About the middle of June, I received my blue recycling cart from the City of Chicago. Within a week, I was fed-up with separating garbage from recycling materials. I thought I was keeping items separated, but the recycling materials and food waste that I sorted ended up in the same bag. I banged my fists on the kitchen table to vent my frustration at our inability to keep trash separate from food waste.

But I didn’t have to be frustrated. A few days later after my anger subsided, I realized I had to organize. Once organized, things flowed smoothly. With inexpensive materials, I learned how to recycle household waste in a series of steps.

First, I saved the plastic bags from stores. This was not difficult because I shopped at the Jewel, Sears, or Walgreens, frequently on weekends. It wasn’t long before I had accumulated a large number of white plastic bags. Also, I sent a family member to the corner grocery store almost every day, because I usually forgot to buy an item at Jewel that I needed for a recipe. I accumulated a large number of black plastic bags from Super Jim’s. I figured by using the plastic groceries bags more than once, I could help rid the environment of a plastic bag becoming stuck in the branch of a tree or blowing across my front lawn.

Second, I stored the black and white plastic bags in two cloth bagholders. I hung the bagholders’ loop over a nail outside the pantry door. Whenever I needed to replace a black or white plastic bag on the kitchen doorknob, I just pulled one down from the bottom opening in the bagholder.

At this point in the process, I had to decide which color of plastic bag to use for food waste and recycling materials. This was an important step because it determined how well I would keep the food waste and the recycling materials separated. It was easy for my family and me to remember by just looking at the color of the bag hanging from the kitchen doorknob. The junk mail, paper towels and small empty jelly jars went into the white plastic bag for recycling. And chicken skin and bones, potato skins, and coffee grinds went into the black bag for waste.

I found that 95 percent of what I had been throwing away was recycling material. The white recycling bag filled quickly, so to cut back on changing bags four or five times a day, I stored bulky recycling materials such as large size Frosted Flake boxes, Uncle Ben’s Rice boxes, and half-gallon plastic milk bottles in a 30-gallon garbage bag on the backporch.

On the other hand, food waste didn’t amount to very much, but it needed to be replaced daily because bad odors could build-up.

Finally, at the end of the day, my husband gathered the items going to the black and blue carts standing in the alley. From the kitchen he took the black and white plastic bags hanging from the kitchen doorknob. On the back porch, he picked up newspapers, magazines, and home shopping catalogs that were stacked on the porch table. And he took the big garbage bag with the recycling materials from the can on the porch. Everything went into the blue cart except for the small black food waste plastic bag.

The process of recycling was complete. We felt we had made our community a healthier, cleaner place to live.