Americans are burying themselves in trash, producing 4.5 pounds of waste per person per day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. We don't "reuse and reduce" enough
Packaging of food and other products is one of the main sources of waste paper and plastics. EarthWorks Groups reports that about one-third of all the waste Americans send to landfills is packaging. Much packaging is purposely excessive and elaborate, serving only to make a product look better but contributing nothing to the value of the item.
While recycling is one answer to this problem, the goal is to increase the practice of reuse and reduce; that is, prevent as much as possible the amount of material that is thrown away or recycled. An increased focus on reuse and reduce habits is critically needed along with more participation in recycling, which currently has disappointing compliance: in 2009 Americans recovered about 61 million tons of municipal solid waste through recycling, while composting recovered about 21 million tons of waste. About 29 million tons were combusted for energy recovery, or about 12 percent of the total amount of municipal solid waste.
A reuse and reduce approach saves natural resources, reduces energy use and emission of greenhouse gases, cuts down on transportation costs and pollution, and results in less materials dumped in landfills. Reuse and reduce practices also save money for consumers, schools, businesses, and communities.
Every day, you can make choices to reuse products and resources and reduce by hundreds of pounds the amount of materials that you personally contribute to landfills. The time to reuse, reduce, and save money is now.
I Did This!
- Reduce bag use at the checkout counter: bring your own canvas bags, reuse bags from previous shopping trips, and decline a bag from clerks for single or small items that you can carry easily or put in your pocket or purse.
- Purchase items from the bulk food department at the grocery store. Wash and reuse the containers that the store provides, or bring your own if they allow.
- Buy the largest packages of items that you use frequently (e.g., cat litter, laundry detergent, pet foods, shampoo). If the quantity is too much for you, divide the purchase with a relative or friend and you will both save money.
- At restaurants, take only the number of items that you need: for example, one napkin, one sugar packet, one packet of ketchup.
- Reduce the need to replace light bulbs often by switching to compact fluorescent bulbs, which last about ten times longer than incandescent bulbs, use 75% less energy, and save money.
- When choosing between two similar items, select the one that has the least unnecessary packaging.
- Reduce the number of print newspapers and magazines you get — read some or all of them online, get them at a library, or share a subscription with a relative or friend.
- If you work for a company, introduce them to free information on how they can reduce waste and save money.
- Reuse and reduce paper consumption at home and office and save money and resources: use both sides of copy paper and stationary, make scratch pads from paper used on one side, make two-sided copies, send email memos and letters whenever possible. Avoid printing out emails and webpages, but if you must, use the back side of used paper.
- Reduce household paper use by switching from paper to cloth napkins and from paper towels to sponges or old but usable small cloth towels. Cloth napkins and towels can be washed; sponges can be cleaned in the microwave or dishwasher.
- Rent, borrow, or share infrequently used items (e.g., party supplies, ladders, lawn tools, folding chairs) instead of buying them.
- Buy used instead of new. Buying from secondhand stores offers several benefits: it reduces the use of virgin resources, saves the energy that would have been used to create a new product, saves money, and frequently helps support a cause, as secondhand facilities are often run by charities.
- Reduce the amount of junk mail you receive at home and at the office by contacting the National Do Not Mail List and other free services to have your name removed from mailing lists.
- If you are a teacher or are in charge of a group of young people who participate in environmental projects and activities, you can get free curriculum information on reuse and reduce from the National Science Teachers Association Middle School Source Reduction Curriculum.
More reuse and reduce tips are available in The Consumer's Handbook for Reducing Solid Waste, published on the internet for free by the US Environmental Protection Agency.