Americans generate more trash than anyone else on the planet: More than 7 pounds per person each day. The majority of this waste ends up in landfill—almost all of it could be recycled.
The products we use take water, energy and materials to produce. What we send to landfills is a waste of those resources. Even processing recycling consumes some resources.
To address the waste problem, we need to focus on reducing consumption, as well as reusing what we already have. There are easy things everyone can do.
"We pay for this stuff, and it goes right into the waste bin, and we're not
capturing it the way our recycling programs are intending us to capture it.
We're just sticking it in the ground and building mountains out of it."
—Edward Humes, author, Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash
What you can do to reduce your consumption
1. Save energy. Saving energy is part of almost every activity and consumption choice we make. What sort of energy savings have you made around your home? What can we do to be more energy smart? Here are a few ideas:
Change a lightbulb. Compact flourescent light bulbs use 75% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs and last 10 times as long. LEDs are also an attractive (if more expensive), option. They last for years and use even less energy than CFLs, without the trace mercury.
Drive less. In the U.S., driving is one of the biggest sources of pollution. Combine trips, carpool, take the bus, walk, bike and live in a place where you can do all of these.
Eat lower on the foodchain. Adopt a diet that emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables and minimizes meat, seafood, and processed foods. You can have the biggest impact by eliminating red meat.
2. Save water. Sanitizing and pumping water through pipes to our faucet is the 2nd largest use of fossil fuels in Northeast Ohio. Plus, the power we use to heat water averages 10 percent of our household energy footprint. Here are a few things you can do to use less water:
- Take shorter showers
- Install a low-flow showerhead
- Wash clothes in cold
- Plant drought-resistant native gardens instead of grass
- Hook up a rain barrel to your downspout; it all adds up!
3. Reduce waste. We know there's really no distant place called 'away' for our trash. Much of what ends up in our landfills in Northeast Ohio is food, so start by eating fresh, local food—it tastes better, so you'll waste less!
Compost. It's easy, just throw food scraps and yard clippings into a compost pile or bin, and turn it with a pitchfork. After a week or two, you'll have free plant fertilizer.
Unclutter your life. Before you go shopping, ask yourself, is this something I just sort of want or actually need? How essential is that new gadget or frock to your well being? Could you find a gently-used version?
Fix it first. Consider that repairing a broken appliance or fixture keeps a neighbor in business. Made and repaired in America can be our new mantra. Check the Yellow Pages for repair services. There are still plenty in the Cleveland area. You'll keep stuff out of the landfill and keep dollars circulating in the local economy.
Sell or Donate it. Cuyahoga County has 150,000 residents living in poverty. Plenty of people shop for their daily needs at a local, second hand store such as Salvation Army or Unique Thrift, which get their donations from people like you and me. Many nonprofit agencies from Purple Heart to Cleveland Catholic Charities accept and even pick up donations of used items. Have a yard or garage sale before you trash it.
Reuse existing items. Often the simplest solution to a problem is to just reuse an item you already own for a new purpose.
Buy reusables. Just like reusing existing items, have reuse in mind when you’re in need of something new.
Make your own. When possible, you can make your own consumable products.
Choose secondhand. When you do need flooring for your new home or a suit for the office, why not try out secondhand or consignment stores.
Cut packaging waste. Packaging can make up nearly 30% of your trash bin. So when faced with a choice between two similar products, choose the one with the least total packaging.
Start recycling. Though not the most effective choice for reducing waste (see all preceding tips here for better ideas), having a home recycling program is extremely important. It is the eco-friendly way to handle all of the waste that you can’t prevent.
We are such spendthrifts with our lives, the trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster. I’m not running for sainthood. I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out.
― Paul Newman
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