The average American produces around 7.1 lbs. of trash per day, and will generate 102 tons of trash in their lifetime. To give a bit of perspective, that weight is equivalent to every car made in Detroit since World War II! Every piece of food packaging, every old t-shirt, and all of those old phone cases that don’t fit your new one, all accumulate to form our individual 102 ton total. We have developed an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude that allows us to forgo responsibility once an item is thrown in the bin, so we often don’t think about where our garbage will end up. As convenient as it is to have our trash picked up and taken away, we have to remember that it’s only being transported to a different location, and it doesn’t disappear.
Minnesota strives to follow this order of waste management: reduce, reuse, recycle, compost, waste-to-energy (incineration), landfill. This shows that as important as recycling is, it should not be our primary goal. Yes, recycling allows us to reuse material in order to protect valuable virgin resources, but wouldn’t it be better if we refrained from using the materials in the first place? By saving those resources we save money and energy that would be spent on the manufacturing process, and the money that we would spend to buy the product. So the next time you think you need to purchase something, consider the following:
1. Is this item necessary?
2. Is it made of recycled materials?
3. Can I recycled it?
4. Can this be reused?
5. If the item cannot be recycled, how will it be disposed?
The beauty of reducing one’s waste is that it is not an all-or-nothing commitment. There are some individuals who are able to reduce their waste to the point of not sending any trash to the landfill, and for others the most they can do is to bring reusable shopping bags to the grocery store. The best you can do is the best you can do, and that’s okay! Changing one part of your waste stream may seem inconsequential, but it can have a great impact in the long-run. These are the steps we have to take in order to change our attitude toward sustainable living.
Besides being environmentally sustainable, reducing one’s household waste directly benefits the individual. First, you save money by purchasing food and products that do not have additional packaging. When you have less packaging, you don’t pay for the extra cost, your garbage bin does not get as full, and you can reduce your hauler costs and the amount of trash sent to the landfill. Second, you begin to eat healthier because food without additional packaging is usually fresh, nutritious, and not processed. Third, you will become more conscientious about your purchases, both with food and other products. This will lead to only buying things that you really need, which declutters your life and further decreases the amount of trash and unnecessary items in your home.
I’m sure we could all use a little less clutter in our lives. So why not start now?