The Facts on Trash
We all know that trash, especially plastic waste, is a big world problem right now. To put some numbers to it, each year the worlds’ nations generate 1.3 billion tons of solid waste. That amounts to 1.2 kilograms (2.64 pounds) per person per day.
According to The World Bank, “With rapid population growth and urbanization, municipal waste generation is expected to rise to 2.2 billion tonnes by 2025.”
Considering that more than half the world’s population does not have access to regular trash collection or management, the environmental pollution and health problems associated with the toxicity of trash will also rise.
In terms of economy, trash is a financial burden, requiring cities to spend 20% to 50% of their budgets on waste management.
And can you guess who generates the most waste? The United States. Followed by China, Brazil, Japan, and Germany.
“The more urban and industrialized a country becomes, the more trash it produces,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
So, what do we do? For developing nations, waste collection is key. For developed nations producing most of the world’s trash, reduction is crucial. And that’s where most of us can play a role.
We’ve all heard the phrase Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, but what we most often take for granted is the fact that Reduce comes first in the phrase. We can only recycle materials a certain number of times due to structural degradation, so eventually, everything we make will end up as trash. And since China has stopped taking in about half of the world’s plastic and paper products for recycling, the US’s plastic waste is piling up. We simply don’t have the infrastructure in place – or financial incentive – to recycle it all.
Multiple factors point to the fact people around the world need to reduce their consumption of things, and here are a few things you can implement in your life if you’re really committed to reducing waste.
How to Reduce Waste
Fast fashion is rapidly changing how long people keep their clothes and how many tons of material goes the landfill each year. Sure, you can take your unwanted clothes to a consignment or thrift store, but the glut of cheaply produced garments means consignment stores won’t take them and thrift stores can’t sell them. According to this in-depth article by Newsweek, which you should totally read, “84 percent of unwanted clothes in the United States in 2012 went into either a landfill or an incinerator.”
How can you help?
- Buy second-hand. It’s not flashy like an H&M, but it’s even cheaper and way better for the planet.
- Learn how to mend and repair what you have. And you thought “darning” was old-fashioned.
- Buy good-quality, organic materials. Synthetic fabrics are a major contributor to microplastics in our oceans and waterways. That quick dry shirt isn’t doing the world’s wet parts any favors.
Food and the Grocery Store
Here’s one place where Reduce doesn’t apply to the product but to the product’s packaging. In the United States, convenience has driven the way we buy food, from the giant grocery stores to the packaged meals, and our lives are fashioned around this convenience. We also know that it’s a privilege to be located near a farmer’s market and to have the time to attend their restricted hours. While we advocate for farmer’s markets and CSAs for being providers of local and organic meat and produce with little associated waste, here are a few tips that people can implement on a regular, year-round basis.
Skip the plastic bags.
You’re already taking your reusable canvas bags to the store with you; now take it a step further.
- If the store has a bulk section, ask if you can bring your own containers. Here’s a fantastic zero-waste website that has a Bulk Locator tool to help you find the bulk section closest to you.
- Try avoiding those flimsy produce bags and bring your own cloth ones instead. Cloth produce bags are sold in some grocery stores and online, or, if you’re handy with a sewing machine, you can make your own.
- This guide on how best to store your produce at home without plastic has proven to be incredibly useful to EPI staff.
Make Food Waste Disappear, like magic!
Food waste is a serious worldwide problem, with one-third of all food being lost or thrown away each year; while at the same time, we experience widespread food insecurity. A lot of it ends up in landfills, where it decomposes slowly and without air, releasing the greenhouse gas methane. According to the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization, 40% of food waste comes from consumers, like you and me.
For one, meal planning and thoughtful grocery shopping can help us reduce the amount of food that rots in the bowels of our fridges. Here’s a meal planning guide we liked.
But meal planning doesn’t account for the potato and banana peels, the coffee filters and grounds, the strawberry tops, and the burnt toast. That’s where composting comes in. Composting is nature’s way of recycling, and it’s surprisingly easy. There are a million resources online to learn how to compost at home, as a quick online search will show. However, if you live in an apartment, or home composting isn’t an option, there’s a chance your city may have a municipal composting program. EPI Headquarters is lucky enough to live in such a city, and we’re proud that the watermelon rinds sitting on this desk right now won’t end up in the landfill.
Cancel Your Junk Mail
They don’t make it easy, but it is possible to slow the flow of unwanted and wasteful paper products crowding your mailbox. Here’s a guide to opting out.
Just stop using single-use paper and plastic products!
Single-use plastic and paper products - like cups, utensils, paper plates, paper towels, and to-go containers- are by far one of the biggest ways we can reduce waste as consumers. Plastic straws, in particular, are iconic symbols of ignoring long-term ecological costs for short-term pleasure. Luckily, with just a little bit of forethought and practice, we can drastically reduce our reliance on single-use products. If you have your own reusable container and utensils, some restaurants, food trucks, and other vendors will serve your food in them. You already carry a reusable water bottle but try using one for your coffee and other beverages, too.
Drinks bottles are one the most common types of plastic waste. According to the BBC, some 480 billion plastic bottles were sold globally in 2016 - that's a million bottles per minute. Of these, 110bn were made by drinks giant Coca-Cola. And only 7% of that 480 billion was recycled into new bottles. If this statistic sounds staggering, it's because it is.
One of Missoula’s coolest community resources is the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center’s dish library. The dish library is an assortment of dishes, silverware, and cups that an organization or individual can reserve and check out at any time for the low of cost whatever you wish to donate. One of our staff members used the dishes for her wedding; her mother was appalled at the lack of matching dinnerware, but it was cheap and waste-free! Don’t have a dish library in your town? Why not? Maybe you should start one. It’s a beautiful thing.
For so much more on the subject of reducing waste in your home, check out Zero Waste Home; it’s a website and book! And tell us the handy and inventive ways you’ve made the world's trash load lighter in the comments below.
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