The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has a goal for all Minnesotans to reduce its waste going into a landfill by 75%. An easy way to think of this is that 3 out of 4 trash bags would no longer get thrown away. Let’s think about the impact of that statement for a couple of minutes. If I told you that you normally throw away four trash bags a week and now you can only throw away one trash bag a week, what would you do?
Recycling would be the easiest thing for all of us to do but not everything is recyclable. So for today’s argument, let’s say that one of the three bags of trash remaining is recyclables. Now, what about the other two bags?
We would most certainly have to rethink our purchasing powers and rethink reducing what we buy that has to be thrown away. We would also rethink reusing a lot more as well. If you have ever read any information on what it takes to be a zero-waste person or family, it can be difficult and it is something that just jumping into isn’t as simple as we might think. It may be as simple as cutting back on some of the things that we throw away as much as we can. It doesn’t mean you have to give up these things entirely.
A 12 pack of water bottles can be cheap to purchase but then you have to recycle the plastic bottles. We only recycle 9% of our plastic items now with the rest being thrown away. Instead, try using a reusable water bottle and use a reverse osmosis system or use a Brita water system. The filters for Brita water systems are recyclable through TerraCycle.
Liquid soap comes in plastic bottles. How about trying more bar soap which only has a small wrapper to throw away (and the wrapper is recyclable). Aluminum pop cans are more easily recycled than plastic pop bottles. Aluminum that is recycled is returned to the shelf within 60 days as another pop can while a plastic pop bottle, at this point, is never returned to the shelf as another plastic pop bottle. Aluminum cans contain 73% recycled content.
Cardboard is another recycled item that holds its value (next to aluminum) and they are often reused or turned into another cardboard box. Cardboard and aluminum hold their value as recycled materials over all other recycled materials. To recycle cardboard properly, the main thing to remember is to take the five minutes needed to flatten it. A pile of cardboard sitting in a recycling roll-off takes up a lot of space compared to cardboard that has been flattened.
There are a few other simple things that anyone can do that can help cut the amount of waste that each of us produces. Buy items that you use a lot of in bulk such as noodles or cereal. The less packaging you buy along with the item that is needed will help cut waste. Use single-use plastics and paper products sparingly. This includes napkins, paper towels, paper plates, plastic forks, spoons, knives, and straws. Napkins, paper towels, and paper plates are compostable in your home composting pile if you want to use these items but keep them out of the trash.
There are other items out there that will help reduce waste which are items that are made from previously recycled materials. Some larger companies are working to bring consumers more of these types of items. I am excited to hear about a couple of their innovative ideas. Levi’s jeans are working hard at recycling old Levi’s jeans and making new jeans out of the old ones.
Walmart, Kroger, Walgreens, and Target stores are working on new plastic shopping bags that could be biodegradable and/or compostable. They are calling this endeavor, “Beyond the Bag Initiative” and are working with Closed Loop. They are hoping to have a new shopping bag in place within the next three years. Until then, if you are purchasing just a few items, skip the bag. It might not seem like a lot but a bag or two over 52 weeks out of the year, will keep over 100 bags out of the landfill or waterways. And remember, reducing waste cannot be done by recycling alone. We, as consumers, must remember that simple changes are often the first steps in a journey to get to the final destination.