Americans produce more than 200 million tons of garbage each year. Per person, this averages out to over 4 pounds of trash every day and about 1.5 tons of solid waste per year. These disturbing numbers are made even more significant by the fact that 75% of all waste is recyclable, but only about 30% of waste is recycled responsibly each year. April is National Recycling Month.
This month, we will explore in-depth the three major facets of conservation and waste reduction: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. The subject of this article will focus on the first step of the conservation process: Waste Reduction
The best way to manage waste is to not produce it. The main focus of reduction is to minimize the amount of consumption and materials produced in order to result in a smaller amount of waste. The reduction step of the recycling process is the first step in waste conservation, but for some people it can be the hardest. Effectively reducing the amount of waste you consume involves changing your purchasing habits and mindset. For some individuals, this can be challenging. Below is a set of small waste-reducing habits that, when added up, can lead to greater environmental progress.
Buy Only What You Need
First and foremost, you should only buy what you need. In today’s consumer-driven society, there is an increased emphasis on individuals to purchase all different sorts of “stuff,” but where does this “stuff” end up when you grow tired of it? If all the other people on the Earth used as much “stuff” as we do in the United States, there would need to be three to five times more space just to hold and sustain everybody. Reduce unnecessary waste by avoiding pointless purchases. Instead of buying something you’re only going to use once or twice, see if you can borrow that item from a friend. Have an item that you want to get rid of, but don’t want to throw away? Try selling the item to make some extra cash or gifting the item to a friend who needs it.
Along with minimizing the amount of products you are buying, you should carefully select the products you do purchase by seeking out products with little packaging. Look for packaging made of a single material instead of paper, plastic, and cardboard. This will reduce the amount of waste you must dispose. When purchasing products you must use on a regular basis, try buying in bulk. Larger, economy-size products or ones in concentrated form use less packaging and usually cost less per ounce. This means less packaging material ends up piling up in your garbage. This can save you money as well.
Buy non-toxic products whenever possible. Many toxic products such as motor oil and pesticides cannot be reused. When a non-toxic option is not available, make sure to use the entirety of the toxic material so as to minimize the amount of toxic waste being disposed.
Buy Products That Can Be Reused
Many products you use and dispose of every day have non-disposable options that you can use instead to reduce disposable waste. For example:
- Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins.
- Use a dish cloth instead of paper towels.
- Buy durable goods that are well-built or have a warranty. These products will last longer and save you money in the long run.
- Avoid using paper plates, cups, napkins, razors, and lighters. These throwaways cost more because they must be replaced frequently and contribute to the problem.
- Buy reusable items such as rechargeable batteries and bottles instead of cans. This creates little waste and do not have to be thrown away after a single use.
There are a number of simple things you can do around your household to help you reduce waste. These tips are easy to do and can make a big impact on waste conservation:
- Save energy by turning off the lights that you are not using.
- Save water by turning off your faucet while you brush your teeth and limiting the length of your showers.
- Instead of buying different cleaners for different areas of your home, buy an all-purpose household cleaner.
- Start a compost bin in your yard. Certain food and plant materials can decompose over time. This decomposed material is good for the soil in your yard and reduces garbage waste.
- Find alternatives to hazardous household products. Make household cleaners using baking soda and vinegar. Use scented candles instead of air fresheners. Olive oil and lemon juice makes a surprisingly effective furniture polish.
- Use your computer! Read the online version of newspapers and magazines. Print out only what you need. When possible, print on both sides of a piece of paper.
- Cars use up large amounts of energy and are a source of pollution. Seek transportation alternatives such as carpooling, walking, public transport, or riding your bike.
- Got piles of junk mail in your mailbox? Remove your name from their mailing lists by writing to: Mail Preference Service, c/o Direct Marketing Assoc., P.O. Box 90008, Farmingdale, NY 11735.
These simple tasks are just a few small steps you can take to making the world a better place. If each American takes it upon themselves to make a few of these lifestyle changes, the amount of waste produced each year would drop significantly. Reduction is the first and most effective stage of the recycling process. Becoming aware of the problem and actively taking steps to change the culture of excessive waste production is one of the best decisions you can make to improve the environment.