On average everyone in America (including babies) generates that much. How can that be?
For every garbage can emptied at the curb, the amount of waste generated by obtaining raw materials (including oil and gas used for energy) and manufacturing processes of creating finished products and packaging create the equivalent of 71 garbage cans of waste.
Estimates of how much garbage each household generates includes its share of the production and distribution chain. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection estimates that if everyone reduced their trash output by 1 pound per week, it would reduce total trash in the state by 312,000 tons every year.
That’s one state. Think of how much a simple waste reduction of one pound per person per week would accomplish nationwide!
We should recycle more, but recycling is only the third part of the waste reduction hierarchy: reduce, reuse, recycle. The order of those three practices matters.
Waste reduction can be achieved by such simple habits as using both sides of a sheet of paper or using a refillable mug instead of disposable cups. Reducing waste
- conserves renewable and non-renewable natural resources
- reduces pollution
- conserves landfill space
- reduces needless consumption
- conserves energy
- reduces contamination of air, water, and soil caused by manufacture and transportation of goods—including hauling waste to the landfill and all the methane generated there.
- saves money – both in terms on money consumers don’t spend on unnecessary products and in terms of taxes for waste disposal costs
Reduce what you bring home to prevent waste in the first place.
1. Sort through your trash a few times
If you know what you’re throwing out, it makes it a lot easier to decide how to throw out less. Take note of what takes up the most space. Can you reduce your purchases of that?
Look for what might you might be able to reuse or donate.
Assess your food waste; perhaps you don’t need to buy as much of some things, or perhaps you need to eat up leftovers quicker.
2. Keep up with routine maintenance
You don’t replace major appliances often, but if your refrigerator, furnace, etc. goes bad, it becomes a waste disposal problem. Have your furnace and air conditioner inspected annually. It will last longer.
Clean your refrigerator’s condenser coils every few months to reduce electricity use and the need for maintenance calls. It, too, will last longer. Similarly, maintain your car, the exterior walls of your house, your windows, etc.
And don’t forget smaller things. If you take proper care of clothing and shoes, for example, they will last longer and you won’t have to replace them as frequently.
3. Buy quality
The lowest price item can be tempting, but good products last longer. Good products can easily outlast two or three of the cheap ones.
4. Buy in bulk
Buy non-perishable foods in bulk to avoid packaging. Take your own glass or plastic container to the bulk store to avoid using the store’s plastic bags.
Some stores package peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, etc. in a plastic tray with plastic wrap. Why buy those packages? You’re only buying trash along with your produce.
The same principle applies for anything else that you can buy without taking home unnecessary trash.
5. But don’t buy more than you’ll use
If you buy too much of anything, eventually you’ll have to get rid of it, or in the case of food, it will spoil.
6. Don’t buy toxic products if there is a non-toxic alternative.
If you must use a hazardous product, use it all before disposing of the container or take it to a hazardous waste collection center.
Buy non-hazardous products whenever feasible:
- latex paint instead of oil-based paint
- boric acid instead of commercial roach and ant killers
- cedar chips instead of mothballs
- plunger, plumber’s snake, or baking soda and vinegar instead of commercial drain cleaners.
7. Substitute reusable items for disposables
Here are just a few ideas:
- Use cloth towels and rags instead of paper towels.
- Get a collection of cloth bags and take them shopping instead of accepting plastic bags.
- Use rechargeable batteries (and be skeptical of instructions on gadgets not to use them).
- Use an electric shaver, or at least get a razor with detachable blades instead of disposable razors.
8. Prefer plug-in products to those that use batteries.
Even disposable batteries eventually wear out, and then become the largest source of cadmium collected in municipal trash.
9. Choose minimal packaging
Prefer bar soap to liquid soap to avoid plastic containers to discard. Or at least buy large refill containers to reuse the pumps.
When you buy ice cream at an ice cream shop, eat it only in cones.
Use baking soda as an antiperspirant.
Prefer pills in a bottle to pills individually bubble wrapped.
10. Avoid impulse buying
You don’t have to decide what to do with what you don’t buy in the first place.
11. Don’t buy if you can rent or borrow
If you use a chainsaw or other tools and equipment frequently, it makes sense to own it. Otherwise, rent or buy it.
Use the library, not only for books and magazines, but all manner of audiovisual media.
12. Reduce junk mail
You don’t have to buy anything to generate trash. Plenty comes in the mail. For utilities, mortgage payments, and other recurring bills, go to the company’s website and sign up for electronic billing.
The Direct Marketing Association will help you control the stream of catalogs and other marketing materials.
You don’t have to throw away items you don’t want or can’t use any more. With creativity, you can find ways to repurpose them for something else. It doesn’t require your own creativity, either. Suggestions for how to reuse an array of items are only a web search away.
Or instead of reusing something yourself, you can give it away so that someone else can reuse it.
13. Donate to and patronize thrift stores
You don’t have to be poor to buy from thrift stores, either. It doesn’t neessarily help your own household waste reduction, but it does cut down on the amount of waste nationwide.
Remember how much waste the manufacture and distribution of new merchandise creates.
14. Buy remanufactured, refurbished, or rebuilt products.
Remanufacturing means disassembling a product and replacing worn or obsolete parts. The wide range of remanufactured products includes air conditioners, computer equipment, gaming machines, auto parts, furniture, and print cartridges.
Refurbished and rebuilt do not have as precise a definition and may be somewhat riskier purchases, but they have undergone some kind of inspection and repair to see that they are free of defects.
Something simply called “used” may or may not have defects, so buying it carries some risk. In principle, it’s still a good idea if you have a chance to inspect and try out the item.
15. Where possible, repair or restore products instead of disposing of them
Not too long ago, it was easy to get almost anything fixed. Nowadays, it’s so much cheaper and easier to get rid of many products and buy something new. If repair is possible, though, it’s a better idea both for the environment and your money.
Furniture is easy: Have that sad looking, sagging sofa reupholstered. Have that scuffed and scratched table or chair refinished.
Get your shoes resoled. Investigate to see what else you can repair instead of replace.
16. Think of how you can reuse packaging.
You can recycle plastic and glass containers, but you can also use them to contain something else. Perhaps you can pack part of a lunch in an old cottage cheese carton instead of using foil or plastic bags.
Use non-reheatable microwave dishes for pet dishes, plant saucers, or picnic plates.
17. If you subscribe to print magazines, let someone else read them
Doctors’ offices, hospitals—anywhere with a waiting room—might appreciate them. So might nursing homes.
18. Use salvaged or recycled materials in building or remodeling your house.
You might even like vintage fixtures better than what’s currently on the market.
19. Return plastic trays and pots to the nursery
When you finish planting your garden, the place where you bought the plants will probably be happy to take them back. It cuts down on the expense of buying new ones.
In 2000, the EPA estimated that Americans recycled 30% of the waste stream. That amount of recycling saved the equivalent of 5 billion gallons of gasoline or more and reduced imports of foreign oil by 114 million barrels.
I see no sign that the rate of recycling has gone up since then, but the benefits are obvious not only in energy savings, but also in postponing the day when all the landfills are full and there’s no acceptable place for new ones.
20. Put recycling containers next to every waste container
You and your household are more likely to separate recyclables if you don’t have to carry them across the house
21. Search for ways to recycle what you can’t put at the curb
22. Compost organic material
Compost yard waste. It make a small but excessive portion of trash in landfills. Except for animal products, you can also compost food waste. Find a container especially designed for the purpose and keep it in the kitchen.
Other compostable material includes shredded paper, sawdust, fabric scraps, hair, finger and toe nail clippings, those odd bits of string you cut off from clothing, and, if you have a wood-burning fireplace, the ash.
23. If you have no need for compost,
find somewhere that accepts compostable materials. Some community composting program or garden project will be happy to receive it.
24. Think of what to do about the end of a product’s life when you buy it
For example, when you buy a scrub brush, get one with a wooden handle and natural bristles so you can compost it when it wears out.
25. Consider how to reuse and recycle before remodeling or building your house
Discuss construction and demolition waste with your architect and general contractor before they begin the project. For a new home, discuss how to design it with future renovation in mind.
Instead of piling up mixed trash, have them separate it immediately by type (lumber, fixtures, different kinds of metals and plastic, even such rubble as drywall, concrete, and asphalt). You can find a local place that will buy it from you (or at least accept it) with a simple web search.
26. Reuse or recycle clothing too shabby to donate
It makes fine rags or a cheap bed for pets. Some non-profits, including Good Will, St. Vincent DePaul, and the Salvation Army participate in fabric recycling programs.
26. Recycle waste motor oil
If you change your own oil, take the waste oil and filters to a garage for proper recycling or disposal – same with lawnmower oil, outboard motors, etc.
27. Buy recycled products
You haven’t actually recycled anything when you take it to the curb or a dropoff center. You have only provided raw material for a manufacture. The process of recycling is not complete until people buy those products.
The EPA and many state government websites have directories to help you identify and locate products with recycled content. Search “recycled-content product directory.”
Don’t try to implement all 27 of these tips at once. Develop one new strategy at a time, and as that becomes a habit, work on another.
Trash bag. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons.
Household hazardous wastes. Source unknown.
Groceries–and packaging. Some rights reserved by Phillip Stewart
Good Will clothing drop-off center. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons
Plastic in a garden. Some rights reserved by Julian Stallabrass.
Quilt from reclaimed fabric. Some rights reserved by denise carbonell.