“Each American creates about a ton of garbage waste every year, and about 90 percent of that is reusable, recyclable or compostable,” says Eric Lombardi, executive director at EcoCycle, a nonprofit permaculture zero-waste service in Boulder, Colo. “We have a system that takes a valuable resource from nature, uses it once and then destroys it. We need to stop managing waste and start eliminating waste.”
As mentioned above by Eric Lombardi, we need to stop managing waste in places like landfills and start eliminating waste altogether. Americans are recycling only 30% of their waste on average whereas countries such as Germany, Norway, and Japan have implemented successful zero waste policies that eliminate 80% or more of all landfill waste. Some cities in the U.S have implemented similar policies, but the results are minimal thus far. However, each household can take easy steps towards getting closer to zero waste. Here’s how:
1. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
First off, reduce the amount of waste you produce by choosing products that use less packaging and by reusing items as much as you can. If the items cannot be reused, then recycle as much as possible. Here are some examples:
- Use reusable water bottles made of stainless steel or aluminum as opposed to buying plastic water bottles from your grocery store. You can also buy glass water bottles that can, in turn, be used to store food items freshly.
- Use reusable coffee mugs instead of paper cups. Most coffee shops even offer a discount to those who bring their own mugs.
- Keep reusable shopping bags in your car for when you do the groceries to avoid having to use paper or plastic bags.
- Buy in bulk and avoid single serving packages as they create more waste.
- Try and opt for products and packaging that are already made using recycled materials.
- Shop farmer’s markets and grow some vegetables at home to reduce your usage of produce packaging.
Reducing and reusing should always come first as it avoids the amount of waste each household produces. However, recycling is also important. Recycling uses 40 to 95% less energy than manufacturing with raw materials, according to The Natural Recycling Coalition. Recycling also helps fight climate change: If you recycle just half your household waste, you’ll reduce your carbon dioxide footprint by 2,400 pounds — more than the emissions from a commercial flight from New York to Los Angeles.
It is pretty simple to set up a composting area in your backyard. When done properly there is very little to no odor issues. You can buy large bins made specifically for composting, place it in a shady part of your yard and let the composting begin. You can compost anything from vegetable scraps and eggshells to a paper towel. Compost makes valuable soil amendment and can be used to fertilize your gardens. When organic waste is sent to landfills, they create methane, a gas that contributes to climate change. By composting the organic waste instead, the waste can return valuable nutrients to the soil without producing harmful greenhouse gases.