OK so let’s just say for argument’s sake that there really is a global garbage crisis. And it’s not the point of this article to prove that there is one. All over the world, populations are growing and becoming more affluent, consuming more goods and producing more waste.
The United States is the top country for producing waste, with a whopping 4.6 pounds of waste per person, per day. While only 55% of that is attributable to residential garbage, that’s still 2.5 pounds a day for each of us.
Think of it – Americans put 25 million plastic beverage bottles in the garbage every hour! 55 billion aluminum cans bypassed recycling and were trashed in 2004. The statistics could go on and on.
Worldwide, 2.6 trillion pounds of trash was produced in 2012, and space to deal with it is becoming more and more scarce.
While the powers that be are [hopefully] working hard at a solution for how to handle this situation, it’s obvious that if we all produced less trash the problem would be smaller.
There are people who go to extremes to produce zero waste – and wouldn’t it be nice if we could all do that! But like any other behavior we want to change, it’s always a good idea to start small.
Here are some ideas that you can use to tame your trash.
Recycle. Everything you possibly can. Newspapers. Plastic, paper and cardboard packaging. Magazines. Containers. Think about every single thing as you put it in the trash can and ask yourself if it could be recycled, composted, or reused. Think about every single item you purchase and consider its impact on the environment first.
Put Your Mailbox On a Diet
Cut back on the amount of stuff that comes to you via the USPS. Sign up for electronic bills and statements. Not only will it reduce waste, but you won’t miss a bill and incur a late charge – and it’s more secure.
Stop getting yellow pages directories. Up until today, whenever a phone directory appeared in my driveway it went directly into the recycling bin. Then I found out about http://www.yellowpagesoptout.com. I was able to see the directories delivered in my area and select the ones I wanted to opt-out of (all three of them).
Stop getting unwanted catalogs. Just pick up the phone, call the toll-free number on the back of each catalog, give the nice person on the other end the code and tell them you want to opt-out. They will be happy to accommodate you. If you want to do it online, just go to http://www.catalogchoice.org – it will even keep a list of what you’ve unsubscribed from and show the status of each request!
Stop junk mail. To be removed from national mailing lists, call the Direct Marketing Association at 1-212-768-7277 or go online https://www.dmachoice.org.
Bring Your Own Bags and Containers
Really, how hard is it to bring your own reusable bags to the store? They even hold more than plastic bags so that’s fewer trips back and forth when you get home. We have half a dozen and they cost 99 cents each. Our grocery store used to give us 10 cents back for every bag we brought so our reusable bags have actually paid for themselves.
If you only have a few small items, why take a bag at all? And, if you do take plastic bags, bring them back to the store to be recycled.
Do you go to a dry cleaner often? They are usually happy to take back hangers – so save them for your next trip back to the cleaners rather than throw them away.
Give a second life to containers. Some take-out establishments provide containers that can have a life of their own for dry goods and leftovers. Jars and other containers that some foods come in can be used for small parts and other items around the home and workshop.
A recycling system is only complete when products made from the recycled materials are repurchased by you. So when shopping – if you have the opportunity – choose those items that say, “Made from recycled materials” and have the highest percentage of post-consumer recycled content. It’s easy to find bathroom tissue, napkins and kitchen towels made from high-percentage post-consumer recycled content. Also look for clothing and shoes, carpet and carpet pads, plastic lumber for planters, decks and benches, motor oil, packaging materials, and writing or computer paper and envelopes.
Buying in bulk not only saves you money but less packaging is involved as well, reducing waste. You can buy juice, snacks, and other lunch items in bulk and dole them out in reusable containers each day.
Get to like your tap water – and if you can’t, maybe a filtering system would help. Get a reusable container for your water – and try a Contigo – it doesn’t drip when you turn it upside down. We’ve been using them for years.
Visit coffee shops frequently? Get a another reusable mug – and some coffee shops offer a small discount if your bring your own container, and it stays hotter longer.
If you get cold beverages when you are out, skip the plastic lid and straw when possible.
Stop Using Disposables
Stop using paper or plastic – use ceramic mugs, cloth napkins, table cloths and towels, china plates and silverware or reusable plastic. Save money and cut down on trash!
Switch to rechargeable batteries for the remotes. Use an electric razor or razors with replaceable blades. Use reusable containers with lids instead of aluminum foil and plastic bags or wrap. Avoid using disposable lighters.
Now you aren’t still using a strip-mined product are you? Well, if you are, there are a number of recycled and biodegradable products out there that you can use instead. And if you are already using a biodegradable product, don’t forget it is compostable, reducing waste.
Compost Food Scraps and Yard Waste
Speaking of compost, it is estimated half our household waste could be composted. You can keep a DIY composting pail in the kitchen and add vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, stale bread, and eggshells.
Most people know they can use a mulching lawn mower to leave grass clippings on the lawn. This recycles nutrients and does not produce thatch.
I have a machine that vacuums up the fall leaves and chews them up into small pieces. I use this as a mulch in the back of my property so 100% of my fall leaves go back into the earth. This year I picked up at least 50 bags of chewed up leaves. The machine even has a chute on the side for small branches!
Declutter – Donate, Exchange, or Sell
Give new life to your old things by donating, exchanging, or selling them. Why not have a yard sale or donate items to charities instead of throwing them away? Nursing homes and hospitals would be glad to get your old magazines and books. Many eyeglass stores will accept your old eyeglasses and pass them along to the poor. You can give away (or get free stuff) at https://www.freecycle.org/, or put stuff – visibly – out at the curb for freelance recyclers to pick up.
Reuse or Recycle Packaging
Do you get goods shipped to you, things that you buy online? Well, don’t send that packaging to a landfill. Paper wrap can be recycled, and plastic bubble wrap and peanuts can be brought to a shipping store – they will be happy to reuse it! Cardboard boxes can be reused or recycled.
27.4 billion disposable diapers are consumed every year in the U.S. Less than one half of one percent of waste from single-use diapers goes where it should go – into the sewage system. Over 92% of all single-use diapers end up in a landfill, and it is estimated to take over 250 years for a disposable diaper to decompose. So, try switching to cloth diapers whenever possible to keep disposables of out the landfill. Alternately, try a diaper service.
Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program creates basketball courts and soccer fields – with your old sneakers! Any brand of athletic shoe is accepted, but not cleats, dress shoes or shoes that are wet or that contain any metal. Just take your old athletic shoes to any Nike Store.
There’s one thing that everyone eventually needs to dispose, and that is themselves. In the U.S. alone, approximately 33 million board feet of lumber, 60,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete, and 5 million gallons of toxic embalming fluid are put in to the ground every year for burials. There are alternatives that will lessen the environmental impact. You can read more about some green burial suggestions and learn more at the Green Burial Council’s website. Think about it – and make your intentions known.
Now It’s Up to You
I hope we’ve given you some food for thought and suggestions for taming your trash. Do you have any other ideas? What do you do at your home or workplace to reduce the amount of waste? Share your ideas below!