Each individual generates about 4.4 pounds of trash per day in America. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “in 2013, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash and recycled and composted about 87 million tons of this material, equivalent to a 34.3 percent recycling rate.” This poses a huge environmental and cultural problem, because we’re basically filling up the planet with trash and lots pf waste.
But what can we do to minimize and reduce our waste? Before we start thinking about that question, let’s begin with the basics by defining terms such as waste, compost and recycle. This way, we can better understand their difference. From there, we’ll start to think about our cultural production of waste, the way we spend, and our attachment to material objects. Finally, we’re going to share our favourite (and simple) tips for reducing waste.
Starting with the Basics
There’s nothing worse than putting your trash, compost and recycling all in the same bin. So let’s spend some time learning the difference between these concepts.
This is how FullCycle defines waste, trash or garbage:
“Waste, or rubbish, trash, junk, garbage, depending on the type of material or the regional terminology, is an unwanted or undesired material or substance. It may consist of the unwanted materials left over from a manufacturing process (industrial, commercial, mining or agriculture operations) or from community and household activities. The material may be discarded or accumulated, stored, or treated (physically, chemically, or biologically), prior to being discarded or recycled. It is also used to describe something we use inefficiently or inappropriately.”
Here’s a little secret about the definition of this term: it’s a bit subjective because what one person may define as waste may not be considered as waste by another. But let’s look at the bigger picture. Waste is anything that can’t be composted or recycled. This basically refers to any material we would use with no intent of either reusing or returning it back to Earth. In other words, the stuff that finds itself in landfill.
Waste is a human invention, and composting is nature’s process of recycling materials into rich soil that we call compost. This way we actually give back to Earth. Also, through active and accurate composting we rely on an alternative way of dealing with ‘waste’ that is compatible with nature, ultimately allowing us to reduce what we add to landfill. There are many benefits to composting. Aside from giving back to our planet and protecting the environment, you can save money and improve your soil. The compost you add to your garden, feeds your soil all the nutrients it needs in order to improve plant growth.
The interesting thing about recycling is that it works to turn waste/trash into reusable material. This is a great step into reducing our waste and learning to use existing material and objects to create other ones. That said, it’s important that we understand what really gets recycled and what gets down-cycled. Often we use recycling as an excuse and as a result, we continue to consume more than we need. Different materials such as glass, paper and plastic are often recycled. But in reality, and environmentally speaking, there is a huge difference between recycling glass and plastic. At one point, plastic can no longer be recycled or reused, and has to be down-cycled instead. And can you guess where that ends? Landfill.
Reshaping our Waste Culture
Today’s culture unfortunately pushes us towards a materialistic lifestyle. We consume without thinking about where our ‘things’ end up. Think about the big garbage bins that get picked up every week. Have you ever wondered where they go?
Waste and consumption is a pressing environmental issue. Some of the risks include: water and soil contamination and an increase in pollution. Also, in the process, methane gas is generated. All in all, we’re filling up the planet with trash, and in the process, destroying our only home.
But why? The worse bit is that it’s self-inflicted. We create these materials; we use them, spend money on them, and eventually get rid of them. If we have full control over our consumption, then why don’t we change our ways? Wouldn’t it make more sense if we lived in a way that was more compassionate towards the Earth?
Introducing the 5 Magic R’s
Ever heard of Bea Jonson? Her and her husband, along with their two boys, only produce one quart of garbage per year. Can you believe it? In her work, Zero Waste Home, she explores and offers the ultimate guide to reducing, de-cluttering and simplifying your lifestyle. By living with less, the family can enjoy a life based on experience, where they can spend more time together and reduce their annual spending by 40 percent.
But how do they do it, you may ask. Don’t you just wish there was a formula? Well, there is. It’s called the 5 R’s and this is how Bea defines them.
Step 1: Refuse what you don’t need
Step 2: Reduce what you really need and can’t refuse
Step 3: Reuse those things that you consume
Step 4: Recycle what you can’t refuse, reduce or reuse
Step 5: Rot or compost
You’ll notice how much you reduce your waste just by refusing the things you don’t need. We’ve just developed a habit of buying things, and by controlling our shopping; we can automatically control our waste production.
Another important thing you need to do is evaluate your trash. This means, know exactly what goes in there and why. Soon you’ll realize what can be composted, recycled or even avoided.
The Best 4 Tips for Reducing Waste
If you’re just starting to think about managing your waste, you’ll probably want some simple tips to get you going. Don’t worry! We have you covered. Here are the best (and easiest) 4 tips for reducing your waste:
- Change your relationship with things: this means forget about buying, and start to live an experienced-based life. So think about the things you enjoy doing. Things like traveling, reading, hiking, attending a concert or cooking.
- Say NO to disposables: assess your lifestyle and try to see when you rely on disposables. We live in a culture that likes convenience, but at what price? What if you had a reusable water bottle, coffee mug, straw or cutlery.
- Live plastic-free: we already discussed the problems with plastic; it gets down-cycled and eventually ends up in landfill. But also, it’s got chemicals and toxins that are harmful to your health. Avoid it as much as you can. And if you want to learn more, check out our blog on the dangers of plastic.
- Shop in bulk: shopping in bulk means you spend less. But it also means that you can avoid unnecessary packaging. If you’ve evaluated your bin, you may have noticed that a lot of the things in there are from food and personal care packaging.
Have a good think about your lifestyle and environmental impact.
Do you want to be remembered for the trash you leave behind? Or, do you want to lead a lifestyle that values life on Earth?
Don’t forget to comment below. We’d love to hear from you.