Monday, April 7, 2014

Going Green: A Day Without Waste on April 9th

Our society has a problem with waste. The culture of consumption, convenience and newer-and-better that dominates our society has led to an overwhelming and completely unnecessary amount of waste that harms our environment -- and ultimately, ourselves.

How much waste?  According to Global Citizen, the organizers of April 9th's "A Day Without Waste," approximately 75% of our garbage is recyclable, but only 30% of it actually gets recycled.  Additionally, One-third of global food production is wasted every year. More than one-quarter of our home water usage goes toward flushing toilets (and this is drinkable water!). In the Pacific Ocean, a swirling vortex of floating garbage has accumulated enough waste to cover an area one and a half times the size of the United States 100 feet deep with garbage. In 2013 alone, we used enough single-use "K-Cups" to wrap around earth 10.5 times.

The average American produces nearly 5 pounds of garbage per day!  Multiply that by 365 days per year, then again by the US population of approximately 318 million people, and that adds up to... well... a lot of garbage every year. With a growing population, declining natural resources, and increasingly polluted environment, it is critical for everyone to take at least a few small steps to minimize waste.

I would encourage all of us to participate in "A Day Without Waste" on April 9th.  For one whole day, do not throw anything in the garbage.  Use what you can, and then recycle or compost any leftover waste.  However, don't let your efforts stop there! If you can do it for a day, then you can do it every day, right?  The change may be challenging to get used to at first and will require a little more effort and forethought on your part, but eventually you'll find that you can easily live your life with less waste, while protecting our environment and actually saving money at the same time!

Here are a few simple and painless ways to get you started on reducing your household waste:
  • Ditch the disposables:  Plastic utensils, paper plates, plastic baggies... these are all unnecessary and wasteful. Take the time to wash and re-use plates, dishes, and utensils, and instead of packing lunches and leftovers in plastic baggies, invest in reusable glass food storage containers.
  • Say goodbye to paper towels and napkins.  What?? How will I live without paper towels? Trust me, it can be done! Replace your paper towels with cloths or rags that are washed and re-used (or get crafty and make your own roll of towels) and replace paper napkins with cloth ones. You'll save money, reduce waste, and even with washing, you'll still use less water than the 50-200 gallons used to manufacture a single roll of paper towels!
  • Bring a reusable cup for your coffee run.
  • Use a reusable water bottle. Just say no to bottled water. Please. 
  • Purchase groceries and food items that have minimal packaging. It is much less wasteful to purchase fresh produce (preparing, canning, and/or freezing it yourself if necessary) and buy in bulk (portioning it out yourself) rather than choosing prepared frozen foods or items packaged in single-serving packages. Buy the basic ingredients and make as much as you can from scratch rather than purchasing pre-prepared foods, which often come with embarrassing amounts of plastic packaging.
  • Purchase reusable shopping bags and actually use them. I will admit, there have been times when I have forgotten my reusable bags, or had to stop by the store unexpectedly and was forced to use plastic bags.  After too many of those shameful experiences, I always make sure that my reusable bags go straight back into my car when I'm done unloading the groceries!
  • Recycle everything that you can.  Paper, glass and metal... these items should always be recycled! Plastic is a little trickier... pay attention to the number printed inside the recycling symbol on your plastic items.  Numbers 1 and 2 are always recyclable, but other numbers may or may not be... check with your recycling service provider to find out what's recyclable and what isn't.
  • Compost food waste.  Whether it's in your home compost bin or a food waste bin provided by your garbage service, there are better options for disposing of food waste than in the garbage!
  • Look at your garbage.  Seriously, take a peek inside your garbage bag before hauling it out to the bin, and take stock of what's in there.  Is the bulk of it food waste? Or paper towels?  What items in there can be replaced with reusables, and which can be recycled or composted? And while we're at it, take a look at the bag itself.  There are options available these days in the way of biodegradable garbage bags, so consider making the switch and bidding farewell to plastic.
Just keep in mind when you throw something away that there is no "away".  Everything comes back to us... our garbage washes up on beaches, the chemicals and pharmaceuticals we flush down toilets and drains make their way into our drinking water, garbage incinerators (or backyard garbage burning) release toxic chemicals into the air we breathe and surrounding land that grows our food... the list goes on. 

Lainey Piland photo

These are but a few small ways in which you can decrease your contribution to our society's waste stream.  Try to put these into practice on A Day Without Waste on April 9th, and make a commitment to reducing or eliminating your household waste.


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