Ella – July 16, 2018

I recently attended a presentation on waste, recycling and composting. I found it quite fascinating and walked away fairly convicted that my family could be doing a better job. At our house, we separate garbage and recycling, but that’s the extent of it. We need to catch up, as recycling and waste programs have evolved significantly.

For one thing, compost bins were recently introduced as part of our disposal options, greatly reducing the amount of garbage we contribute to landfills. Interestingly, I learned that items we put in the recycling bin that have food on them should really be composted. I was also intrigued to hear how our waste is being used to recreate products. Paper is sent to paper mills, plastic to companies that manufacture plastic bottles. Other products and compost mixed with yard waste is broken down and then sold to companies that resell it as bagged soil at home improvement stores!

A black plastic compost bin sits among plants and flowers.

Compost bins are becoming a common disposal option, keeping more trash out of landfills.

As a Danish-American, one of my favorite tidbits from the presentation was learning that Denmark is the leader in recycling, having introduced the world’s first law on recycling in 1978. This law mandates that at least 50 percent of all paper and beverage packaging should be recycled.

In 1989, the Statutory Order on Waste was implemented in Danish law. And in 2014, Copenhagen was named the European Green Capital, as four out of every 10 people commute by bicycle. Europe’s 2015 Circular Economy Package set a target to recycle and reuse 60 percent of municipal waste by 2025 and 65 percent by 2030.

Some Danes took eco-friendliness a step further when they developed Resource Rows, a housing community in Copenhagen’s Ørestad district that uses walls from abandoned buildings to build new homes, giving them a weathered look. These dwellings also have green roofs, and toilet water is harvested from rainwater.

Illinois has recycling goals too, one of which is for manufacturers to recycle computers, monitors and printers. McDonald’s, headquartered in Chicago, intends to use all recycled or environmentally friendly materials by 2025 and recycle customer waste. The city of Chicago itself, however, seems to be lagging behind. Its recycling rate in 2015 was 22 percent, far short of cities like San Francisco, which boasts an 80 percent recycling rate. Chicago does have a zero waste goal, though there does not seem to be a date attached to this idea.

At The Danish Home, residents and staff do their part to keep recycled matter out of the trash and make eco-friendly choices. A fellow descendant of a Danish Home founder told me that her friend, a resident she calls “Farfar,” wonders why America and other countries have taken so long to jump on the recycling bandwagon. “We Danes have known for a long time how important it is,” he told her. I’m not surprised.