We are experts at producing waste, which in turn causes a variety of environmental problems. For example, the food we throw away is responsible for the majority of methane emissions. Methane is one of the worst greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
The United States, as a whole, sends more than 250 million tons of waste to landfills each year, and another 90 million tons to recycling and composting plants. These staggering numbers account for both household and commercial waste. Businesses are beginning to take major steps to help reduce this amount, but most individuals have yet to catch on and take action.
Steps to Reduce Household Waste
The ultimate goal should be zero waste for companies and individuals alike, however this may not be completely feasible. We can however, take basic steps to begin to reduce our waste. The most important step is to examine what you’re throwing away—you’ll soon realize just how much waste you are throwing out that you could be instead recycling, composting, or repurposing.
Most experts suggest that up to fifty percent of the waste we send to landfills each year is only there because we're too lazy to take the extra steps necessary to sort and recycle it. Performing a simple waste audit can help people to realize the extent of their waste (per household) and show how easy it can be to help reduce it.
Performing a Waste Audit
The first step to reducing household waste is to perform what is known as a waste audit. Basically, this means saving up all of your trash for a week, then sorting it out into different piles based on the type of waste.
Of course, you're going to want to wear gloves and do this in an area that you don't mind getting a little dirty, as sorting your waste can get a bit messy (especially the stuff from earlier in the week).
Once you're set up and ready to go, separate the waste into the following piles—
- Food and food packaging
- Unsanitary waste (diapers, bathroom items, tissues, etc.)
- Yard waste
- Electronics and other potentially hazardous waste
Recyclable vs. Non-recyclable
After sorting your waste into piles, you'll then want to weigh each one to get a better idea of what portion of your trash each one makes up and how much total waste you're producing on a weekly basis.
Now it's time to think about recycling, as nearly all of the piles can be either recycled or disposed of in ways other than by sending them to a landfill, (although unsanitary items such as bathroom waste should always be thrown away). In addition, items like electronics, batteries and the like should never be thrown away, and instead disposed of in the manner recommended by your local waste management company.
Regardless of where you live, your community most likely offers recycling for paper, cardboard, some plastics, and yard waste at the very least, the odds that these recyclable items make up quite a large percentage of your weekly trash. Consequently, by sorting out these items before they get thrown away, you’ll see an immediate and huge reduction in your trash.
As far as food waste goes, there are a few things you can do. One idea is to start a compost pile for some food items, such as eggshells, coffee grounds, spoiled fruit and vegetables, etc. Still, the easiest way to reduce food waste is to simply buy less food. A huge portion of our food waste comes directly from buying more food than we actually need and can consume, then throwing the extra food out when it spoils.
Generally, we all need to do our part in reducing waste to help protect the environment. The easiest way to start is the simple act of examining the waste we throw out. We should take the extra time and effort to—
- Collect our waste
- Sort and weigh it (quantifying the amount of waste we are actually throwing out)
- Reduce, reuse, recycle