Collectively, our trash affects the environment in countless ways, from negatively impacting wildlife and interfering with our own public health to contributing to the climate change crisis.
According to a study published in Science Advances, as of 2015, only 9% of plastic waste (out of the 6.3 billion metric tons produced) has been recycled. What’s worse? The Environmental Protection Agency found that the total generation of municipal solid waste in the United States totaled 267.8 million tons in 2017—a 5.7-million-ton increase from 2015.
If you’re looking for ways to reduce waste, live more sustainably, and help combat climate change, here are a few tips to help you get started.
Shop smarter to save money and eat healthier.
While individually packaged fruits and vegetables and single portions of snacks are convenient, these items typically cost more than bulk or family-sized foods. Next time you’re at the grocery store, avoid purchasing processed foods (which often come with packaging) and consider buying your nonperishables in bulk.
If you know you’ll be headed to the grocery store or market, bring canvas bags or reusable totes with you. When asked to choose between plastic or paper bags, choose paper as it’s easy to recycle (although it consumes more resources to manufacture). To avoid plastics in general, opt for items in glass or other recyclable containers, such as compostable produce baskets.
If you don’t have access to bulk foods, it’s still possible to practice zero-waste shopping by making meals from scratch and prioritizing a plant-based diet. Composting paper and cardboard and recycling glass and metal to are key steps you can take if you’re unable to purchase package-free items.
Become a DIY pro.
Environmentally and financially, it pays to repair broken items. Between extracting resources, creating new products, and shipping overseas, manufacturing new goods requires a significant amount of carbon. Take the iPhone 6 as an example: 85% of its lifecycle’s carbon footprint comes from the manufacturing process, not from actually using the phone.
So, how can we change our consumption habits? In Sweden, the government has encouraged a culture of repair by significantly reducing taxes on repaired products. Plus, consumers can claim an additional income tax rebate—which is equivalent to half of the labor cost of repairs.
While consumer culture in the United States isn’t as progressive, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. When it comes to simple repairs, you may be able to make them yourself with the help of an online tutorial. If you’re not so confident in your DIY skills, you can support a local business that will repair your broken items for less than the cost of a new product.
Start composting your kitchen scraps.
Composting can benefit the environment in several ways: It saves water by helping soil retain moisture, recycles organic resources while conversing landfill space, and reduces the need for commercial fertilizers. Whether you’re in a suburban home or a tiny apartment, it’s possible to turn your food waste into nutrient-rich fertilizer by starting your own compost bin.
To get started, choose a spot for your compost bin (preferably somewhere that’s dry and shady, but also near a water source). If you don’t have a backyard but still want to start composting, you can start a compost pile with neighbors or start one at your community garden.
Next, collect your kitchen scraps—like potato skin, strawberry tops, eggshells, and coffee grounds—and layer them with things like branches, twigs, vegetable stalks, and pine needles. Every few weeks, use a shovel to aerate your pile by turning it from the center out. Once the bottom of your compost pile is a dark and rich brown, you can start using it as fertilizer.
While we’ll always need to buy new things (and there’s nothing wrong with a few luxuries here and there), most of us have far surpassed the acceptable limits of consumerism at a grave cost to the environment. Ultimately, change starts with you. Taking small steps to consume less and handle waste more responsibly can reduce your carbon footprint and help fight climate change.
[Feature image: Unsplash]