The recycling world has seen some very tough challenges the past couple of years. Changes in the world market, forcing adjustments in the U.S. markets, have directly impacted recycling programs across the country, especially in Montana. We know two important things about recycling: it is the right thing to do for our planet, and in many ways we control what needs to be recycled.

As the executive director of Recycle Montana, Inc., weekly I field numerous questions about the frustrations on what can or cannot be recycled and when will this change. I am sympathetic, as in a perfect world we could just easily recycle everything; however, in many areas that is not how it works.

The key here is what can you do differently to minimize the amount you have to recycle and even reduce your waste footprint. This brings us back to the basics of reduce, reuse and recycle.

The next time you head to the store, think about what you are buying and if you will be able to recycle the packaging; if not, do you have another option for the same product? When you go to the local hardware store or convenience store, do you have them put your goods in a little plastic bag or do you carry everything out in your hands and coat pockets? Do you compost your food waste, and even more importantly, do you plan better to minimize the amount of food waste that you will generate? These are all simple examples of reducing.

Let’s talk about reusing. To me, this is one of the most exciting aspects of the recycling world. We have the standard thrift shops that have been around for years, but numerous new sites have started up that are expanding the options for reuse. You have e-waste recyclers that are reusing parts and even making some parts into gifts, you have stores that have opened for almost every home supply you could want, and re-used clothing stores are making a strong market in this world. These stores do not accept 100% of what you have, but they take what they believe can be re-marketed, sold and thus reused by someone else.

The reality is that recycling may look, feel and be very different in the future. We are all used to change and for the most part recycling is not mandatory, so you will have the choices to adjust to the changes, find other ways to recycle or continue to wait for a recycling world that better fits your needs.

Kirk Treece is executive director of Recycle Montana. He lives in Missoula with his family. 

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