Waste management is a hot topic in the environmental world. From proposed bills to make producers pay for the disposal of packaging to the rising popularity of zero-waste establishments, our throw-away culture is under fire and for good reason! While supporting bills and establishments whose values match our own is vital in making progress toward zero-waste, there are lots of steps we can take in our own lives to make a meaningful difference.
To reduce our waste overall, doesn’t it make the most sense to just have less to waste? By buying less “stuff,” bringing reusable bags to the grocery store, and saying no to single-use plastics, to name just a few waste reduction strategies, we end up with less stuff being thrown in a landfill. That means less fossil fuels used for transportation of our waste, fewer greenhouse gases emitted at the landfill, and less energy and raw materials used overall. The impacts of reducing are HUGE!
We also can reuse items – meaning that when the life of an item is “over,” we find another use for it. We can patch our jackets, repurpose items, shop at a secondhand stores, have clothing swaps, and spend time finding a creative use for things we otherwise might send to the trash.
After we’ve reduced and reused as much as possible, then it’s time to recycle and compost! When it comes to recycling, it’s so important that we pay attention to what our municipality accepts. “Wish-cycling,” tossing questionably recyclable items in the recycling bin, hoping they can be recycled, can actually cause an entire load of good recyclables to become contaminated trash, meaning that the whole load ends up at a landfill anyway!
Check out your town’s recycling resources so that you’re clear on what you can and can’t recycle.
THE LITTLE THINGS ADD UP!
We’ve all heard it before: single-use plastics are bad. They are petroleum based and their production requires LOTS of water. They persist in the environment long after their short useful life is through. But there’s some good news – we don’t need them! We have lots of alternatives to single-use plastics.
- Swap the plastic utensils for bamboo.
- Carry your own reusable grocery bags and produce bags.
- Ditch the plastic bags and plastic wrap for alternatives like beeswrap, reusable sandwich bags, and glass containers.
- Bring your own to-go coffee mug to the coffee shop.
- Invest in a water bottle.
- Shop in the bulk foods section at the grocery store. You can even bring your own reusable containers – just tare your container on the scale before you fill it up.
- Get a stainless steel straw
For some examples of what you could use to replace single-use plastics in your life, click the links above. All of these items or similar versions may be found at your local co-op, natural grocer, or grocery store.
While compostable items like bags, straws, and cups are popping up more and more, they still are less sustainable than having reusable alternatives. Those items still release a lot of methane, a greenhouse gas with 28 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, when they decompose if they are sent to a landfill. These items won’t decompose in your home compost, either. Instead, they need to be sent to an industrial composting facility to be properly disposed of, so while they are better than true plastic, our best bet is to just reduce ALL single-use items.
WHAT ABOUT FOOD WASTE?
Food waste makes up a huge portion of our carbon emissions. When food goes into our regular trash, it decomposes and emits methane, a really powerful greenhouse gas that is at least 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The best way to reduce those impacts is to reduce the amount of waste that we create in the first place. That could mean shopping more frequently so less food goes bad, only cooking as much as you need, and paying attention to the dates on the items in your cupboard.
Then, when you do generate food waste, it will be much less volume that can be composted (either at home or through a composting service) and turned into beautiful soil!
Composting at home can be done anywhere in your yard, although the sun will help it break down faster. You can buy a composting bin, tumbler, or a “Food Waste Recycler,” or build something yourself! There are benefits to each design, but with a little research (YouTube is your friend!) and elbow grease, you can build the best system for what suits your household.
Tips for Composting at Home:
Leave out meat, dairy, oils, and bones – they can attract animal visitors, big and small!
Mix browns (leaf litter, grass clippings, wood shavings) and greens (fruits and vegetables, grain product scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds, flowers, etc.)
If you’re planning on spreading the compost over your garden, keep weeds in a separate pile or else they’ll just re-seed your garden and nobody wants that!
Click here for more tips to start composting at your home.
Check out these DIY composting options:
Worm Composting Bin (great for homes with kids!)
Chicken Wire and Wood Three Crate Composting
Interested in signing up for composting at your residence or business?
WeCompostIt! offers pick-up services for Brunswick, Portland, and Kennebunk
Garbage to Garden offers pick-up services for Portland, South Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Westbrook, Falmouth, Cumberland, Yarmouth, Brunswick, and Bath. Plus, you can request your city be added to their service area!
Both services offer information on what is allowed in their bins on their websites.
We’re sure there are more tips and tricks for reducing waste.
If you have any that you’d like to add to our list, email firstname.lastname@example.org.