If you are an eco-conscious person looking to make a difference in the world of waste, you may spend a fair amount of your time wondering what you can do to change your ways for the better. The obvious efforts around the Rs—reduce, reuse, recycle—are great, but what else can a person do to minimize personal garbage and reduce the level of solid waste jettisoned every day in brimming landfills?
As we know, how we handle our debris is a huge problem—one that has both economic and environmental repercussions. So, while most of us consider ourselves to be adept at conserving, the truth is there are some surprising ways to make an even greater difference in the world of waste. Because when it comes to minimizing landfill debris, there’s no effort too small.
When we think about landfills, we usually picture blown-out television sets, pieces of unrecognizable metal, and old toilet seats—things without an imaginable purpose—but a great deal of landfill material is just old clothes. Most of our closets are filled with things we no longer wear, and when we are ready to purge, a lot of it goes in the garbage because it seems worthless. Who wants a shirt with a tear in the front? Or a polyester jumpsuit from the 70s? Well, the answer is—a lot of people.
Instead of throwing these items away, consider donating them to local thrift stores or charities, many of which will even ship them to other countries that are more concerned with warmth than fashion. If you want to make a buck, have a garage sale and try to sell some of the other items; it’s a fun way to meet your neighbors and maybe even make enough money for a whole new outfit. As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure—a motto that serves the planet quite well.
Reduce Food Waste
The next three items go together because they all ask us to rethink how we eat and handle food in the kitchen. According to a study from the USDA in 2014, 40 percent of food in the U.S. is wasted each year, a shockingly high number given its significant contribution to the production of methane and other harmful greenhouse gases. In fact, more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in municipal solid waste streams. And yet, it is something we seem to throw away without much thought. Every year, a large percentage of perfectly good food is left uneaten and somehow ends up in the trash, with no good resulting from its disposal. Home composting is an obvious solution; however, the problem can also be drastically reduced if people simply donated some of the non-expired food they don’t consume.
How does food selection affect waste management? It happens primarily through the way healthier food is processed and packaged. When you eat fast food or inexpensive, highly-processed food, it typically leaves behind a small mountain of wrappings, greasy bags, or plastic condiment containers. Albeit small in scale, that debris adds up when everyone does it without thinking. Just imagine if you had chosen to buy fresh or minimally processed food and prepared it yourself at home. You’d instantly see how considerably less waste is generated. Plus, you’d probably feel and look better!
Remembering to save food that is still edible can make a big dent on your waste and save you a lot of money in the process. Eating leftovers can be a delicious and effective way to generate less trash and can give you an excuse to buy a new cookbook. (Or maybe not after you read the next tip!) Try making it a habit to save what remains from your dinner, and either eat it the next day or use it to prepare something new. Creativity breeds innovation, and innovation brings about solutions.
Stop Buying Stuff
No, really. When you are in a store, ask yourself if you really need to buy something. You might be surprised how often the answer is no. Often, people shop simply for entertainment, or because they are angry, anxious, or sad. It may fill an emotional hole that’s really being caused by something else. Other times, we shop for a replacement for some object that’s only slightly damaged or no longer fashionable.
Refraining from buying can be especially profound when you think about the value you will get from a purchase versus what you’ll be left with when it’s opened and no longer useful—probably a whole lot of plastic packaging and the need to dump whatever it is in a landfill.
Whatever you buy instantly becomes yours—your responsibility and your problem. Thinking about it this way really helps us avoid needless consumerism, promote personal accountability, and reevaluate our priorities. Being mindful about what we throw away is pretty obvious, but not buying things in the first place may be even more effective.