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How to Reduce Your Waste
Have you ever seen a landfill?
Chances are, you know garbage is bad. Landfills are the smelly armpits of humanity, and everyone knows it. So why are we still wasting so much stuff? Dragging that huge plastic garbage bag out to the curb every week is not, in fact, mandatory! Who knew? You can go weeks and weeks without taking out the trash, if you tweak your lifestyle just a little bit. It's not even hard to do, and the only sacrifice you'll have to make is the physical workout you get when you haul trash to the curb.
Getting to the Root of the Problem
1. Always use 100% recycled paper for home printing, and learn how to print on both sides with your printer. For most, you will have to print odd-numbered pages, and then re-feed the paper in to print the even-numbered pages.
2. Sign up for online banking and paperless billing. Avoid printing at all, but also keep a collection of scrap paper for those times when you have to print things at home for your own use.
3. Make packaging and product lifetime important decision factors when you are shopping. Keep in mind that many products these days are "designed for the dump" (See The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard).
4. If you have a cat, switch to wood pellet, wheat, newspaper, or some other biodegradable kitty litter. Clay cat litter is absolutely not environmentally sustainable, and is filling up our landfills. Biodegradable cat litter can be composted in your backyard (don't spread it on your veggie garden though!) and used for flower beds. This significantly reduces the amount of heavy waste you bring to the curb.
5. Discover your local farmer's market. Less energy went into transporting the food to you, there will absolutely be less garbage produced, you are more likely to only buy what you NEED, and supermarkets waste astronomical amounts of food. Check out the video below for an example of a supermarket in France that is starting to tackle this food waste problem by selling "ugly" produce at a discounted price instead of having growers throw it all away. You could talk to your local supermarket about making a similar change, or talk to growers at your local farmer's market since they are more likely able to put something like this into action.
6. Buy as little processed food as possible. The amount of energy and packaging that goes towards selling junk food is alarming on an industrial level.
7. Keep a clean travel mug or two in your car for impulsive coffee stops. If you must use a paper coffee cup, either recycle it or bring it home for the green bin.
8. In the bathroom, keep a small separate container for green bin items like tissues, cotton balls, and q-tips, then empty that into your kitchen green bin each week. This will help you remember to divert those things from your landfill trash. You might be surprised at how much of your bathroom garbage can be diverted away from the landfill!
9. When you’re not including food, containers and other plastics, and paper products in your regular waste, the small amount of stuff that does end up in those bins will typically be clean and dry. Reconsider whether you really need to have a plastic bag lining each trash can. Particularly in the bathroom and the office. The stuff will already be dragged to the curb in a heavy black plastic bag, so why not just dump the bin right into the big bag? Better yet, consider whether or not you even need the big bag at all. I personally just dump everything straight into the bin and roll it to the curb when it eventually gets full.
The Kitchen Bin
"I can't compost because..."
Many towns have green bin programs these days, so this section is mainly directed towards those who do not participate in them, or those who do but could be doing a lot more. People give many reasons for not composting organic waste, but I suspect many of these reasons are actually excuses. It's true that green bins can be smelly, heavy, and gross. However, this can easily be managed, and the benefits of using a green bin far outweigh the few inconveniences.
1. My town doesn't collect kitchen waste
If your municipality does not have a composting program, take the time to find out why not. Make a bit of noise, talk to your friends and neighbours about it, and ask your local government to start a municipal green bin program. In the meantime, set up a compost bin (you can even build your own) in your backyard if you have one.
If you live in an apartment, call your landlord and ask if they have any plans to implement a green bin program. If you're really ambitious, see if your landlord or neighbours would be interested in setting up a community garden. That way you can collectively compost your kitchen scraps and use them right at home to grow your own fresh produce. It's a great way to do something productive and rewarding with your community, and turn neighbours into friends. Community gardens are springing up everywhere, why not jump on board?
2. I live alone, so I hardly put anything in the green bin..it's not worth it.
This is the craziest reason for not composting. Food waste should never end up in landfills. I'm a single student, living alone, and I know from experience that even if I tried my absolute hardest to fill that big outdoor bin each week, it just would never happen. But there are two answers to this.
First, nobody said the bin has to be full...but I do see how if you use bin liners it is wasteful to take out a nearly-empty bin, and leaving the bin for a few weeks until you can justify taking it to the curb can be pretty slimy. So all you have to do is use a smaller bin, and bring that out to the curb. I keep a little 2 gallon container under my sink, and take it to the curb each week. Maybe it looks a little funny sitting out there among all the other houses with their big green bins, but hey.. it does the job, and taking it out each week eliminates any odour, slime, or fruit flies from my kitchen.
The second solution is to take another look at what your town will accept as compost. You might be surprised at some of the things they allow in the green bins, such as hair (eg. from hairbrushes or pets), tea bags, paper coffee cups, popsicle sticks, and tissues. It's not just about apple cores and orange peels anymore! I've found that when I divert all those other items into the bin it's actually quite full near garbage day.
3. Compost bins are dirty and smelly
Yes, compost smells if you let it decompose into a slimy mess in your kitchen (yuck!). If you take the compost out each week, putting the little kitchen bin on the curb if that's all you have, you shouldn't have any problems with smell. Also, including all the non-food items like tissues, hair, and coffee filters helps absorb the moisture and smell. Line the bin with newspaper, use approved biodegradable compost bin bags, take it out regularly, and give it a quick wipe each time if needed, and you won't even notice it. It's a little bit of effort to get started with composting, but it is well worth it.
4. I don't want fruit flies in my kitchen.
If you keep the compost in a bin with a tight fitting lid, and empty it each week, this will not be a problem.
Do you recycle?
I won't go into much depth about recycling... I think most people get it by now. Just take a good look at what you're throwing away (eg. empty toilet paper rolls) that could easily have gone into the recycling. Re-read your city's waste guidelines and make a habit of checking yourself before throwing anything into the trash.
Recycle even little things like receipts, envelopes, and sticky notes. They seem insignificant, but they add up. Paper is paper, and it should never go to the landfill.
If you only have the recycling bins in your garage or outside, perhaps add a smaller bin to your kitchen and home office so that you can just toss things in there temporarily, and periodically empty into the outdoor bins. Making it easy to recycle is an important step towards reducing the amount of recyclables that end up in your landfill bag.
See how long you can go without dragging a trash bag to the curb! So far, my record is seven weeks (and counting!). Can you beat that?