Today’s post was written by Joe Baker, Vice President of Editorial and Advocacy for Care2, and is published with permission from Care2.
There is a floating Texas-sized island of plastic and trash in the Pacific Ocean. A fire at Mumbai’s Deonar garbage dump — one of the largest in Asia — was so large, the plume of smoke it generated could be seen from space. These sad and sensational facts can make the issue of waste production seem gargantuan and remote. But every piece of trash that litters the oceans or is discarded in landfills comes back to people and the choices we make every day.
The average American produces 4.3 pounds of trash every day — totaling more than 1,500 pounds of waste per person every single year. That amount sounds staggering, but take a closer look at our daily habits and it’s easy to see how that 4 pounds adds up. Through grabbing coffee on the way to work or throwing away leftovers. Using takeout containers for lunch and buying packaged food at the grocery store. Through pens that run out of ink and beauty products with plastic microbeads.
The good news is, reducing your waste doesn’t have to be hard or even crimp your lifestyle. Here are a few simple ways you can waste less:
1. Buy foods in bulk.
Packaging and food containers are the largest component of municipal solid waste, comprising nearly 30 percent, so there’s a lot of potential for reductions. One of the simplest ways is to buy foods in bulk, particularly nonperishables. It requires more packaging to put 10 pounds of rice in five separate 2-pound bags than to lump it together in one larger bag. Not all of us have the storage space to do all our shopping at Costco, but given the choice, choose the biggest size you can among the options available. If your local store has a bulk food section, you can bring your own reusable bags and further cut down on waste.
2. Make reusable containers a priority.
This brings us to the second point: Start using reusable containers. If you get coffee every morning on your way to work, bring a reusable mug. Most coffee shops are happy to fill your container rather than use their paper cup, plastic lid, and heat sleeve. It saves them money on supplies while also being environmentally responsible. The same goes for lunches — rather than a single-use plastic sandwich bag, consider investing in a bento box where you can store your main course and sides. Skip buying a drink at lunch and instead carry a reusable water bottle. At happy hour, choose a beer on draft — when kegs are tapped they’re sent back to distributors and refilled with more brews, while bottles or cans get disposed of. Keep reusable grocery bags in your car or your purse. Some options fold up small enough that they can even live on your keychain.
3. Pick items with the most recyclable packaging.
There are plenty of times when you can’t avoid disposable packaging altogether, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do. When looking at all the options for a dozen (or two dozen!) eggs, think about what they come in. In general, it’s easier to recycle paper than plastic, so choose the cardboard box.
You can also think about choosing items with less packaging. Cereal boxes are just the outer package of the plastic bag inside that actually keeps the product fresh. Why not just buy the brands that dispense with the box and sell in the bag alone?
4. Opt in to paperless billing and out of junk mail.
You can reduce your waste outside mealtime too. Start with your mailbox, which, for most of us, is packed with credit card offers and bills. When you can, use paperless billing and pay your utilities, rent, car payments, and more online. Many banks will even give you a bonus rate reduction on loans if you sign up for automatic online payments.
To stop the junk mail from going to the junkyard, you can get yourself on a do-not-contact list. The Federal Trade Commission outlined ways to stop credit card and insurance solicitations for five years or even permanently. Organizations like Catalog Choice can help you opt out from catalogs and other offers from companies.
5. Print double-sided — or not at all.
How many one-sided notes, reports, or papers have you received? Printing on both sides every time literally halves the amount of resources you use and the waste you produce when you don’t need the documents anymore. If possible, don’t print at all. These days, the devices we use at work and at home have gigantic storage capacities and lots of services exist to facilitate sharing files of all sizes. Rather than printing a document for someone else to review, share it with them online or transfer it to a thumb drive, which can be erased and reused.
We know we live in a world of limited resources, and no one benefits from wasting them on unnecessary, single-use products that create more problems in landfills or as litter. We all face choices each day where we can commit to reducing our waste. The more often we choose to reduce, reuse, or recycle, the better chance we have of tackling the gargantuan challenge of making our lifestyles more sustainable.
Joe Baker is the Vice President of Editorial and Advocacy for Care2 and ThePetitionSite. He is responsible for recruitment campaigns for nonprofit partners, membership growth efforts and all editorial content. Prior to Care2, Joe was the Executive Director of N-TEN. Joe serves on the Board of Directors of Death Penalty Focus, the Advisory Board of GiveForward and volunteers for the Sierra Club and Amnesty International.