Humans produce way, way too much trash. and when I say humans, I’m definitely including myself. This really struck home when I opened the door of my new (OK, used, 14 year old) Tacoma to find the cab cluttered with paper cups, receipts, and all manner of detritus. When I think about the enormous amount of energy that went into cutting and pulping the trees, making paper, pressing it into cups and rolls, printing my receipts, drilling for the oil that became the plastic bottle holding my juice, etc. etc. it just boggles my mind. The amount of energy used today to make things that will be used once and thrown out is staggering. And there’s also the problem of things that won’t biodegrade, like most plastics. In fact, plastic items have an annoying tendency to blow away and end up in the ocean where they get eaten by all manner of critters, from sea turtles to shore birds-none of whom can digest plastic. In fact, by 2050, scientists predict there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans. Obviously this is not an ideal situation, unless you have some kind of rare mutation that allows you to munch on a plastic water bottle like it’s a grilled cheese sandwich. So you and I need to find ways to reduce our trash output.
Which leads to this: the Slash your Trash challenge, or, how to cut your trash output down to a minimum. I’m going to try to follow the steps in this challenge over the next month too, because I’m starting to notice a pile-up of trash in my life resulting from ‘trashy’ habits.
- Stop using disposable napkins, dishes and silverware (or plastic ware, I should say.) This is a huge problem for me, as someone with a spotty schedule, a commute that takes me far from home base, and a weakness for two-eggs-on-wheat and a monstrous morning coffee. You can reduce your to-go ware output by several methods. One is to cut back on takeout, probably the easiest way in theory. Buy food like dried fruit and nuts that’s easy to carry around in reusable containers for unexpected attacks of munchies. Or start packing your own lunch if that’s applicable. Another way is to eat more sit-down meals, but I understand that’s not practical for some (or, hey, let’s be honest, most of) us. Another strategy is to have a designated fork, travel mug, and cloth napkin that you can carry around in your car, bag or backpack. Then you can use your mug for to-go hot beverages and you won’t need to ask for napkins or forks when you get takeout.
- Implement strategies to reduce food waste. A staggering amount of food in the world gets wasted. If you’re an average American, almost almost a quarter of the food in your fridge will end up getting thrown out (curse you, slimy greens and overripe avocado!) If you’re into in cataloging and quantifying everything, there’s apps available to track your food purchases and remind you before they expire; some are mentioned in the linked article. Alternatively for a low-tech solution you could split your grocery shopping for perishable items into several smaller trips during the week, increasing the chance you’ll eat rather than forget your purchases. Sticking to a planned menu and buying ingredients specifically for it also helps. If you are a restaurant owner, the EPA has published a guide to reducing food waste in your business, including resources such as a food waste tracker.
3. Eat food with less packaging in general. You’ll notice this forces you to eat a lot healthier, unless you’re really into home baking…in which case, bake your heart out. Homemade cookies can be whipped up in 20 minutes and taste way better than the kind that come hermetically sealed in 6 layers of plastic. Also, consider bulk-buying options for ingredients like sugar and flour to reduce packaging even further.
4. Carry a reusable bag around with you so stores don’t constantly try to foist plastic scraps of crap on you. This company sells bags that fold up tiny enough to fit in your pocket, and you can also order stuff from them customized with a logo/words. (Warning: cheesy, buzzword-packed website.)
5. Why the heck would you throw out your perfectly good lawn trimmings and buy garden mulch? I have occasionally wondered myself. According to the EPA, 13.5% of waste in landfills is…lawn trimmings! You can use these to mulch around plants in your garden, I’ve tried it on my kale and it seems to keep the weeds down and protects the soil from drying out. Grass clippings also generate heat while decaying, and you can use their heat to heat a mini greenhouse in spring. Put pots with germinating seeds on top of a good layer of grass clippings, and their heat will warm the soil. My mom does this at her flower farm.
6. And since paper makes up another 27% of waste, it helps to be vigilant about recycling…and using both sides of the paper…and using the backs of one-sided printouts for scrap paper.
7. Finally, planned obsolescence is an actual conspiracy happening right under our noses, so buy things built to last if you can at all afford it.
And that concludes my trash challenge! I’ll try it myself and report back.