Taking Steps Toward “Zero Waste”

How you can make a difference
By: Barrett Anderson

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American produces 4.4 pounds of trash per day. At this rate, each person creates approximately 1,606 pounds of waste in a year. While the majority of this garbage goes directly to landfill, it can often end up polluting the ocean, air and natural habitats of our wildlife.
What if there was a way to challenge, and then change, these unfortunate facts? There is. It’s called the zero waste movement and many people around the world are practicing it right now.
Zero waste means no trash to landfills, and all the “waste” you produce is either composted or recycled. This may seem like a foreign concept to the average person, but there are manageable steps you can take today to significantly reduce the amount of waste you produce.
First, it’s important to look at how much trash you are accumulating throughout the day and think about how you can minimize it. Some questions you might ask are, What do I own that is made from plastic? What do I buy that is wrapped in plastic? Start thinking about what you absolutely need and what you can live without.
Next, consider buying alternatives. Is it necessary to buy disposable items that are made from plastic, or can you start buying items that are reusable and durable? Take the disposable plastic bottle as an example. Something you can do right now is buy a reusable water bottle (and coffee mug), which not only helps the environment but also saves you money in the long term.
You might ask, “Why can’t I just recycle my disposable plastic water bottle?” The truth is that recycling a plastic water bottle is not as sustainable as it seems because some companies do not recycle them and, most of the time, the plastic from which they are made actually cannot be recycled.
Another sustainable item you can buy is a reusable bag. It’s a well-known fact that plastic bags harm the environment. It can take hundreds of years for plastic to fully break down and, even after this time, they do not completely disintegrate; plastic bags merely break down into smaller toxic pieces that contaminate soil and waterways. Owning a reusable bag will reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in landfill.
To further reduce your waste, consider using a cambro (reusable container at food line) when getting food to-go, asking for no straw with your drink at a restaurant, and limiting the purchase of individually packaged items; instead, aim to buy whole foods or items whose packaging can be recycled.
When asked about her intentions for minimizing waste, Senior Anna-Zoë explained, “Sustainability correlates to living the most selfless and kind life I can live. When I buy something, it has repercussions for someone else, but most of the time we ignore that.”
Discussing the benefits of the zero waste movement, Herr said, “You start living more in the moment; consumerism isn’t your lifestyle anymore. It makes me feel like I can appreciate life more and not be consistently driven by desire and need. There is more beauty in your life.”
Endeavoring to live a “zero waste” lifestyle requires a sensitive awareness of your day-to-day actions as a consumer. Helping the environment starts with you. It may not seem like a single person’s actions are enough to bring about change, but if we all take simple steps to reduce waste, these small actions will positively impact the environment and the world.

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