We at GREEN overload our already busy schedules to try to bring you monthly information, personal stories, and tips to be green and sustainable in the lab and in life. We have staff writers and editors, we have guest contributors, and we have a glass cutting wizard (Cody) that provides you with refurbished glass waste for your everyday drinking and planting needs. But now I would like to present something entirely new. I’d like to present the first ever Kayla’s Corner; a special (and regular) guest contribution by our very own Kayla Matz that will bring simple household tips, idea, and information to be green at home. Because there is no way to reduce the word count when I type these things up, let’s focus on reducing another form of garbage.
One thing most people rarely think about is garbage and landfills. Most garbage ends up in landfills where garbage is buried, which causes decomposition to dramatically slow or stop. The EPA estimated that in 2012, Americans created 250 million tons of garbage. 34% of this is recycled, 55% is buried in a landfill and 12.5 % is burned. Sadly, a lot of this waste could have been composted or recycled. The main problem with landfills is the large amount of biogas/green house gas that is generated, with about 45 million tons of methane and 20 million tons of CO2 generated each year.
There are a lot of small changes you can do to help reduce the amount of trash that ends up in landfills. The EPA suggests: reducing the source, recycling, and composting. I’m going to just focus on “reducing the source”, which is often forgotten and maybe the easiest. For reducing the source, some general suggestions are: 1) buying items in bulk (less packaging), 2) buying products with less packing, 3) buying used, 4) buying reusable items or items in reusable packaging, 5) maintain and repair items, 6) borrow items from friends, and 7) donate. A woman living in NYC has managed to almost completely stop creating garbage and 2 years of waste accumulation fits in a single mason jar! She writes a blog (http://www.trashisfortossers.com/) about her lifestyle. The blog has a lot of tips and homemade recipes on household items to help reduce your garbage.
Here are some suggestions and examples that I do to “reduce the source”:
For bulk items, I buy a big tub of yogurt that lasts me a week or two rather than the individual serving cups.
I have a set of metal utensils at my desk instead of using disposable at lunch.
When I buy vegetables and fruit, I don’t put them into plastic produce bags, I just put them into the cart. If you’re worried about germs and dirt, just wash them extra carefully before eating.
I buy a few pairs of running shoes every year. Once a pair is too worn out for me, I donate them to the local running store that has a big box to throw your donated shoes into. The shoes are then donated to people in need in the Tucson area through the Gospel Rescue Mission (grmtucson.com).
For some more specific examples on reducing waste, I’m going to focus on the two items everyone already knows they shouldn’t use: 1) plastic bags and 2) bottled water. Even the most mindful of shoppers will occasionally find themselves out running errands without their cloth bag. I recently fixed the problem of convenience of plastic bags for myself by moving my bags from the drawer in the house to the car, so I no longer have to remember to grab one as I leave. In terms of bottled water, it can be super convenient- when outdoors, traveling, or running errands, not necessarily for everyday use. Many people buy bottled water with the plans of recycling the bottle, but the average American will use 167 water bottles a year and only recycle 38. When I travel, I pack a small travel coffee mug. During my trip, I have something to hold my coffee, and at the airport I use it as a water bottle to avoid buying the super-expensive bottled water. Another option is that many companies now sell foldable, roll-able water bottles. I carry one around in my purse, it folds up to about the size of a chapstick, and will hold 1 liter of water when unrolled. And if you have other specific tastes or concerns, the list of reusable water bottle options is long. They have built-in tea strainers (iced tea drinkers), built-in water filters for purity, built-in fruit infusers, reusable straws; they are foldable, insulated, and made of glass, steel, etc.
So next time you’re out buying groceries or running errands, consider the ways to reduce your overall garbage. It won’t change overall time shopping and its pretty easy. Keep it simple. Buy your favorite items in bulk (saving you time and money), pay attention to products with unnecessary packing, donate your unwanted items, and avoid plastic bags and bottled water. Reducing your garbage production can really help the environment, while being convenient and money-saving. Once you start considering these ways to reduce waste, you’ll find the changes are small and have many benefits.
1. EPA Municipal Waste. epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/index.htm
2. Themelis NJ and Ulloa PA. 2007. Methane generation in landfills. Renewable Energy. 32: 1243.
3. EPA Reducing and Reusing basics. http://www2.epa.gov/recycle/reducing-and-reusing-basics