Krystal O’Mara thinks often of her grandmother, Jerlene Morrison of Crosby County. Morrison’s generation endured the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. That experience of hardship gave them a perspective on consumable items that stands at odds with today’s convenient consumerism.
“She was so special to me,” says O’Mara, who noticed how her grandmother used and reused items in order to store food efficiently and take care of her family. Morrison learned those simple habits because, back then, conservation meant survival.
After World War II, the modern plastics industry began to flourish. Before long, single-use, disposal plastic became standard for packaging.
“It was such a huge reset once plastic was developed, as a matter of convenience,” O’Mara says. And because plastic is easier to create than it is to recycle, single-use plastics are filling up landfills, including our local one.
That’s why O’Mara, the designer and zero-waste consultant behind ReMain Designs, is dedicated to reducing her trash footprint as much as possible. “I feel very passionate about [reducing waste] because it just seems nonsensical,” she says of throwing trash away and “forgetting” about it. Out of sight may be out of mind, but someone still has to manage that trash.
Jennifer Landram feels the same way. A nutritionist, health coach and yoga instructor at Enlightened Health Center, she’s also the admin for Zerowaste Amarillo, a Facebook group with more than a thousand members. “We have such an issue with plastic waste,” she says. In the past, Landram has spent time talking to city of Amarillo officials about ways for the city to reduce its production of trash going into the landfill.
But for a variety of reasons—including expense, geographic isolation, and ingrained local culture—recycling anything but paper, cardboard and aluminum is nearly impossible in Amarillo. Still, both hope local residents will recycle when they can.
One of the most recycled materials in the world, aluminum can be recycled indefinitely without losing quality. Beverage cans are easy to recycle in Amarillo. Amarillo Metals Company (415 N. Grand St.) and Amarillo Recycling Co. (3518 Amarillo Blvd. East) both accept aluminum for recycling. One of the simplest options is to toss empty beverage cans in the trailer in the parking lot of Southwest Church of Christ (4515 Cornell St.). When the trailer is full, the church sells the bulk aluminum to fund mission work.
The City of Amarillo also offers clean aluminum recycling in bins at Southeast 27th Avenue and Hayes Street.
Many counties and municipalities own glass crushers that recycle glass bottles by pulverizing the glass into sand, which is then used in concrete or for landscaping. The city does not own this equipment, but Landram hopes it’s something that can be considered: “This is what I feel would make a really big difference.”
In the meantime, Texas Tech University offers glass recycling in Lubbock, and Target and Walmart Neighborhood Market stores will accept a limited amount of glass for recycling.
Recycling of plastic materials is unavailable in Amarillo and much more difficult as a whole. Of the plastic waste generated nationwide in 2021, less than 5 percent was actually recycled. In fact, a Greenpeace report in 2022 found that much of the plastic accepted by recycling plants wasn’t recycled but shipped to countries like China and India, where it was burned.
Larger cities like Albuquerque and Dallas are able to recycle certain types of #1, #2 and #5 heavy plastics (yogurt containers, kitchenware, water bottles), but true recycling remains a challenge for smaller amounts of product.
In Amarillo, large stores like Target and Walmart Neighborhood Market stores will accept a limited amount of plastic for recycling. In Lubbock, Texas Tech University offers a recycling center for a variety of paper and plastics.
Many local businesses and school districts have contracts with KB Recycling to recycle cardboard, with KB-branded green dumpsters all over town. “We have worked very hard to help save business owners money on their waste and also to provide an affordable recycling option,” says Adam Schaer, general manager. Because the green dumpsters are officially for use only for KB clients, the company also provides recycling dumpsters for free public use near Medical Center Park, the Downtown library, the Southwest Branch library, East Branch library and North Branch library. Canyon residents can recycle cardboard near the Canyon library (1501 3rd Ave.) and the Canyon Fire Department near the square.
Schaer advises residents to “please let your local leaders know” if they would like to see more recycling dumpsters for public use.
The locally owned Porter Waste Solutions offers paid, residential doorstep recycling services for Amarillo and Canyon residents, accepting paper products including magazines, newspaper, junk mail and more.
Local businesses like Document Shredding & Storage (DSS) provide a paid commercial and residential service which sends office paper for recycling after shredding.
No Recycling? Reduce Waste
With so few easy recycling options in the short-term, both O’Mara and Landram advocate for changing local habits. The mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is a good starting point for minimizing waste, O’Mara says, but she adds another word to it: Refuse. When you can, abstain from buying unnecessary products altogether. “Be as mindful of packaging as much as you are of the product,” she says.
She and Landram recommend the following ways to reduce landfill waste:
Prioritize Reusables: Instead of grabbing a single-use plastic bottle of water, refill your own bottle. “I keep a water bottle with me all the time and a coffee cup with me all the time,” O’Mara says. She also stores a set of cutlery in her truck or purse to negate the need for plastic forks and spoons when eating out.
“Reusable containers are a great starting point,” Landram says. “Avoid plastic and bring your own container to fill up.”
At the grocery store, O’Mara opts for reusable cloth bags—including produce bags made of T-shirt fabric—in order to use as little packaging as possible.
She also tries to avoid using single-use paper products. “I haven’t bought paper towels in forever,” she says. She prefers cloth towels, cloth napkins and handkerchiefs for facial tissues.
A national movement called the Buy Nothing Project has created a hyperlocal smartphone app that allows people to share, lend and borrow products. A few hundred Amarillo and Canyon residents appear to be members within the app.
Buy in Bulk: Purchasing larger quantities rather than individual packaged products uses less packaging material. O’Mara tries to do this when possible at Market Street on Georgia, but realizes not everyone has access to bulk shopping. “When I have the opportunity, I go to Sprouts [Farmers Market] in Lubbock,” she says, bringing glass jars as containers. Often, she will split the bulk purchases of rice, dried fruits or baking essentials with others. “Find a friend who’s interested in bulk [products] and separate it out that way,” she says.
Landram’s Zerowaste Amarillo group on Facebook will sometimes share bulk goods and bring their own containers to fill up with the food or grain.
Compost: O’Mara also adds “Rot” to the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” She composts food waste like coffee grounds, vegetables and fruit scraps. Landram is also an advocate for backyard composting.
The Environmental Protection Agency says nearly a third of waste produced by Americans could be composted instead. Backyard composting typically involves using organic kitchen scraps and yard waste like leaves and grass clippings. In a compost bin, these will break down over time and turn into a nutrient-rich soil conditioner
Meat and dairy products should not be composted, but O’Mara stores meat trimmings and bones, combining them with vegetables in order to create flavorful stock for soups. “I’ll do a vegetable or bone stock once a month,” she says.