Where Do I Even Begin?

First Published Jan. 30, 2018

It doesn't have to be complicated or overwhelming to reduce your environmental impact, and you don't have to do it all at once!!

Start small, if you're feeling overwhelmed. Some people go cold-turkey, like the Baton Rouge bloggers over at http://zerowastebatonrouge.blogspot.com/ but others take time and transition slowly into zero-waste living. The important thing is to do what works for you because the hope is to build sustainable patterns that last for the rest of your life, not just for a couple months, or even just a couple years. 

Waste-conscious living is a lifestyle change. You want to lay your foundation by understanding:

  1. Why it is important

  2. How to build positive habits

so that when your days are long and hard, you can still maintain your personal convictions. We will begin by examining the WHY behind what you're doing.

Why is it important for me to be more waste-conscious? 

"Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)—more commonly known as trash or garbage—consists of everyday items we use and then throw away, such as product packaging, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, bottles, food scraps, newspapers, appliances, paint, and batteries. This comes from our homes, schools, hospitals, and businesses.

In 2013, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash and recycled and composted about 87 million tons of this material, equivalent to a 34.3 percent recycling rate. On average, we recycled and composted 1.51 pounds of our individual waste generation of 4.40 pounds per person per day." - Municipal Solid Waste

Americans produce, on average, 4.40 pounds of trash, per PERSON, per DAY.

A lot of this trash goes into Landfills. "While landfills themselves have improved since the 80's, all the stuff in landfills still represent a loss to the environment and the economy. For example, as much as 50% of all landfill space is taken up by paper, much of which could have been recycled. Had all that paper been recycled, more energy and resources (like trees and water) could have been saved — we could have used that paper, rather than trees, to make new paper. Plus, as all that stuff in landfills decomposes, it creates methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. In fact, landfills are the third-largest source of methane emissions in the U.S." - Because You Asked - Why are Landfills Bad? 

What about recycling? 

"The truth is that what you can recycle depends on where you live and what materials your city’s facilities can handle. There are many different types of plastic, and they cannot all be recycled together.

Recycling is generally far better than sending waste to landfills and relying on new raw materials to drive the consumer economy. It takes two-thirds less energy to make products from recycled plastic than from virgin plastic. By the last official measure in 2005, Americans recycle an estimated 32 percent of their total waste, which averages nearly a ton per person per year, around a third of which is plastic. Our recycling efforts save the greenhouse gas equivalent of removing 39.6 million cars from the road." - When Recycling is Bad for The Environment 

But, plastics are tricky and hard to recycle. Recycling wrong can also result in having to throw a whole bunch of potentially recyclable materials into a landfill, and the general public is not well-educated on how to properly recycle, for their areas.

In addition to that, now that China is refusing to receive a lot of the additional waste, recycling has just recently become even more complex of an issue for westerners. "Ever since China announced last year that it no longer wanted to be the “world’s garbage dump,” recycling about half of the globe’s plastics and paper products, Western nations have been puzzling over what to do when the ban went into effect, which it did on Jan. 1. The answer, to date, in Britain at least, is nothing." - Plastics Pile Up

China was previously processing at least half of the world’s exports of waste paper, metals and used plastic. China decided to ban some imports of trash in order to protect the environment and improve health. China was receiving solid waste and in that waste was a lot of hazardous wastes as well. As a result of the western worlds inability to filter well, or remove hazardous wastes from what we were sending overseas, China's environment was seriously polluted thus resulting in the current ban.

If I can't put it in a landfill, and if I should try to avoid recycling, what can I do? 

You can create less waste! You can compost more and you can re-use! Everyone has heard, "Reduce. Reuse. Recycle." Focus on the first two parts of that and only recycle when you have to.

We now know that landfills are filling up too quickly and they're full of waste that could've been reused or recycled. We also know that when the materials break down in landfills, they cause dangerous greenhouse gases to be released into the atmosphere. Also, sometimes weather pushes trash out of the landfill and into nature where animals eat it, or get caught in it and die.

We now know that recycling isn't always good. A lot of things can't be recycled and now that China is banning our waste, we need to be even more conscious about how much we put into the recycling bin. 

If we want to practically combat climate change, and create a world where our children aren't living on top of trash piles, zero-waste is our pursuit! 

Emily McCollister