I’m not sure if I’ve ever really discussed this, but I’m obsessed with waste management. My favorite class in college was Environmental Economics (hat tip to Dr. Bresnock). The class discussed the economics of environmental policies such as carbon offsets, curbside recycling, gasoline taxes, and a variety of other topics. It was absolutely fascinating.
What happens to our garbage was theoretical for me until I accompanied my husband and my uncle to the dump. I was absolutely appalled. It was at that moment that I realized how casual I was about tossing stuff in the trash – quite possibly perfectly good, usable things. Frankly, I’m sure that’s how most of America operates. You put the garbage in it’s tidy white plastic bag, which goes in the black trash bin at the curb, which magically disappears into the ether. Not even close. Everything you throw out ends up in a hole somewhere, and takes dozens, if not hundreds of years (IF EVER) to decompose.
I wanted to share some SUPER EASY WAYS to reduce the amount of waste you create.
- Don’t use single use products like paper plates, plastic forks, paper napkins or paper towels. Instead, purchase dishes, silverware, cloth napkins and cloth towels that can be used over and over. I’ve had my Corel dishes since I moved into my first apartment almost 15 years ago. You can get shop towels or microfiber for fairly cheap, and you can wash them a billion times. If I were really cool, I’d do the cost benefit analysis of using cloth towels over paper, but anecdotally, it was a no brainer for us. We used 2-3 rolls of paper towels a week. Now we have 30 cloth towels instead which isn’t even a single load of laundry. It takes a little more time and energy to make the switch initially, but after a little while, you won’t even notice. I’ve taken this to a ridiculous level, but it’s really quite easy.
- Try to buy items that come in the least amount of packaging, or packaging that is the easiest to recycle or biodegrade. For example, I buy the largest bottle of soap, get cardboard egg cartons, buy chicken breasts that are not individually wrapped, etc. Again, it takes a little effort to train yourself at first to consider the packaging, but it becomes second nature soon enough.
- Don’t buy new. Not only is this fiscally a smart choice, it’s a wise choice environmentally as well. The items that already exist on this planet have already consumed the resources needed to manufacture, transport and sell them. It’s what’s called a sunk cost. Don’t use up additional planetary resources to make new items. If we change people’s attitudes about “used” items, we may have less careless tossing of perfectly usable goods. I’ve also noticed that buying things “used” has reduced some of the crazy consumerism to have MOAR STUFF.
- Don’t throw things in the trash if they are usable. Instead, give them away to Goodwill, or directly to others via Craiglist or Freecycle. I know this sounds obvious, but I think people still throw out plenty of items other people may have a use for because they don’t realize it. For example – I have a use for your frayed towels and worn out/torn sheets. You’d never give those to Goodwill (I hope), but we use those for dog bedding. I’ve seen people request scraps of wood, leftover craft supplies, etc. You would be shocked at what other people will take off your hands that you may have considered trash.
- Compost. Almost all “organic” material can go into a compost pile or composter. This is nature’s recycling at work!
I encourage you to take a honest look at the products you use every day and consider if there’s an easy alternative to either using less, using a replacement item that generates less trash, or heck – if you need it at all.