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Sustainability: Waste Reduction and Zero Waste Living

An information guide looking at different facets of sustainable living and how to start making a difference

A Disposable Culture

undefinedHow did we go from a culture that used everything until it wore out and fell apart, to one that throws an entire razor away when it's dull and buys $9 t-shirts that rip and have to be disposed of within months?

Our modern culture has brought many improvements to our lives, but some changes are not necessarily better. Ad campaigns, in the 1950's in particular, praised the progress of society with its newly available disposable consumables. Going on a picnic? Just throw everything away when you're done! Everything became cheap and convenient. Just toss and go.

In our desire for less expensive goods and company profits, jobs and manufacturing have been pushed overseas, and we have fallen further and further still into a culture of cheap disposable goods.  Instead of looking for quality and paying for things that will last, we compare many products soley on their prices. We even buy snacks that have been in weighed out into servings in individual bags, rather than dividing them out at home using our own reusable containers. 

This shift in consumer priorities has led to an explosion in our waste production as a society. Americans now create, on average, 4 and a half pounds of trash each... every day. This has led to problems with landfills filling up far faster than originally estimated, garbage ending up on streets, in waterways and eventually polluting our oceans. 

A shift in our mindsets and our consumer habits will go a long way towards solving this problem.


Available Titles

Small Steps to Start Us Off!

Here are some simple ways to start reducing our waste:

  • Carry a reusable water bottle
  • Bring our own shopping and produce bags to the grocery store
  • Buy food in bulk and use our own containers
  • Reuse glass jars that our food comes in (like spaghetti sauce), decreasing the need to buy storage containers
  • Make our own snacks
  • Buy used and sell or give away what we don't need
  • Compost
  • Buy a set of reusable wool dryer balls to replace disposable dryer sheets.
  • Try washable cotton pads for makeup application or removal.

Bulk Bin Locator

Stores that sell food stuffs in bulk are a great resource in decreasing the packaging waste on the food you buy. We can check our local stores ourselves, or use the Bulk Bin Finder below to get started.

Level up!

Once we have some basics under our belts, we can try some bigger changes that may take a little more planning, and a little more adjustment of our expectations.

While most of us will never get to the point where we can fit a years worth of trash in a mason jar (see video below!), we can all make some amazing progress towards cutting our waste production by leveling up to bigger changes.

  • If we have an infant, we can use cloth diapers and dry them on a clothes line whenever possible to cut down both on waste and energy usage
    • Potty training as soon as our child is physically ready is also a great way to cut down on waste. The sooner they are able to use the potty, the fewer diapers have to be used. The book "Oh Crap Potty Training" is a great resource (see list of available titles).
  • Try washable handkerchiefs, paper towels and napkins rather than disposables
  • For those that menstruate, reusable menstrual cups or washable pads are a great option
  • Trade disposable razors for a metal, refillable, safety razor
  • We can even make our own cleaners and personal care products. Try the links below!

Recycling: Pros, Cons, Myths

We have always been told to recycle, that it is a great way to be kind to the earth. And while recycling is an important piece to the puzzle, there are some important things we should bear in mind.

  • Some materials have more value than others when it comes to recycling. For example, metals cans have far more value than plastic. 
  • Some items may be energy intensive to recycle, and be cheaper to just make new. Example, paper bags are actually energy intensive to recycle even though they have the benefit of being made from a natural material instead of plastic.
  • Others materials may be prone to contamination from food or trash and therefore give recycling companies little incentive to use them. For example, pizza boxes that are stained with grease are not recyclable but are often thrown into the recycling bin anyway.

It's important for us to remember that recycling is a business and it only works when materials are valuable enough to be in demand to keep the system moving.

We need to make sure we educate ourselves on what our local recycling system accepts, and what it doesn't. Find out if there is a drop off station for some harder-to-recycle items.

And don't just throw something in the single stream bin hoping it will get recycled. We may feel like we're giving that item "a chance" at being recycled, but in reality it almost certainly won't be and may actually end up contaminating an entire batch of material, forcing it to be tossed into the landfill. Items like plastic bags should never be put into single stream bins as they shred and tangle up recycling machinery, often causing the entire plant to be shut down for cleaning.

When in doubt, Leave it Out!

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