Waste reduction is as important as recycling in saving natural resources, energy, and waste disposal space and costs, and in reducing pollution risks. Waste reduction also can reduce the toxic substances in waste. Individuals can help reduce waste by making environmentally aware decisions about everyday things like shopping and caring for the lawn.
Across the country, many communities, businesses, and individuals have found creative ways to reduce waste and better manage trash or garbage through a coordinated mix of environmentally friendly practices that includes source reduction, recycling waste (including waste composting), and waste disposal. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest solid waste facts and figures, Americans recycled and composted 85 million tons of solid waste in 2010. On average, we recycled and composted 1.51 pounds out of our individual waste generation of 4.43 pounds per person per day.
According to EPA, yard waste composting contributed to almost half of our waste reduction. Mulching lawnmowers are increasingly commonplace, and many homeowners simply leave their grass clippings on the lawn instead of bagging them for waste disposal or for composting in centralized compost piles. Some Americans have created backyard waste compost piles or bins for yard clippings and the types of food wastes.
Waste reduction also has stemmed from changes to product packaging, such as product manufacturers switching to plastic from heavier materials such as glass, metals and paper. The use of plastic is only one example of manufacturers’ ongoing pursuit of lightweight products. Aluminum has replaced steel in a number of applications because it is lighter. Newspaper and magazine publishers practice waste reduction by using smaller and thinner sheets of paper while continuing to make a quality product. Source reduction manufacturers finding ways to make, package and transport their products from less raw materials at a lower unit cost is just smart business and is capitalism at its best.
The waste reduction practices of individuals also can make a difference. Some jurisdictions have tried to incentivize waste reduction. Pay-as-you-throw programs, where residents pay for trash collection based on the amount of waste they produce, have had an impact. They have been particularly effective at encouraging less yard waste.
The best way to discover where you can reduce waste is to actually sort through your trash. What does your family throw away as waste? What materials take up the most space? Is anything reusable or repairable? Can you reduce the amount of disposable products you use? Can you substitute environmental friendly products and packaging made of reusable, recyclable, or nonhazardous materials? If you are throwing away unusable leftover products as waste, could you purchase these products in smaller sizes in the future?
Here are some specific ideas for successful waste reduction at home:
Buy durable products instead of those that are disposable or cheaply made. Repair/restore used items before replacing them. Buy items you can re-use. For example, drink tap water, not bottled water. Use china or enamel crockery rather than plastic or paper plates and bowls. Use real cutlery rather than plastic. Pack school lunches in reusable containers with lids. Buy concentrated products to reduce packaging. Examples are concentrated fruit juice, laundry detergent, fabric softener and window cleaner. Use an electric shaver or a higher quality razor with replaceable blades. Use plug-in appliances instead of those that operate on batteries. Buy items you can recycle locally through curbside collection or recycling centers. Buy beverages in returnable or recyclable containers. Learn more about recycling options in your community. List all the things you can recycle through your city’s curbside program or your local recycling center.
Then list the things in your trash that are non-recyclable. Next time you go shopping, look for recyclable substitutes. Avoid excess packaging when choosing product brands. Buy products in bulk, but only buy an amount you will use: larger sizes reduce the amount of packaging, but smaller sizes reduce leftover waste. Pass unwanted items on to friends and family. Or sell unwanted items or offer them to someone else for free. Several good websites now exist that allow you to do this. You may also donate unwanted items to a local charity or place of worship. Make really good use of your waste compost bin or get one. Keep a small container by the sink to put waste items for the compost bin straight in. Reduce toxic waste by purchasing paints, pesticides and other hazardous materials only in the quantities needed, or by sharing leftovers.