • Refuse disposable to-go items every week
  • Buy package-less produce

CO2 Reduced: 1,078 lbs
Planet Points Earned: 32,355 
Duration: 12 Months


This eco-journey is a great mix of several different types of Joyful Changes that allow you to make an impact across different aspects of your life. Cut 1,513 lbs of carbon per year off of your footprint by choosing this eco-journey.

Here’s a sneak peek of the Joyful Changes you’ll work toward: 

  • Buy in-season produce at your local farmer’s market once per quarter
  • Take a walk in nature twice per month
  • Swap paper towels for cloth napkins and dish towels daily

CO2 Reduced: 1,513 lbs
Planet Points Earned: 31,995 
Duration: 12 Months

One Planet Life Planetary Sampler Journey
One Planet Life Focus on Food Journey

Buying locally grown ingredients, eating what’s currently in season, and cutting down meat consumption are all great food-related ways to shrink your carbon footprint. Learning the ins and outs of composting can drastically cut down on the amount of waste you send to the landfill each week. In this eco-journey, you can look forward to saving 1,709 lbs of carbon emissions per year.

Here’s a sneak peek of the Joyful Changes you’ll work toward: 

  • Eat a vegetarian meal three times per week
  • Swap beef with chicken once per week
  • Start composting weekly

CO2 Reduced: 1,709 lbs
Planet Points Earned: 39,945 
Duration: 12 Months

We know New Year’s Resolutions are challenging. But with the One Planet Life App and the supportive, like-minded community that comes with it, we can help each other mold sustainability goals into habits – and save a whole lot of carbon in the process!

Struggling to stay motivated? Sign up for App Notifications!

  • Get your daily dose of inspiration from the OPL team.
  • Get a reminder to track your joyful changes.
  • Celebrate your achievements with our progress reports.
  • Get a reminder to complete your challenges.
  • We are on this journey with you. We are in this together.
  • Our entire team is committed to helping you succeed. Download the newest update or join us for the first time today. We look forward to meeting you.
Written by Carley Kimball

Written by Carley Kimball

Freelance Journalist and OPL Content Contributor

“I’ve always tried to implement planet-friendly practices in my life but didn’t quite realize just how much of an impact individuals can make until I was introduced to One Planet Life. I’m so excited to be able to utilize my professional skills to contribute valuable information and positive personal experiences to help make the world a better place.”

New Year | New You 15-Day Sustainability Kickstart Challenge

New Year | New You 15-Day Sustainability Kickstart Challenge

The second half of January is a great time to start a 15-day sustainability kickstart challenge now that the holidays are over and we are focused on the year ahead. 

Consider it a warmup to a year of joyful changes that benefit you and the planet. Lowering your impact on the planet isn’t difficult once you set your mind to it and begin to take daily action. Sometimes, the most challenging part is knowing what actions make the most difference and which of those actions are manageable within your lifestyle. That’s where we come in!

We have created a fun and accessible challenge for you. 

Over the next 15 days, January 17-31, 2023, you will reduce your carbon footprint, make fewer trips to the store, reduce waste, and save money. And, even better, when you combine your success with everyone else participating in the challenge, those sustainability wins add up!

To kick things off on Day 1, try using your reusable water bottle or coffee cup instead of single-use plastic throughout your day. Americans use and throw away up to 4 single-use beverage containers daily. If you keep up this pretty doable action, you could reduce your carbon emissions by 231 metric pounds and reduce your single-use plastic waste by 720 bottles or more this year. Now this is the type of slimming down that benefits you and the planet. Your cheering section just grew louder.

Here is the calendar of joyful changes to make during this challenge.
January 15-day Sustainability Challenge Calendar
Tracking your actions is as important as taking action.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to download our free app and use it to track your impact during this challenge. If you are already using the One Planet Life app, you can follow your current journey during this challenge and track any joyful change each day.  The goal of the challenge is to take daily action and track it to build lifelong habits toward more sustainable living,

Joy for the World: Have a Sustainable Holiday Celebration!

Joy for the World: Have a Sustainable Holiday Celebration!

Follow these tips to enjoy a more sustainable holiday season this year

The holiday season is notoriously consumptive and wasteful – but it doesn’t have to be. By making a few joyful Changes, we can all do our part to cut down on the amount we consume and avoid sending extra trash to the landfill to have a more sustainable holiday.

On average, Americans toss out 25% more trash during the holidays compared to the rest of the year. Food waste, wrapping materials, party decorations, single-use utensils, and more pile up en masse between Thanksgiving and New Year.

The average American produces 5 pounds of trash per day, or 35 pounds each week, according to Brightly. During the holidays, that rises to 6.25 pounds per person per day, or 43.75 pounds each week. With a population of 330 million people, that means 2,887,500,000 more pounds of garbage are generated per week during the holidays relative to the rest of the year.

One Planet Life has compiled tips for all aspects of the holidays to ensure you and your family can enjoy a happy and sustainable season.

Decorate Your Home with Nature in Mind

Plastic decorations – Santas, snowmen, and more – adorning shelves are a common sight during the holidays. While many decorations may be family heirlooms handed down through the generations, avoid buying new plastic decorations that contribute to the production of new plastic that will eventually end up in a landfill. 

To have a more sustainable holiday, take a walk and see what items from nature you can use to supplement your holiday decorations this year. Pine cones, berries, and tree branches are great for decorating, especially to create unique table centerpieces for your holiday family meal. 

One Planet Life Sustainable Holiday Tips
If Christmas lights are a must, be sure to use LED lights that are more efficient

They’re sturdier, last longer, and consume 70% less energy than conventional incandescent light strands, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. It only costs $0.27 to light a 6-foot tree for 12 hours a day for 40 days with LEDs compared to $10 for incandescent lights. If everyone in the US replaced their conventional string lights with LEDs, it would save about 2 billion kWh of electricity each month, according to One Tree Planted. Utilizing light timers is an extra step you can take to conserve energy.

For the centerpiece of many homes this holiday season, choose a real tree instead of a plastic one. In the U.S., around 10 million artificial trees are purchased each season. Nearly 90% of them are shipped across the world from China, resulting in an increase in carbon emissions and resources. Most artificial trees are made of non-recyclable materials and end up in local landfills, according to The Nature Conservancy.

Choose a real Christmas tree

By choosing to cut a real tree at your local Christmas Tree farm this year, you also help support the local economy. For the trees that are cut, new ones are planted. These farms provide natural habitats for birds and other wildlife year-round and help convert carbon dioxide into clean oxygen.

Want to make a bigger impact? Buy a potted tree this year instead for a more sustainable holiday. My husband and I decided to purchase a white spruce that we plan to plant outside at the end of the season. While it’s a bit sparse compared to a cut tree (think Charlie Brown Christmas Tree), we feel joy in knowing we’ll get to enjoy it for years to come.

As an added bonus, real evergreens can be composted or recycled in various ways (like a treat for your local goat farm!) That way, your holiday decoration gets a second life and avoids ending up in a landfill.

Living Christmas Tree
Get Creative with the Gift Wrap

It’s no surprise that the use of wrapping paper increases during the holiday season. Most wrapping paper on the market actually isn’t recyclable, especially rolls with shiny gloss and sparkles. That means that, on average, 2.3 million pounds of wrapping paper ends up in landfills each year, according to Earth 911.

Instead, have a more sustainable holiday celebration by substituting traditional wrapping paper with something a bit more creative. Newspaper, brown paper bags from the grocery store, old maps, and even scrap fabric are all great alternatives.

Ribbons and bows have become quite popular to spruce up wrapped gifts. If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet, according to Stanford University. If every American family wrapped just three presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.

Utilizing more biodegradable options, like string, twine, rosemary sprigs, pinecones, and other natural materials, have a lower impact on the environment because they break down much faster.

While sending holiday cards is a tradition for many, consider switching to a digital version instead. Whether or not we like to admit it, most holiday cards end up in the trash bin at the end of the season. Americans mail out a whopping 2.65 billion Christmas cards each year, which could fill a football field 10 stories high. If we each sent one card less, 50,000 cubic yards of paper could be saved.

Natural Holiday Wrapping
Serving up Sustainable Meals During the Holidays

Food waste is a real problem in the U.S., with an estimated 63.1 million tons generated each year. During the holidays, a lot more food ends up getting thrown away from holiday gatherings and parties.

To avoid contributing to unnecessary landfill build-up, plan ahead for your gatherings and only make enough food for your expected guests. If you do have food left, send some home with your guests for a late-night snack or lunch the next day, get creative in reinventing future meals from what you have left, freeze what you can, or even contact your local homeless shelter or food bank to see if leftover food can be donated to those in need.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation suggested these additional tips to keep in mind when planning your upcoming sustainable holiday party:

  • Buy and serve locally grown food whenever possible.
  • Cook multiple items in the same oven and run appliances on full loads.
  • Avoid buying individually packaged drinks.
  • Serve your guests with reusable cups, plates, silverware, and utensils.
  • Tell your guests to bring reusable containers for leftovers.
  • Compost food that is not donated.
Start Some New Traditions

By getting outside (even if it’s chilly), you really learn to appreciate the reason why we want to make these Joyful Changes to begin with – to preserve the natural beauty our planet has to offer. Taking a hike with the family can become a great new holiday tradition to help you get others on board with keeping sustainability in mind year-round. Don’t forget to take a bag with you to pick up trash along the way and keep forests clean and safe for the wildlife that lives there!

People walking in winter nature

For over a century, the National Audubon Society has hosted The Christmas Bird Count, which occurs from December 14 to January 5 every season. In 1900, conservationists proposed a nationwide bird census to replace the tradition of shooting birds on Christmas Day. The event has seen growing participation every year since. Check out Audubon’s website to find a local group of birders to join and contribute important data that can be used in hundreds of analyses, peer-reviewed publications, and government reports that encourage bird populations to thrive.

While the holiday season is often driven by tradition, we can all make small tweaks that make a big impact collectively so our holiday celebrations are not only jolly but help create a more sustainable, “greener” future in the process.

Looking for more sustainable ways to shop this holiday season? Check out our 2022 Holiday Gift Guide for inspiration!

Written by Carley Kimball

Written by Carley Kimball

Freelance Journalist and OPL Content Contributor

“I’ve always tried to implement planet-friendly practices in my life but didn’t quite realize just how much of an impact individuals can make until I was introduced to One Planet Life. I’m so excited to be able to utilize my professional skills to contribute valuable information and positive personal experiences to help make the world a better place.”

How to Shop Smart and Save the Planet This Holiday Season

How to Shop Smart and Save the Planet This Holiday Season

Shop Sustainably This Holiday Season and Give the Best Gift – A Greener Future for All

As the holiday season kicks into full gear, it’s understandable to feel a little overwhelmed when trying to choose the perfect gift for your loved ones. When trying to shop sustainably, it can become even more challenging. But look no further! One Planet Life’s 2022 Holiday Gift Guide is here to help you find the perfect gifts for your friends and family that also align with your sustainability goals.

Eco-Friendly Companies

Just in time for the holidays, One Planet Life launched its very own online store to help our community easily make joyful changes to live more sustainably. We offer a wide selection of reusable totes, travel utensils, water bottles, and more. Check out our e-store for gifts that your friends and family will love – and help the planet by cutting the amount of single-use plastics that end up in landfills. 

But OPL isn’t the only place you can shop with the health of the planet in mind. Did you know that there is a special certification companies can qualify for that measures their impact?

Certified B Corporations participate in a thorough assessment to determine if their business practices meet high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency on factors such as fair treatment of workers, customer service, and community and environmental impact.

The following B-Corps have caught our attention for going above and beyond to not only create products in a sustainable way but give back in other ways that add up when it comes to treating our environment with care:

Patagonia Works

Patagonia Works became one of California’s first B-Corporations in 2012. The outdoor apparel and gear company has been a leader in ethical business practices for decades. In September, founder Yvon Chouinard and his family announced they would transfer all ownership to two new entities: Patagonia Purpose Trust and the Holdfast Collective. This move establishes that every dollar not reinvested back into Patagonia will be distributed as dividends to protect the planet. Projections estimate an annual dividend of roughly $100 million. That will go a long way to fighting climate change!

“It will help ensure that there is never deviation from the intent of the founder and to facilitate what the company continues to do best: demonstrate as a for-profit business that capitalism can work for the planet,” a press release from the company explained.

Organic Basics

Organic Basics is a B-Corp that takes responsible fashion to the next level. Each garment, constructed from sustainable materials, carries an Impact Index that helps you better understand how the items you buy and wear contribute to your environmental footprint. This information is part of a larger effort, the Impact Report, that takes a holistic look at the company’s impact across several categories. Additionally, the company is a 1% for the Planet member, partnering with environmental groups and grassroots activists and donating the equivalent of 1% of sales to positive environmental efforts. 

“As a fashion brand, we have a massive responsibility to consider the environmental impact of our choices,” the company website reads. “Everything we do uses precious resources like water and energy and creates carbon emissions along the value chain.”

Grove Collaborative

Looking for gifts other than apparel? Grove Collaborative earned its B-Corp status in 2014 and has been growing its reach ever since. Known for its subscription boxes of home and personal care products that are better for the planet, Grove Collaborative focuses on curating products that “go easy on the Earth, prioritize sustainable packaging materials, and carbon offset every shipment that goes out the door.” The company has also implemented a five-year plan to move from its current status of 100% plastic neutral to 100% plastic-free by 2025.

This year, Grove Collaborative has made it easy for eco-conscious holiday shoppers, featuring an array of eco-friendly brands and products for the beauty guru, chef, gardener – and even the pet-lover – in your life. 

Interested in learning more about B-Corporations? Read our article to dive deeper. 

Thrifting is Trendy and Sustainable

Buying secondhand makes a significant impact, as “fast fashion” is filling up landfills at record rates. The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of all CO2 emissions globally and is expected to surge to more than 50% by 2030. Help offset these troubling statistics by shopping secondhand. Patagonia offers its own marketplace to buy and trade gently-used Patagonia clothing and recrafted clothing on its Worn Wear site

Shop for name-brand clothing and accessories on sites like Thread-Up or Poshmark for the fashionista in your family – giving the gift of on-trend items without the negative impact.

Shop Smart at Thrift Stores
Are you involved in an annual Secret Santa? Switch up the rules and see who can find the most outrageous gifts under $10.

The catch? You can only shop at your local thrift store! This year, my family decided to do a secret Santa book exchange with one caveat – we had to find a book at a thrift store. My husband and I plan to make a date night of scouring Goodwill stores and used bookstores to find some fun books for our designated gift receiver. 

If you plan to gift books this year and don’t have much luck locally, check out Better World Books. The company, funded through literacy grants, donates a book to match each one purchased. They also help keep books out of landfills by selling secondhand and have reached 87,000 tons of carbon offsets through carbon-balanced shipping. Books are great gifts that keep on giving! 

You never know what you’ll find at your local thrift or antique store, which makes holiday shopping even more fun. You may just stumble upon a unique item that triggers a cherished family memory, making a positive, thoughtful impact that your loved one – and the planet – will appreciate!

A Homemade Touch for the Holidays

The best gifts come from the heart. Throughout the pandemic, a lot of people picked up new skills and hobbies. Now that you’ve had some time to hone your craft, devote your December weekends to making homemade gifts this year!

Knit or crochet a cozy scarf, recycle fabric to make something completely new, or break out your paint set and brushes to make homemade tree ornaments. 

Shrubs Handmade Gift Idea

Everyone likes edible presents. Bake fresh bread from scratch, pull together a meal gift basket, try your hand at making holiday candies, or even plant some starter kitchen herbs for a loved one this year. 

Check out our most recent recipe for Fruit Shrubs, a delicious vinegar-based syrup known as “drinking vinegars” that are a perfect gift for the cocktail or mocktail enthusiast. 

Canning is another option for edible presents. Homemade canned goods are easy to travel with and last a long time. There are so many ways to spruce up the presentation, utilizing fabric for the lids or even using foraged items, like pine cones, to tie around the jars. Jams, jellies, soups, and sauces are just a few of the many possibilities. Read our recent post to learn how to whip up a delicious Pepper Jam to include in your gift baskets! 

Skip the Stuff, Support a Non-Profit

With a rocky economy on many people’s minds these days, a lot of families are scaling back on the number of items they buy this year. Plastic knick-knacks that collect dust, general gifts that end up in a landfill or donation bin a month later, or the thousandth coffee mug that won’t fit in the coffee addict’s cupboard – all these scenarios are avoidable. 

Instead, skip the physical gifts and make a donation to your friend or family member’s favorite non-profit. For that person on your list that seems to have everything, this is a great opportunity not only to show that you’ve taken notice of causes they care about but also to make an impact for those less fortunate this holiday season.

OPL has curated a list of environmentally-focused non-profits to help you find the perfect organization that supports specific goals for a healthier planet.

Support Your Community by Shopping Local

For every dollar spent in a local store, as much as $3.50 goes into the local economy. Skip the big box stores and shop locally this year. 

By supporting local artisans and small businesses, you are helping your neighbors and community thrive. Some of my favorite items to pick up each year include honey from our favorite local apiary, Buzz Worthy Apiary in Hagerstown, Md., homemade chocolates from the candy store in our community, and small-batch roasted coffee beans from my go-to coffee shop. 

Buzz Worthy Apiary

Read more about another local favorite apiary, Bedillion Honey Bee Farm, located in Hickory, PA. 

Take some time to explore small shops in your hometown, and you’re sure to find some new favorites to share with others!

This time of year is known for generating tons of unnecessary waste. By making sustainable choices that support eco-conscious and local offerings, you can do your part to make this holiday season less harmful to the environment and more fulfilling and maybe establish new holiday traditions in the process.

Written by Carley Kimball

Written by Carley Kimball

Freelance Journalist and OPL Content Contributor

“I’ve always tried to implement planet-friendly practices in my life but didn’t quite realize just how much of an impact individuals can make until I was introduced to One Planet Life. I’m so excited to be able to utilize my professional skills to contribute valuable information and positive personal experiences to help make the world a better place.”

America’s Recycling Programs are in Disarray, You Can Help

America’s Recycling Programs are in Disarray, You Can Help

Recycle More Effectively by Checking Out One Planet Life’s Comprehensive Guide

Today marks the 13th annual America Recycles Day. Established in 2009 by the 501c3 non-profit Keep America Beautiful, the day has been set aside to help Americans gain a better understanding of the recycling process and how to help cut down on the amount of trash overwhelming our environment.

In 2022, America Recycles Day focuses on the economic impacts of recycling, job creation, and reduced manufacturing costs due to the reuse of limited resources and savings arising from not having to source new raw materials.

Each year, Keep America Beautiful encourages individuals to take the#BeRecycled Pledge and complete the following goals in November:

  1. LEARN: “I will find out what materials are collected for recycling in my community.”
  2. ACT: “Within the next month, I will reduce the amount of waste I produce, I will recycle more, and I will buy products made with recycled content.”
  3. SHARE: “In the next month, I will encourage one family member or one friend to take the #BeRecycled pledge.”

It’s no secret that the state of recycling in America needs improving, which increases the importance of raising awareness of the topic. While the issue will take a multi-faceted approach to fix – including legislation, corporate responsibility, and more – individuals have a huge opportunity to make a difference through knowledge sharing and devotion to a more sustainable lifestyle. 

What’s Wrong With the System?

To positively impact the state of recycling in America, it’s essential to understand the process and issues plaguing recycling efforts nationwide. 

In the most recent figures available by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 94.2 million tons of the total 292.4 million tons of municipal solid waste generated in the U.S. was recycled in 2018. 

The most-recycled products and materials included:
  1. Corrugated boxes – 32.1 million tons
  2. Mixed nondurable paper products – 8.8 million tons
  3. Newspapers/mechanical papers – 3.3 million tons
  4. Lead-acid batteries – 2.9 million tons
  5. Major appliances – 3.1 million tons
  6. Wood packaging – 3.1 million tons
  7. Glass containers – 3 million tons
  8. Tires – 2.6 million tons
  9. Mixed paper containers and packaging – 1.8 million tons
  10. Selected consumer electronics – 1 million tons

Collectively, these products accounted for 90% of total municipal solid waste recycling in 2018.

The EPA also collected data related to composting and food waste management.

Composted waste accounted for a total of 25 million tons, including approximately 22.3 million tons of yard trimmings (more than a five-fold increase since 1990) and 2.6 million tons of food waste (4.1% of generation of wasted food).

Other methods of food management were estimated for the first time in 2018, tracking 17.7 million tons of wasted food managed through animal feed, co-digestion/anaerobic digestion, bio-based materials/biochemical processing, donation, land application, and sewer/wastewater treatment.

The current recycling rate nationwide is 34%, according to Keep America Beautiful. While the recycling rate continues to increase, so do production and consumption. In fact, each American averages 4.9 pounds of waste each day that ends up in landfills.

But how is all this waste given a second life? Well, experts are still trying to come up with an effective solution.

Prior to 2018, most recyclables were shipped to China for reprocessing.

But when the nation implemented its “National Sword Policy,” the global recycling system took a hit. By imposing strict contamination limits on recyclable materials and prohibiting imports of low-quality recyclables altogether, recycled material quickly began piling up at materials recycling facilities (MRFs) and eventually in landfills.

In a 2022 University of Buffalo study analyzing the impacts of China’s policy, researchers determined the quantity of plastic landfilled in the U.S. alone increased by 23.2%.

Though there has been a rise in technology and other tactics to increase cleaner recycling streams, the U.S. continues to struggle to find cost-effective ways to recycle the massive amounts of waste Americans produce yearly.

Residential recycling service costs hit $6.85 per month per household due to repercussions from National Sword – up 11% over 2018 costs, according to The State of Recycling Today Report conducted by RTS.

However, efforts are being made to overhaul the system and create a better process for recycling across America. The EPA is following a five-step approach, outlined in The National Recycling Strategy, to try and reach a National Recycling Goal of increasing the recycling rate to 50% by 2030.

The objectives, which aim to create a more resilient and cost-effective national recycling system, include the following: 
  1. Improving markets for recycling commodities.
  2. Increasing collection and improving materials management infrastructure.
  3. Reducing contamination in the recycled materials stream.
  4. Enhancing policies to support recycling.
  5. Standardizing measurement and increasing data collection.

As Americans wait for change on a governmental level, what if, in the meantime, they put more thought into what they consume overall and how they can do so in a more sustainable way?

The EPA offers a comprehensive look at what can be recycled in most communities across the country. 

The top 10 items to toss in your blue bin include:

  1. Cardboard
  2. Paper
  3. Food Boxes 
  4. Mail
  5. Beverage Cans
  6. Food Cans
  7. Glass Bottles 
  8. Jars (Glass & Plastic)
  9. Jugs 
  10. Plastic Bottles & Caps
Recycling goes awry when contamination occurs. 

Entire batches of recyclables can end up in landfills if too many unrecyclable or dirty items are mixed in. Since the U.S. relies on single-stream recycling systems, where different types of items are tossed into the same bin, the trend of “wish-cycling” wreaks havoc. In this practice of recycling items that cannot be recycled at all, cannot be recycled at the local facility, or cannot be recycled in a contaminated state, Americans are causing more harm than good.

Knowing what can and can’t be recycled through your local service is essential to recycling responsibility. Are you unsure about what your local service can handle? Check out the company’s website or give them a call so that you are helping provide a solution, not contributing to the problem.

As people call for more accountability from corporations and governments, more studies are being conducted on the recyclability of consumer goods. In 2020, GreenPeace published the Comprehensive U.S. Survey of Plastics Recyclability, providing a factual look at the shortcomings of the system and suggesting solutions such as transparent labeling, honest advertising, and more to turn the tide. 

In a 2020 report from the Columbia Climate School, education is listed as the first strategy to implement change.

“Minimizing contamination of recyclables and the flow of recyclable items to landfills requires consumer awareness,” Renee Cho, staff writer for the Columbia Climate School, explained. “Community events, campaigns, and brochures are necessary to educate residents about the importance of reusing, recycling, and composting, as well as how to properly recycle in their particular community. They need to understand which items are actually recyclable and which are not.”

A Solution: Use Less, Help More

With so many factors at play, how can one remain hopeful about the future of a planet piling up with waste? Recycling is only one facet of a three-step approach that has been around for decades but is more important now than ever: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”

The world continues to generate massive amounts of single-use plastic – one of the largest contributors to pollution on a global scale. Individuals can make a tremendous impact by not only recycling waste but by reducing the amount they consume in the first place.

By saying “no” to single-use plastics altogether and replacing them with sustainable, reusable options, you are cutting down on the amount of recyclables that could end up in a landfill from contamination outside of your control.

There are so many ways to give items a second life. Here are just a few ways that your individual contributions can make an impact: 

Reduce: Swap out single-use plastic water bottles for a refillable option. Prefer a clean taste? Invest in a water filter!

Reuse: Clearing out your closet? Don’t throw away the items you don’t wear anymore; instead, donate them to someone in need. Looking to switch up your wardrobe?  The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of all CO2 emissions globally and is estimated to surge to more than 50% by 2030. Check out a local thrift store before buying new.

Recycle: Start composting! Even if you live in an urban area, there are plenty of ways to start composting your kitchen scraps. Using a composting service, you can divert 360 lbs of food waste from landfills per year, which creates 182 lbs of compost and equates to offsetting 1,065 miles driven by a car. Learn how to get started by checking out these resources on our website. 

Refill: Keep packaging in mind when you make purchases. Shopping in bulk cuts down on the amount of packaging we consume. Check out our interactive map to see where you can bulk shop locally. Take it a step further and find shops that enable you to skip the packaging and bring your own reusable containers!

Bonus: Do some research on what items your local facility can actually recycle, so you aren’t clogging up the system with contaminants. Share this information with your community to increase efficient recycling on a larger scale.

While the United States undoubtedly faces an uphill battle in streamlining its recycling system, individuals can implement Joyful Changes in their everyday lives to make a difference. By “Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling” in creative ways, we can collectively cut the amount of waste that is funneled into landfills each year, paving the way to a cleaner future.

Interested in Learning More

CAN I RECYCLE THIS? A Guide to Better Recycling and How to Reduce Single-Use Plastics By Jennie Romer is a wonderful resource for those just diving into the world of recycling. While we know the mantra – reduce, reuse, recycle, do we know what is recycled, what goes into a landfill, and what goes into our oceans? Romer is a leading expert on single-use plastics and reduction and recycling in the U.S. and has the answers to your questions about recyclables. Read One Planet Life’s review.

Don’t Forget! 

Sign Keep America Beautiful’s #BeRecycled pledge to spread awareness of recycling to your friends and neighbors! 

The One Planet Life team encourages you to take this challenge a step further:  
  1. LEARN: More about simple ways you can cut down on carbon emissions in your everyday life through OPL posts, shared resources, and social connections.
  2. ACT: By tracking your Joyful Changes through the One Planet Life App, you can see, in real numbers, how small changes carry a heavy impact. 
  3. SHARE: Our app with your friends and family. Make a collective impact by joining challenges together. When 16 of us each reduce our CO2 emissions by one metric ton, that’s equivalent to one person going net zero! 
Written by Carley Kimball

Written by Carley Kimball

Freelance Journalist and OPL Content Contributor

“I’ve always tried to implement planet-friendly practices in my life but didn’t quite realize just how much of an impact individuals can make until I was introduced to One Planet Life. I’m so excited to be able to utilize my professional skills to contribute valuable information and positive personal experiences to help make the world a better place.”

My Journey to Reduce My Carbon Footprint Started With Trash

My Journey to Reduce My Carbon Footprint Started With Trash

The journey to reducing my carbon footprint through reducing, recycling, reusing, and repurposing has evolved over several years.

It all began by reducing the amount of rubbish that went into our trash cans. I began shopping more mindfully, looking for products with less packaging and thinking about what happened to my family’s trash after it was “thrown away” and how long it would take to biodegrade fully. This led me to compost, which takes natural, easily biodegradable materials out of trash bags, allowing them to break down entirely and then reunite them with the earth as a natural nutrient-rich fertilizer.

Composting has become a way of life for my family.

We add everything possible that can break down – such as grass clippings, leaves, food waste, unsoiled pieces of pizza cardboard boxes, and shredded paper bags – and with time, our efforts are rewarded with rich brown dirt full of terrific nutrients.  This dirt is then placed in our flower, vegetable, and herb garden beds, nourishing the plants, so they bear fruit that is far more delicious than its grocery store cousins. Thanks to composting, we have successfully diverted valuable waste from landfills, super-charged our gardens, enjoyed the mental and physical health benefits of gardening, and produced beautiful fruits and veggies for our nourishment – all for free!

Yvonne Dwyer Composting

Success with composting led me progressively to other areas where I could eliminate unnecessary waste, such as reusing containers and reducing single-use plastics where I could.

I tried to reduce, reuse, or recycle plastic containers in unique ways, like sending DIY college care packages to our sons in reusable containers, which we would later collect and refill for future care packages. I began using reusable shopping bags after learning how plastic bags have contributed to the widespread appearance of plastic microparticles across our planet’s waterways, aquatic animals’ bodies, and even our own bodies. I applaud states like New York, which have eliminated plastic bags in grocery stores. Shoppers are encouraged to use their reusable tote bags, purchase reusable totes for $1.99, or are charged five cents per paper bag they require. I hope other states adopt this practice to encourage mindfulness and eliminate unnecessary plastic!

I’ve also focused on eliminating plastic packaging in the pantry staples I buy.

I was discouraged that most large grocery store chains generally only offer pantry staples in plastic packaging. I began frequenting stores and co-ops where I could bring my own containers to purchase pantry staples and other personal items, freeing us further from single-use plastics. I’ve also used online shopping to buy the things I use in biodegradable packaging. I have found that many of my online packages are shipped in packaging that easily breaks down and can be composted.

My gloriously crooked sustainability journey is far from over, but I’ve been astounded at how my little changes have added up to a sustainable lifestyle. Share the joyful changes you have made to reduce your carbon footprint. We would love to hear your ideas! Check out the learning and marketing section of our One Planet Life app for more information to support your journey.

OPL Naturalist Yvonne Dwyer

This experience was shared by OPL Naturalist Yvonne Dwyer.

Learn more about Yvonne.

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