America, we have a problem, and that problem is waste!
On December 3rd Sustainable Renton held a discussion about how cities and individuals can become more sustainable in their waste practices. Many may not be familiar with the term ‘Zero Waste’, and a year ago, neither was I. Zero Waste is the practice and lifestyle change of well, not throwing anything away that would end up in a landfill. Anything that can be reduced, is reduced, anything that can be re-used is re-used, and I think you know where I’m going with this…anything, and I mean anything that can be recycled is recycled. The goal of many ‘Zero Waster’s’ is really to refuse items that will end up being thrown away so their mantra is really ‘refuse, re-use, and recycle’. This post will focus on how cities can become more responsible by exploring single use plastic bag consumption, as well as how you can personally start your journey to becoming ‘Zero Waste’.
According to Recycle Across America, almost half of the food in the United States is thrown out, which equates to about 3,000lbs a second being tossed! Other disturbing facts that haunt me is that American’s recycle less than 22% of material that can be recycled or re-used, and in less than 15 years the US will double its waste production. But there is hope. By being an informed individual you can take action and make steps towards becoming more conscience about your own waste.
Individuals don’t only hold the responsibility of being more sustainable; cities could also take a hint. Just in the last few years there has been a movement to reduce the number of plastic bags that are used at groceries and retailers. Cities across Washington State have been responding to this issue. What’s so bad about plastic bags you ask? These bags are basically a huge nuisance to our recycling system since many aren’t recycled properly, and most don’t even get the opportunity to be recycled in the first place and end up in our landfill, our storm drains, and then eventually travel into our environment where they can then be ingested by wildlife. The New Yorker reported in 2014 that single use plastic grocery bags were the 7th most common item found on costal clean-ups.
Renton currently has no policy or ban on plastic bags, while other cities surrounding our area do, like Kirkland and most recently Issaquah. After looking at these policies around our state, I wondered if plastic bag bans even work to help clean up our cities and help the waste problem. In researching this topic a study on the city of San Jose’s plastic bag policy found that it can reduce plastic grocery bags in storm drains and on beaches by 89% with a ban, and up to 60% with a fee. I would say that seems pretty worth it. For Renton to place a ban on plastic bags more research needs to be done, but hopefully looking towards other local cities we can strive and work for this in the very near future! In the meantime if you use plastic bags- please bundle the bags and return them to a local grocery store where you can then properly recycle them.
Does all of that make your head spin and feel a little helpless? Well, here’s what you can do right now.
At our talk local ‘Zero Waster’, Alison Love, gave really great advice on how to start the process to reduce ones own trash consumption. The first step is to really evaluate what you really need, and how to use it possibly in different ways. Grocery shopping for example is a great place to begin. Bringing, and using reusable bags, not only to bag everything when you’re done, but even using individual reusable produce bags can really help in the long run on cutting down waste. Buy in bulk! So many things can be found in bulk, from dry goods, spices, and even shampoo! Most local grocery stores have a bulk section, some more extensive than others, but I bet you would be surprised on what you can get and ultimately forgo most packaged products. Going Zero Waste can also be extremely financially beneficial. In my own personal journey I haven’t bought laundry or dishwashing detergent for over a year because I now make my own. I also save my vegetable scraps to make vegetable stock for really great tasting homemade soups. Finding ways to do things differently can also be a fun challenge. Every time you run out of an item that you would normally throw in the trash, stop and think, can I reuse this, or once this item is thrown away how do I replace it with a more sustainable solution?
Resources, research, and knowledge can be your best tools as well. Apps like iRecycle use your current location from your smart-phone to help you navigate what and where you can recycle. Need to recycle used batteries, carpet, Christmas Trees, or audio equipment, use the app!
There are so many ways to re-think how you shop and re-use things and hopefully this blog is just the start that you need to explore a whole new way to really live.
In Part Two, Journey to Zero Waste, Zero Waste DIY recipes and more step by step guides will be revealed.
Here are links to articles that were used in this post:
Are plastic bag bans good for the climate?
Recycle Across America
Until next time, refuse & re-use,