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Updated 13-Mar-2014

Reducing Waste

Rose Naseef, Go Green La Grange!

Why is it important to reduce waste?

Reducing waste helps the environment because all items consumed use naturalimage001 resources and energy and generate pollution during production.  Also, although modern landfills are lined, the liners do not have an infinite life and pollutants from garbage can eventually leak into the groundwater and soil.  Additionally, using space for landfills means that, over time, there is less space for other activities, such as growing food and housing people.  Finally, the energy used to transport garbage from the curb to the landfill creates air pollution at every point along the garbage transfer route.

Ways to Reduce Waste

We can reduce the amount of garbage we produce by becoming aware of how much we discard and by changing our consumption habits.  You can remind yourself that there is no “away” and practice the 3 Rs:  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

    Reduce:  Reduce means to consume less.  Every item you buy uses natural resources and energy in production, generates waste during production, and requires energy for transport.  Every time you purchase frivolous items, or even take freebies, you are creating unnecessary pollution.  Reducing consumption means to buy mainly items you need and items that are long-lasting and have minimal packaging.  Out of the 3 R’s, reducing consumption is the most effective way to reduce waste, conserve natural resources, and protect the environment.

    Reuse:  Using items many times, including food storage containers, cloth napkins, shopping bags, produce bags, coffee mugs, personal water bottles, cloth diapers, shoes, and clothing, also reduces waste.  People can repair, donate, or sell items to facilitate reuse.  Reusing is better than recycling because items don’t require reprocessing before being used again.

    Recycle:  Recycling turns materials that would otherwise become waste, such as paper, aluminum cans, plastics, and glass bottles, into valuable resources.  Recycling saves natural resources and reduces the need for landfills.  For recycling to be effective, consumers also must buy products made from recycled materials.

Here are some specific ways to practice the 3 Rs:

  • Pack waste-free lunches:  Avoid baggies and single-serving packaged products, such as juice boxes, juice pouches, milk cartons, snack bags, and yogurt cups.  Pack sandwiches, snacks, and drinks in reusable containers and bring reusable silverware and cloth napkins.
  • Compost:  By using an outdoor bin or an indoor worm bin, you can keep your leaves, vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, and egg shells out of the garbage and, therefore, save landfill space as well as energy.  By composting, you will also create a rich fertilizer for your plants.  Many residents in the community compost and there is a lot of information on-line to assist you.
  • Reuse everywhere:  Reuse bags when you buy groceries, produce, and items at the mall.  Eat at restaurants serving food with reusable plates, cups, and utensils.  When you go out for coffee, bring your own reusable mug or ask for a porcelain dine-in mug.  Sports players, bring your own reusable drink bottles (for water or for sport drinks you make from powder) and avoid one-time use beverage bottles.  Parents can bring fresh fruit rather than individually packaged snacks for the team.
  • Recycle at home, school, downtown, the park, and places of business:image006  Ask organizations in your community to make recycling more convenient.  Ideally, every place there is a garbage receptacle there will be an adjoining recycling receptacle.  Also, ask local organizations to utilize bagless receptacles which eliminate plastic bags from the collection process.  Some communities, even here in the Midwest, use bagless receptacles in their public areas. 
  • Remodel responsibly:  Replace only non-functional items or energy wasting appliances, salvage/sell/donate usable items, and recycle appropriate demolition materials (i.e. metals, appliances, plastics).  Paint and carefully chosen accessories (purchased from a thrift store or garage sale, if possible) can dramatically improve the appearance of a room, even one with older cabinetry and fixtures.  Embrace the style of your older home as well as the features which make it unique! 
  • image008Reduce overall consumption:   For some people, this is the most difficult challenge.  Reducing consumption, however, doesn’t mean that you stop spending money.  Rather, you spend more on higher quality goods, such as organic food, natural clothing, and energy-saving technologies, and less on disposable, lower quality items.  It also suggests that you spend more on services like taking a class or hiring a babysitter.  Buying less stuff can be good not only for the environment but also for your health and well-being. 
  • Buy recyclable products and packages: Some packages are not recyclable, including many of the bags used for chips, nuts, cereals, cookies, dried fruit, granola bars, and fruit leathers, and, thus, should be avoided.  Products like Styrofoam and plastic bags should also be avoided due to limited recycling possibilities.  Two-liter bottles can be recycled, but many of the resulting products cannot.  Aluminum cans and metal products often are made into a variety of items, many of which can further be recycled.  Reusing items is still preferable to consuming single-use products, but, for the times you can’t reuse, it is good to choose items that can be recycled. 
  • Buy products made from recycled materials:  You can buy toilet paper, tissue paper, napkins, printer paper, greeting cards, spiral notebooks, carpet, clothing, shoes, furniture,image010 pencils, toothbrushes, compost bins, reusable plastic cups, and reusable plastic food containers that are made from recycled materials.  Recycling only works when we buy products made from recycled materials. 
  • Purchase electronics sparingly:  Use your products as long as possible and recycle them at local electronics recycling events.  Purchase your products from companies that have vowed to take your product back at the end of its life and recycle it responsibly.  Unfortunately, recycling electronics is polluting and energy intensive and, as a result, it is often done overseas.  Thus, contemplating whether a purchase is really necessary can significantly help the environment. 

 

More information about waste reduction:

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