By Anya Falk
In recent years, the term “zero waste” has been showing up frequently in the media. People like Lauren Singer, an environmentalist whose trash of over five years fits into one standard size mason jar, have been inspiring others to think more about the amount of waste they produce. Columbia University estimates that each American throws out 7 pounds of waste each day. That is 2,555 pounds per year.
Modern consumer-based society encourages people to buy more because the next new thing promises to make them “cool” or “beautiful.” But, in the process, we have been hurting our planet. We buy more than we need and use single-use items because of their convenience. Our trash ends up in landfills and oceans. It harms marine animals and produces greenhouse gasses. This is a global problem, but there are things anyone can do to make an impact and inspire others to do so as well.
1. Reusable is better than single-use
One of the easiest ways to reduce your waste is to replace your single-use items with reusable ones. One of the simplest ways to do this is to avoid using the plastic cups supplied at the eating areas around campus and instead carrying a reusable cup around campus. You can also replace any plastic utensils and carrying containers you may use with a reusable set. This may not seem like a lot, but if you use these items three times a day, it begins to add up. Replacing them with something more sustainable makes a considerable impact. There are numerous other ways to reduce the amount of single-use items you consume, such as bringing a personal shopping bag when you go out and asking for no straw at restaurants.
2. Go thrift shopping
Thrift shopping is a great way to close the loop and create a more sustainable economy. “Closing the loop” refers to the practice of reusing, repurposing and recycling used items instead of sending them to landfills. A lot of the time people think that just because a shirt has a hole in it it is unusable and should be discarded. The truth is the shirt is still salvageable. You can spend five minutes fixing it, and then put it back in your wardrobe, or you could donate it and let someone else enjoy it.
If it is made from biodegradable materials then it can be composted. Even if none of these options are feasible, it can still be of use. You can cut worn out clothes into rags for cleaning. We tend to view a lot of things as trash even when they are not, and that ends up perpetuating a cycle of waste. Thrifting and salvaging can change that. Not only is thrift shopping good for the environment, it is also better for your wallet. Since the items are not brand new, the stores will rarely charge as much for them, and you will be able to save lots of money.
3. Be mindful of your purchases
People usually do not think of how their purchasing habits contribute to waste, as it is much more subtle than other aspects of life one can address. Being conscientious of one’s purchases gets right down to the issue that is creating so much of this waste in the first place: over-consumerism. Think about all the things you buy on a regular basis. How many of those things did you truly need? How many improved your life in some way? How many did you use for more than a few days or months?
We often do not ask these questions when we buy something online or instore, and that is the problem. We spend money on things we do not need, and when we are done with them we send them to the landfill. Creating less waste means taking into account the above questions and thinking about your purchases before you hand over your money. Next time you want to make an impulsive buy, think about the larger consequences of that purchase and spend a few minutes thinking about if it is worth it.
4. Start small
The most important thing to remember in creating less waste is that it is not going to happen overnight, and that’s OK. It takes time to implement these changes and get in the habit of thinking before you make a purchase. We are not used to thinking and acting this way, so it takes time to change. One way to make it easier for yourself is to start slowly, implementing changes in one area of your life at a time. A great place to start is the bathroom. Many of the daily toiletries we use are packaged or made of plastic, but there are alternatives to these products that are better for the environment. By switching out your items for more sustainable ones, you can eliminate a considerable amount of plastic from your life. Once you have completed this process in one area, you can move on to the next and steadily decrease your environmental footprint.
For more information about zero waste products visit packagefreeshop.com and for helpful tips about going low waste visit trashisfortossers.com.