Trash. Nobody likes it, so why do we make so much of it? Everywhere I go, garbage cans are overflowing with trash. Trash cans on city streets, dumpsters in alleys, and my own trash bins in the kitchen always seem to be filled to the brim, ready for the next unlucky soul to empty them. Eventually that trash is picked up by a garbage truck and carried to the nearest landfill, far enough away that we no longer have to look at or think about the waste we have created. But actually we do — and we must — think about it.
Waste production is one of the most pressing environmental issues today, especially in a country such as the United States which thrives on disposable, one-time-use objects such as plastic grocery bags and to-go coffee cups. The waste we create poses a threat to land space, air quality, water quality, and ultimately, our health and nature. However, much of what we throw away can be recycled or re-used in some way. There are steps you can take to reduce your waste stream.
Key ideas to keep in mind to reduce waste:
- Recycle — Many materials are recyclable, even if they are not accepted in your municipality’s recycling program.
- Compost — Food waste is one of the largest components of waste in landfills. Starting a compost pile or a worm bin will significantly reduce your waste while creating a great product for your yard. Otherwise, you can seek out a neighbor or local community garden that may be interested in taking food scraps off your hands.
- Reduce — Most of the waste we create is from things we buy: packaging, food and drink containers, and personal products. When at the store, bring reusable bags and pay attention to product packaging. Before you buy something, think about how much of its package is recyclable or made from recycled products. Bring your own travel mug and tupperware to a cafe or restaurant so you can take leftovers home.
It is challenging to know what is recyclable. All local governments are different, so look into local programs for your city or town. Recycling policies are frequently changed and updated, often accepting new materials. Things that are not accepted in curbside bins often can be taken to independent recycling locations or disposed of through special programs.
Check out www.earth911.com to find recycling locations for various materials.
Large chain grocery stores and retailers often take back plastic bags that are clean and dry. Bags labeled #2 or #4, newspaper bags, dry cleaning bags, bread bags, toilet paper and paper towel wraps, cereal box liners, and ice bags can be recycled. However, food laden cling wrap, frozen food bags, and pre-washed salad bags cannot be recycled at stores. I tend to re-use produce bags or bread bags until they rip or develop holes before I recycle them.
Electronics are very important to recycle because they often contain contaminants such as lead and mercury. Free e-waste events that allow you to bring your broken or unwanted wires, cables, TV’s, hard drives, etc., are occurring more frequently. Batteries and light bulbs usually are not accepted at these events but can be recycled elsewhere. My local library, for instance, has a bin for recycling batteries, and IKEA takes back fluorescent light bulbs.
Hazardous waste is anything that poses a threat to people, animals, and the environment if handled or disposed of improperly. A product is hazardous if it is labeled toxic, flammable, corrosive, or reactive. Nail polish, bleach, household cleaners, paints and motor oil are common household hazardous wastes that must be taken to proper waste facilities. Expired or unwanted prescription drugs can be brought back to pharmacies or disposed of through other recycling facilities.
Styrofoam packing can be donated to mail houses such as UPS and FedEx. Whenever I get a package with bubble wrap or a large mailing envelope, I save it for the next time I need to mail something.
Even your sneakers can be recycled! Nike Reuse-A-Shoe turns worn athletic shoes into tennis courts, track fields, and new shoes and apparel. Just drop them off at any Nike Reuse-A-Shoe recycling location so they can be ground up and repurposed. Check out their site: http://www.nikereuseashoe.com/where-it-goes.
Almost everything can be recycled or reused in some way, so always think before you throw something away! All it takes is a little research and care.