Waste Not, Want Not

Over 11 million tons of recyclable materials enter landfills every year. It takes 500 years for one plastic bottle to decompose. The energy it takes to make 1.5 million tons of plastic could power 250,000 homes. We Americans, on average, generate 4.4 pounds of trash daily...each.

Between take-out food, plastic bags, water bottles, packaging of goods, and paper-use, we produce A LOT of waste. And over half ends up in landfills. It doesn’t get recycled or reused. It gets thrown out, cursed to a life of sitting in a pile of, well, other garbage: landfills. But, out-of-sight-out-of-mind, right? Wrong. Landfills have many detriments that don’t come to mind immediately. As waste decomposes, methane is released, compromising oxygen productivity and eating holes in the O-zone, a productive shield around the world that keeps other toxic gases from coming into our atmosphere and compromising the air we breathe. These gases like methane, called Greenhouse Gases, are also a huge contributor to global warming: melting our polar ice caps, ruining millions of animals’ homes, causing catastrophic events such as El Niño, and much more. Another detriment of landfills is landfill runoff, which washes pollutants into our groundwater, poisoning our drinking water, irrigation, and natural springs.

So, what can you do to help? In swoops the “Zero-Waste Movement.” It sounds a little woo-woo, but it’s really quite simple: buy reusable items over disposable items, and recycle when you can! That’s the best starting place to be. Zero-waste is all about acknowledging the problem that waste has on the world as a whole, and doing your small part to make a difference in the immense load we are placing on our environment.

Where should you begin? Well, it all begins with small choices! Invest in some quality burlap or canvas bags that you can take to the grocery store. This cuts down on the waste from plastic or paper bags. There’s even mesh produce bags you can buy that, in my experience, also extend the life and quality of the produce if you keep them in the fridge! While at the grocery store, I also made a conscious effort to keep in mind how much packaging something came in. I opt for bulk-shopping and bring my own glass mason jars to buy things like rice, oats, beans, and dried fruits. The best part about zero waste: it forces you into a healthy lifestyle! Most unhealthy foods come in an obscene amount of packaging and waste product, while healthier, more holistic options, can usually be purchased raw, as-is, or in bulk!

My next step in my zero-waste journey was recognizing how much I ate out. I invested in a stainless steel lunch box and a few pairs of portable bamboo forks, spoons, and knives that I take with me when I’m on the go, in case I get hungry and stop for to-go food. In my experience, I have had no flack for bringing my own box! In fact, most food employees applaud me once I tell them the reasoning behind bringing my own to-go box. Coffee was also a huge source of waste for me, as I drink a soy cappuccino daily, it’s my routine! I purchased a reusable mug that I bring with me every day as well as an iced-drink cup and some stainless steel straws in case it’s a hot day. That’s 7 cups and/or straws that I’m keeping out of a landfill every week. That’s 365 a year! To me, that’s making a difference.

My last piece of advice is to just pay attention to materials! Zero waste means reusable, sometimes even for a lifetime! Most zero-waste approved materials are hypoallergenic, non-porous, and antimicrobial. Stainless steel, bamboo, wood, glass, etc. are all very easy to clean, reusable, and keep trash out of landfills! Plastics, paper, aluminum, they’re all very porous and cannot be reused without collecting bacteria. Which is why they’re promoted to be recycled rather than simply thrown in the garbage. If you do make waste, it’s best to make waste that can be recycled.

If zero-waste is appealing to you, I highly recommend the blogs Trash is for Tossers and the Wild Minimalist. This is a huge passion of theirs, and the tips and resources they provide are unparalleled. There are also many YouTube videos all about the zero-waste lifestyle. Good luck!

- Alex D.

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