So, you’d like to cut back on waste and garbage? It’s an awesome goal! We produce so much garbage and most of it ends up in landfills, oceans and clogging up the planet. It’s no secret that we have a huge waste problem in today’s world where everything is disposable, bigger, better, faster and more.
If you ever wonder what one little person can do about all the waste, keep in mind that the average person produces 4.6 pounds of trash PER DAY. 4.6, that’s 1679 of pounds per year–nearly a ton. So, one person reducing their waste footprint is a BIG difference. For another view, check out Gregg Segal’s photo series of people with ONE WEEK of their trash. It’s really fascinating (and kind of sickening).
If you want inspiration, check out the work of Laura Singer, who has produced only a mason jar’s worth of trash over four years. Her blog, Trash is for Tossers offers step-by-step help for those looking to go zero waste.
While a mason jar of trash might be a little lofty for some of us, there are definite steps you can take today to cut back on your trash.
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1. Pick Up Your Neighborhood
When Ecology Runner first started (clear back in 2007) it was born from an idea Sam had while viewing all of the garbage along Milwaukee’s Lake Michigan trail. He simply noticed the staggering amount of garbage out there, and decided to do something about it. He brought along a bag on his runs and picked up trash as he went. After a year, he’d picked up over 1820 bags of trash while running.
The easiest way to start is by picking up trash around your own neighborhood or running route. Watch for recyclable trash as you go and separate it out. Obey the philosophy of leave no trace. When you’re outdoors leave the world better and cleaner than you found it
2. BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag and Bottle)
When you go to Starbucks, buy a bottle of water, or use a bag at the store, you’re contributing to waste. Instead of taking the straw at a restaurant, ordering the styrofoam to go containers, or taking plastic bags, bring your own or go without. There are many times when you’ll even save a little money with your own bags, cups and containers.
Carrying a water bottle with you, is an easy way to cut back on plastics. Even though many bottle waters are recyclable, it’s better to avoid adding more plastic to the cycle. Instead, look for great bottle options from SIGG, Contigo, Takeya and others.
It may sound like a no brainer, but how many of us really recycle everything we could? It’s so easy to walk a can, a jar or a plastic container over to the recycling bin. It’s simple to recycle paper at work and incorporate more green practices into your office.
If your community offers a recycling program, take part! Putting your trash in a recycling bin requires no more effort or energy than putting your regular trash on the curb. Team up with your neighbors to share a bin, if the program includes a fee. Alternatively, offer to do a bi-weekly recycling run and drop off recyclables for your neighborhood to the local recycling center.
4. Buy in Bulk
Bulk items require less packaging. In fact, most stores with bulk bins will allow you to bring your own containers and bags to carry home your purchases. Simple reusable mesh bags work great for transporting item back and forth from the store. When you get them home, you can store them in reusable jars or containers.
Buying items in larger quantities can also cut back on individual packaging. For example–we buy or own oats in a large, cardboard container. Then we make overnight oatmeal in glass jars, sweetened with syrup (from a glass jar as well). This creates less waste than individual packets. You can also make your own energy bars, package your own snacks in reusable bags and wrap items in paper rather than plastic.
5. Sell Your Stuff
When you’re done with something, don’t just toss it out. Especially when it’s a big item like furniture, electronics and gym equipment. Instead, realize one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. List it on Craiglist, Nextdoor, Freecycle or eBay and see if you can find a takers.
Before you throw out useful items, always consider if they may be of value to another person. You might even earn some extra cash for yourself!
6. Donate Items in Good Condition
If you can find any buyers for your used items, donate them to the Goodwill, Salvation Army or St. Vincent. There are many donation centers that give new life to old items, particularly clothing, accessories, decorations and books. You can even earn a tax credit (note, with our new tax reform bill, the process has changed but you can still get credit).
Consider donating useful items to local schools and churches as well. Older, gently used toys can go to daycare. Dog rescues will often take older towels or blankets.
Composting is one of those activities that sounds much tougher and more nuanced than it is. Yes, serious gardeners get excited about finding the perfect PH balance for their compost and creating super rich organic soil for their fruits and veggies. But if you’re not ready to get all scientific about composting, you can still toss all of your organic waste into a compost bin. You’ll end up with descent compost after just a few months, with coffee grounds, vegetable peels, lawn and yard trimmings and paper.
Basically, you can compost anything that’s organic–paper, cotton, dryer lint, food scraps that don’t contain meat and dairy and plenty of other items. It’s really easy. Get a countertop compost bin for your food waste and then dump it into an outdoor container with ventilation. Give it a regular shake or roll and you’re composting.
8. Plant a Garden
Once you’ve got compost, why not set up a garden? Now, growing your own food might seem extreme or like an intense effort to some, but even growing lettuce, herbs and salad greens will eliminate the plastic containers those items are usually packaged in.
Imagine growing your own tomatoes, zucchini and other vegetables! Growing food helps connect you to your food source. It will strengthen your appreciation of the process that goes into our food system and it produces less waste as well!
Cutting back on waste isn’t hard, but it requires a shift in our mindset. While we might not cut our garbage down to a mason-jar-sized amount, we can reduce our waste enough to make a significant impact. Every little bit helps when it comes to keeping our planet clean and beautiful.