Why Should I Care About Waste?
Reducing Waste Matters
The average American produces about 4.4 pounds (2 kg) of garbage a day. That’s 29 pounds (13 kg) per week or 1,600 pounds (726 kg) a year. And that’s only the waste we produce in our households — it doesn’t even include the much greater amount of waste produced by industries and businesses each day. That’s a lot of waste, which means there’s a lot of room for doing things better.
- Protects the Environment
Household waste in the U.S. is comprised of everything from food scraps, paper, plastic and metal to the hazardous chemicals in oven cleaners and garden pesticides. When these are buried in a landfill, or even worse, burned in an incinerator, it not only wastes valuable resources, but also pollutes our air and water, and even contributes to climate change.
- Protects our Health
Many of the chemicals released by landfills and incinerators are linked to health impacts ranging from asthma to cancer. So reducing waste also reduces these health threats to our communities and families.
- Saves Money
Remember, we paid good money for all the stuff that we then turn around and throw away – often only after using it a few minutes. Reusing and repairing stuff, instead of throwing it away, helps our household budget stretch further.
Let's Get Started!
Reducing waste is not rocket science. Getting started simply requires bringing back some of our parents and grandparents everyday household practices. Here are three first steps we suggest:
- Ditch the disposables
- Pay Attention to Packaging
- Enroll Others: friends, co-workers, church members, your kids’ school
1. Ditch Disposables
We Americans use many items just once – from paper towels and food containers to coffee cups and cutlery — then throw them away. In the U.S., we use 60,000 plastic bags every 5 seconds and Americans buy half a billion plastic bottles of water a week, enough to circle the globe five times. Disposables like these have become synonymous with ease and convenience, but they often come with a big price tag, both for the environment and our wallets.
It’s really easy to start replacing disposables with re-usable items that can be washed and used for months or even years. Use cloth napkins and kitchen towels instead of paper. Use reusable food containers (Tupperware, etc) for your kids’ lunches. Fill a water bottle from the kitchen tap if you want water when you’re out running errands instead of buying and throwing away a new bottle any time you want a drink. Leave reusable bags in the car for your grocery shopping trips. With just a little effort, we all can drastically reduce the disposable stuff we throw away, preventing waste and saving money.
2. Pay Attention to Packaging
All the packaging we bring into our homes is just future garbage. The more we can avoid extra packaging, the less waste we make. We have all seen those ridiculously over packaged items, like the single tomato on a Styrofoam tray wrapped in cling wrap or the small plastic gadget in a 6-inch clear plastic case.
Avoiding packaging requires developing new habits that soon become second nature – and you’ll soon love the reduction in all the junk around the house. Buy food – cheese, apple sauce, yogurt, almost everything – in bigger containers or in bulk, rather than the expensive and package-heavy single use servings. Chose items with lighter or no packaging – like a plain tube of toothpaste rather than one in a cardboard box. Swap unwanted toys with neighbor kids so you can get new ones with no packaging at all! When you do have to bring packaging home, make sure you recycle it whenever possible. And always watch out for PVC, or vinyl plastic,which is the most hazardous type of plastic packaging and is easily avoidable. Many items are made from PVC and it is easy to recognize PVC by the number 3 on the bottom of the bottle or by the “new shower curtain” smell of most PVC items. Avoid bringing PVC whenever possible.
3. Enroll Others
Enroll friends, co-workers, church members, your kids’ school…
The difference we can make alone is magnified many times over when we enroll friends and neighbors to join in – and we have more fun! Once you’ve started reducing your waste at home and seen how easy it is, start enrolling others. Some places to start:
Your Kids School: Ask them to have recycling bins in all classrooms so kids learn recycling responsibility. Encourage the school to send communication home via email when possible, rather than paper flyers. Invite them to have Zero Waste Lunches, aiming to reduce the garbage left over after each lunch. Contact the Green Schools Network for more ideas.
Your Church: Many churches are getting involved in environmental stewardship as part of living their faith. Check out the Story of Stuff Faith Community Guides and contact GreenFaith for more information.
Your friends and neighbors: Invite friends and neighbors over to watch a movie about waste and than talk about ways to reduce waste in your community. Doing this with friends makes it much more fun. Choose goals, share advice and encourage each other as you continue on this journey.
Join the Community
Those three steps alone won’t solve all our waste problems, but they are a good start. As you work towards reducing waste at home, you’ll soon see that some of the stuff in our waste stream can’t be easily repaired and reused, or was designed in a way that it can’t be recycled and composted.
The solution to this stuff lies beyond our grocery store and kitchen; we need real leaders in business and government who are committed to making sure that our products are designed to be healthy, safe and sustainable.
The members of the Story of Stuff Community work together to bring about these changes.