How to Reduce Waste in Your Community

by James Caviness

The conversation about climate change has moved from if it is happening, to what we can do to help prevent it from becoming worse. According to the EPA, in 2018 the average person living in the United States produced just under 5 lbs of municipal solid waste per day. In fact, of the 292.4 million tons of solid municipal waste produced by Americans in 2018, a majority 146.1 million tons ended up outside of the reaches of recycling and composting and went directly into landfills

The good news is that there was a fair amount of waste that was recycled or composted; 32% in fact. Still, nearly 80% of the material that ended up in the landfills could have been recycled. Landfills are not only horrendous concerns if you live nearby, but they are a leading contributor to water and soil contamination. The adage that all rivers lead to the sea shows a grim reality when we think of what we are tossing away and how simply putting it out of sight does not make it gone for good. The worst offenders are the ones that last in our environment the longest, and plastic is generally considered to be the worst of the threats that could be easily prevented.

1. Recycling

In the 1970’s, less than 10,000 tons of municipal waste was recycled; in 2018 that number rose to about 70,000 tons. Recycling methods continue to change as we learn more about how we can produce and re-use plastic, but ultimately the goal is to reduce the amount of plastic waste ending up in our environment.

2. Composting

Composting is a way to reduce the amount of organic waste that ends up in landfills. The process of composting involves saving scraps of food waste or other bio-waste that will break down over time. Not only is composting great for the environment, but it gives us some terrific soil to use for growing just about anything. Contributing compost to yard trimmings to use as fertilizer is a fantastic and sustainable way to keep a very healthy yard!

3. Shopping Local

We may not always consider it, but the further it takes to get from source to consumption, the more resources have to be expended in order to get it there. In other words, buying local food reduces the time and distance spent travelling from the farm to our tables; less time travelling means food that is more fresh and tastes better, and fewer resources were used to transport the food around.

4. Buying Reusable Items

Without question, the largest contributor to the huge amounts of plastic being dumped into landfills is disposable items and packaging. By using things more than once (the more the better) wherever possible before disposing of them, we can help reduce the impact of plastic on our environment.

5. Buying in Bulk

Buying in bulk reduces the amount of plastic contributed to the environment since there are more usable goods, and less plastic packaging material. Buying in bulk and planning ahead can also help reduce the impact on our wallets!.

6. Buying Used

Buying used items helps to keep one person's junk from ending up in a landfill for just a bit longer! Anything from clothing to electronics can all be purchased second-hand, usually at a steep discount. You may be done with that closet full of clothing, but someone else may be in need of it.

7. Donating Old Items

Similar to buying used, by donating old items instead of simply throwing them away, we are giving them a second chance at life. Also, you may be helping someone who can’t afford a brand new coat to stay warm this winter.

8. Planting a Garden

Planting a garden can do wonders for helping reduce the amount of waste we generate. The more we grow from our own soil, the less we have to purchase somewhere else. This cuts down on plastic packaging for groceries, the fuel used to transport us to and from the store, and contributes to our own local environment in a positive way. A garden is also a terrific way to use some of the composted organic material, saving you big bucks on fertilizer!

9. Organizing a Community Pickup

One person picking up trash can make a difference, but an entire community coming together will make a significant impact. By getting the entire neighborhood behind cleanup efforts, we can not only hold each other accountable, but it would be easier to tackle tougher projects. Community pickups can also help those who might find it difficult to leave home get rid of some clutter with some help from their friends.

10. Locating Hidden Waste

Another benefit of joining up with the community is to tackle tougher jobs that may be below the radar of local governments or town municipalities. Neighbors might know of some hard to reach spots where years back there was a trash dump for the neighborhood. Using a metal detector, you might be able to find these pits of sunken trash underground, or under water, and begin the process of remediating the environment.