By Ana Ellington, Senior Editor
When you throw something away, there really is no “away.” According to the U.S. EPA, more than 80 percent of our trash goes to a landfill. Only 20 percent is burned in incinerators with energy recovery. Most of the garbage you’ve thrown away, therefore, is still out there and will stay there for many years to come. The Clean Air Council estimates that in 2007, U.S. residents, businesses, and institutions produced more than 251 million tons of solid waste. That’s about 4.6 pounds of garbage per person per day. Per day!!
But you can make a difference. NAEM offers some easy ways to reduce your waste.
1. Practice the three R’s: By reducing, reusing, and recycling, you can greatly reduce how much waste you produce. Try selling or donating things like clothing, appliances, and furniture that you no longer use. Always try to recycle before sending anything to a landfill.
2. Bring a bag: While shopping, if you only buy a few products, skip the shopping bag. For larger purchases, bring your own reusable bag. Learn about the dangers of plastic bags.
3. Pass up trash: Don’t accept “free” promotional products or utensils/containers that you don’t need or want. Look for products with the least amount of packaging. Every little bit of trash avoided does make a difference!
4. Buy in bulk: Purchasing things in bulk containers can save money and reduce packaging waste. Whenever possible, avoid products that are individually packaged for single use. Instead, buy in bulk and transfer the products to your own reusable containers.
5. Try e-cycling: Donate old electronics, such as computers and TVs. Many electronics contain materials that are toxic when tossed in a landfill. If your community doesn’t have a recycling program or center for used electronics, contact the product manufacturer (or the manufacturer of the new unit you purchase) to see if they have a recycling program.
6. Pack a waste-free lunch: Use a bamboo lunchbox or reusable bag. Bring a mug or thermos with you instead of using disposable cups.
7. Swap your bins: Strive for bigger recycling bins and smaller trash cans. Pay attention to what you can reuse before buying something new. When comparing products, consider how they’re packaged. Encourage recycling by buying products made and packaged with recycled materials.
8. Ditch disposables: Whether it’s paper plates and plastic utensils or a safety razor, disposable products produce a ton of waste. Choose durable, reusable products instead that will last longer. Consider using metal utensils, washable plates, and rechargeable batteries.
9. Stop junk mail: Stop unwanted mailings and recycle any that you do receive. Join the junk mail revolution at donotmail.org and get rid of catalogs at catalogchoice.org. If you still wish to get information from your favorite retailers, sign up for their e-mail list.
10. Give waste-free gifts: Ask for gifts that don’t produce waste. Examples include donations to charity, seeds from your garden, tickets to an event (lecture, play, concert, etc.), or gift certificates for spas and media downloads.
For more information, explore the World Health Organization’s database about what to do with old and unwanted material.
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