It is important that we start thinking about how much waste we produce in America. Think about where our products come from and where they end up. The United States sends about 69% of its waste to landfills. That number varies from 39% to 88% depending on the region of the country. Much of that gets buried and won’t break down like we would like to think, and a small percentage gets recycled (34%, which is low when compared to other countries.) It’s easy to point fingers and place blame, but the truth is all of us are responsible for the amount of garbage we produce. The choices we make every day add up to copious amounts over the years. There aren’t excuses for living that way, and we can minimalize our impact by embracing a zero-waste lifestyle.
“Zero Waste is about effecting environmental change on a household level. It’s tangible, manageable, and realistic for individuals to tackle on a daily basis. It promotes improved quality of life by reducing one’s possessions, freeing up time spent caring for those possessions, and saving money”. So what can you do to be active in the zero waste lifestyle? We’ve all heard of “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle,” but you can take it one step further by actively participating in 7 R’s of zero waste.
Refuse – Think about your choices and don’t buy or use an unnecessary product if you can otherwise avoid it. Can you use the air dryer instead of taking the paper towel? Take that a step further and carry a towel to dry off your hands in public places. Do you really need another “free” pen from that fair? Taking one means there will be a need for the company to make more, and it will probably just end up in a junk drawer. Do you get a lot of junk mail? You can visitdmachoice.org,optoutprescreen.org andcatalogchoice.org to fight it and register to receive less.
Reduce – There of course will still be items that you need to buy. Whenever that is the case, limit your quantity and only buy what you need! Make a list for yourself before you go to the out shopping and stick to it to prevent picking up unnecessary items. If you bring fewer items home, you will have less to deal with. You can also declutter your home and reduce the items that you own by giving to family and friends or donating to local thrift shops. It will lighten your load and help those in need.
Reinforce – Take care of your belongings so they will last longer without needing to be replaced. Cover your books to protect the surface, service your vehicle before it breaks down, and put protective cases on your electronics. Keeping your belongings clean and in good working order means you will not have to buy new ones to replace them, and it means the old items won’t end up sitting around in a landfill.
Repair – When your items do break, take the time to repair them before immediately tossing them to the curb! Torn jeans can be fixed with a little patch and some sewing work. Take faulty electronics to a shop to be looked at and repaired. Many items can have their working lives prolonged with just a little TLC from the owner. While this doesn’t mean they will say out of the bin forever, it does keep them from the landfill a little longer!
Reuse – When you can, reuse items instead of disposing of them. You can get creative and “upcycle” items. Turn an empty cereal box into a magazine holder or sew old T-shirts into a quilt. Opt for reusable items instead of the disposable ones, such as refillable water bottles, cloth shopping totes, and cloth napkins. You’ll start to enjoy the savings after you ditch the disposables and work toward a more zero waste lifestyle!
Rot – Figure out a system for composting that will work for your home. Learn what items can go into a compost bin and what items should be left out. For example, you can throw in dryer lint and hair, but should leave out meat bones.) If you have a larger compost receptacle, you’ll be more likely to use it freely. See if your community has available composting. Food waste doesn’t belong in the landfill! It should be turned into compost so that it doesn’t go to waste and can help other produce thrive. That’s a win-win.
Recycle – Never forget about the final ever popular “R”… Recycle! Learn about your city’s recycling policies and locations and make sure you are utilizing them! Although a great practice, recycling should be at the end of the line after you have already gone through the other “R”s. Buy products that are recyclable (and avoid the ones are are not) to have a successful zero waste lifestyle.
Do regular waste audits in your home and keep track of what comes in and what goes out. If you understand your buying and waste habits, you can start trimming down the amount of waste you produce on a weekly basis! There are many solutions out there that will become more obvious once you start looking. When they become habits, you will think to yourself, “Why didn’t I start doing this sooner?” You’ll start to see your garbage output shrink considerably and will feel better about your lower impact on the environment.