Americans represent 5% of the world’s population, but as a whole generate approximately 30% of the earth’s garbage. On average, an American throws away two and a half tons of waste per year. This figure includes food waste, CO2 gas emitted in the production of materials, chemicals used for manufacturing, and hazardous waste.1
Everything you place in the rubbish doesn’t just disappear. Much of it ends up in a landfill, including compostable materials. Even food scraps have a very difficult time breaking down in a landfill as opposed to a compost heap. If they do biodegrade, they end up sending harmful methane gas into the atmosphere instead of adding valuable nutrients into the soil.
While these figures may seem unbelievable, just consider the amount of trash you produce in any given day. Coffee cups, candy wrappers, napkins, excess packaging … all of this adds up over a year. Fortunately, making a few simple changes can get you on the path to a zero waste lifestyle. This doesn’t happen overnight, and you don’t need to go out and purchase a lot of expensive reusable items. You can make changes without purchasing anything new at all.
If everyone in America changed just a few aspects of their consumption, we could save thousands of tons of waste from landfills, air and water quality could improve and we could save money.
Learn to Say No
Plastic bags, plastic utensils, disposable napkins, plastic straws. Whether you’re purchasing your daily coffee or getting lunch on-the-go, life offers you a lot of disposable items. Do you really need that straw, or can you drink from the cup? Do you need an extra pile of disposable napkins sitting in your car? There are reusable replacements for all of these items, but sometimes the best choice is to just say no.
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Brew your coffee at home and meal prep at the beginning of the week so that you can always take a lunch with you to work. As an added bonus, brewing your own coffee and cooking your own meals is healthier and more budget-friendly!
The average American throws away 80 pounds of clothing every single year.2 With fast fashion constantly introducing new short-lived trends, inexpensive pieces go in and out of style at an alarming rate. Shopping secondhand is a great way to reuse clothing that may end up in a landfill otherwise. Not all secondhand shops are equal – if the thought of shopping in a warehouse filled with clothing is overwhelming, opt for a curated consignment or vintage shop instead.
To avoid purchasing anything at all, organize a clothes swap with friends. Go through your closet and gather all of the clothing that you no longer wear. This process may help you discover some gems you’ve forgotten or may give you new ideas on how to style older pieces. Get your friends together with their old clothes and find some new items for your all of your closets. You can donate unwanted clothes to a thrift store or a consignment shop.
Get a Library Card
As a big reader, it can be expensive and wasteful to constantly purchase new books. When was the last time you re-read a book you purchased years ago? Oftentimes books are read once and then set in a corner to be forgotten. Try to find books at thrift stores, become a regular at your local library, or arrange book swaps with other book-loving friends.
Keep a Cloth Bag on you at all Times
Avoiding plastic grocery bags is an important part of going zero waste. Too often people run to the grocery store last minute, forgetting their reusable bag in the process. While one plastic bag may not seem like a lot, this number skyrockets when everyone in America forgets their reusable bag once a week. Keep a small bag in your purse, in your car, and next to your front door. This way, you’ll never be caught without one again.
Skip the Plastic Water Bottle
Globally, humans purchase approximately 1 million plastic bottles per minute. Out of these, approximately 91% are not recycled.3 If you don’t yet have a reusable water bottle, empty jars are great in a pinch. Mason jars are a popular choice for beverages on-the-go, and many of us already have a handful of them lying around. Other alternatives are jam jars or coconut oil jars. You can use empty jars for filling with water throughout the day so that you aren’t tempted to purchase plastic when thirsty.
Ditch the Chemicals
Take a look at the storage space under your sink. Chances are you have a half dozen bottles of harmful chemicals used for cleaning your windows, scrubbing your toilets, and washing your dishes. Instead of rushing to the store to find a more eco-friendly option, try looking in your kitchen cabinets first.
Effective all-purpose cleaners can be made with citrus, baking soda, white vinegar and a few drops of essential oil such as tea tree or lemon. For a quick and easy disinfecting spray, fill a glass spray bottle 50/50 with white vinegar and water. Add 15-20 drops of your favorite essential oil. This can be used to wipe down hard surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom. Instead of paper towels, use cut-up old t-shirts that can be thrown in the laundry instead of the trash.
Taking Baby Steps
All of these are simple, easy, inexpensive changes you can start to make today. A great place to start is simply looking in your trash. What do you throw away most often? Many items may actually be able to be recycled or composted. From there, try to see where you can cut back on the items that are producing the most waste. Most often, there is an easy, sustainable swap that can be made without purchasing anything at all.
Photo credits: puhhha/shutterstock.com, MINDANDI/shutterstock.com, KaterinaMorozova/shutterstock.com