25 October 2011

The three “R”s in Reducing Household Waste

Reducing your carbon footprint starts with reducing your trash. It is undoubtedly the most effective practical step to sustainability. And it is even better than reusing because it requires fewer resources for production. By deliberately minimizing your household waste you help decrease the waste problem at its core. The thought that the amount of disposable cups, forks, and spoons thrown away in the US in a year will be enough to circle the equator 300 times sends shivers down my spine.

Image by barnetcouncil

But there is something everyone can do to change the situation. You can start minimizing your household waste by applying the three “R”s of the ‘waste minimisation hierarchy’ each day:

Think about what items you can live without. Define your wants and separate them from your needs; then get rid of the wants. Buy only what you need. 
  • Don't get tempted by bulk price offers, think instead of whether you will actually make use of the quantities you buy before their expiration date.
  • Prefer to use long-lasting quality products that will last a lifetime.
  • Avoid disposable items and prolong the life of broken objects by mending them.
  • Reduce the amount of packaging you buy, concentrate on products with recyclable packaging.
  • Buy refills and use the containers you already have.
  • Sabotage the plastic bag - take your own canvas bag from home. If you are crafty you can even crochet one out of repurposed old fabric!
  • Forget about the paper or plastic utensils and cutlery - use ceramic mugs, cloth napkins, china plates and stainless steel/silverware. In some coffee shops you even get a discount if you take your own thermos or mug to pour your morning coffee in.

There are many items found around the home that can be reused for different purposes. If you can reuse an item yourself, instead of sending it to be recycled, you will save energy, fuel and time. So before you throw anything away, think about how it can be put to use again.
  • Instead of buying new gift wraps every time, keep the packaging of the gifts you receive and later reuse it for other gifts.
  • Donate your clothes that are in good condition to charities, or to people in need you might know. The rest you can use for rags.
  • Use old toothbrushes and other brushes to clean hard to reach areas like around the sink, the drains, faucets or the bathroom tiles.
  • Reuse any containers such as glass jars or plastic boxes to store craft supplies, small toys, nails and screws, or any other small items.
  • Take your lunch to work in reusable containers rather than paper or plastic bags.
  • Use the blank sides of used paper for scratch paper, or cut it in rectangular pieces for memos.
  • Reuse your dinner leftovers by feeding your dog with what is appropriate. 
  • Reuse foodscraps by composting them.
  • Reuse stale bread and give it to the birds.

According to the EPA, the US recycling rate is a mere 30%. Increasing the recycling in the US to 60% could save the equivalent of 315 million barrels of oil per year. To encourage yourself and your family for recycling you can keep recycling waste containers in easy to reach places in your house and sort trash straight away - it is easier to organize recyclable items in a separate container than it is to go through the trash later. 
  • Prepare the items you have at home for recycling - rinse tins, plastics and glass when you’ve finished washing the dishes. Sort your recycling straight after rinsing.
  • If you use plastic grocery bags, take them back to the store to be recycled.
  • Recycle at home – use your scrapfood and leftovers to compost. 
  • Make use of the leaves and grass in your yard – they generate more greenhouse gas in a landfill than in compost piles or bins.
  • Buy recycled goods – find recycled content products, such as stationery, scratch pads, business cards, paper towels, toilet paper, facial tissue, clothes, accessories and toys.

As Art Markman, Ph.D. says, "habits are incredibly powerful - they lead people to act mindlessly, even when they shouldn't. We like to think we have control over our own behavior and yet, our habits have a huge influence on the way we act.  In general, we like to do what we did last time." In that context, it is worth making reducing, reusing and recycling a habit. Only then will you be really successful because it will have become part of your natural behavior.

What are the steps you are taking to reduce your household waste?