Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Challenging Yourself to Generate Less Trash

--Feature: "Green Like Me w/Robin Shreeves"--

One summer my college roommate Allison worked for a waste management company. I had never heard the phrase waste management before. For some reason it struck me as funny. Other than that, though, I didn’t give the process of managing waste much thought back then. Fast forward a few (okay, more than just a few) years, and managing waste has somehow become a part of my daily life.

Allison recently told me that when she was in Germany last spring, she was impressed by how they handle their trash. She said that they recycle so much of their waste that they have huge recycling cans and very small trashcans outside of their homes. She saw this as a challenge and I felt compelled to rise to the challenge, too.

Managing the amount of trash at my house certainly is a challenge. But it’s worth the effort because the amount of trash that goes into the garbage cans and ultimately into the landfill is much less than it was a year ago. Hopefully, a year from now, it will be even less. Here are some tips for reducing the amount of trash that you generate.

  • Use cloth napkins and rags instead of paper napkins and paper towels. Buy enough white cloth napkins to last your family for a couple of days. Wash them whenever you wash whites or towels. Don’t worry about keeping them pristine white or ironing them. Hide the paper towel roll under the sink and use old towels as rags.
  • Limit the number of plastic and paper bags that you take from stores. If you don’t take them from stores, they can’t end up in your trash. Use reusable bags for all your shopping.
  • Reuse disposable food containers as often as possible until they fall apart. Give away batches of homemade soup in them, use them instead of zipper bags in your kids’ lunch boxes, and save them to send home leftovers at holiday dinners.
  • Think before you throw something away. Determine if there is another use for an item before chucking it. The twist ties that come on your bread bag can be reused to seal up an open bag of frozen vegetables. Use the empty bread bag when you clean out the cat’s litter box or walk the dog.
  • Find new homes for still useful items. Never throw useful things in the trash. Donate. Give to friends. Sell online. Have a yard sale. Freecycle.
  • Recycle anything and everything that can be recycled. Most of us are pretty good at recycling paper, bottles, and cans. But batteries, Styrofoam egg cartons, old sneakers, electronics, old cans of paint, and lots of other things can be recycled – you just need to find the places closest to you to drop them off. One of my goals for this year is to find those places closest to me so I can recycle more materials.

I know I’m not the only one who is thinking about trash in this way. According to government statistics, in 2005, Americans actually generated less trash than they did the year before. That’s the first time that has ever happened since records have been kept. That same year almost 1/3 of all trash was recycled. I’m trying to figure out how I can help improve those statistics. Wanna join me?

Robin Shreeves is a New Jersey based freelance writer who has been published in print and extensively online. Her column "Green Like Me" on The Lohasian helps readers new to the Eco-friendly lifestyle by providing simple and easy tips and tricks to "greening" their lives.

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