When it comes to garbage, Americans produce more per person than any other country in the world. According to the EPA, the average American in 1960 was producing 2.5 pounds of garbage per day. Today, we exceed 4 pounds of garbage per person per day. We accumulate at least 236 million tons of municipal solid waste a year. The United Nations and other agencies estimate the annual waste production worldwide is more than 1 billion tons a year. We have become a disposable society, buying into the marketing idea that disposable is better, cleaner and easier. We are using up our natural resources at an alarming rate and creating a steady stream of solid waste that is taking up precious land. One way to reduce this waste is to modify the habits we have that generate excessive waste. Reducing our consumption on the front end is an instant way to reduce waste. Do you need to buy a plastic bottle of water or could you fill up a glass or reusable bottle with tap water? Should you buy paper towels, paper napkins and so on, or could you use a reusable cloth item? There are so many examples of items we could reuse instead of buying their disposable counterpart. Most materials used today are discarded after one use. Buying reusable items saves energy, materials and landfill or incinerator space. According to the EPA, packaging accounts for 38% of all municipal waste. We can exercise our environmental purchasing power and avoid products with excess packaging. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables, and bring your own produce bag to put them in. Buy bulk items whenever possible and bring your own container to bring them home. Lastly, if an item cannot be reduced or reused, then maybe it can be recycled. When I see an overflowing garbage bin in my area, it usually contains a number of items that could have been recycled, like plastic bottles, aluminum cans and cardboard. Recycling reduces the amount of trash in landfills and the number of landfills needed. If all of us were more thoughtful about each purchase and more mindful of our waste, we could work on our infamous distinction of being the most wasteful country in the world.
First Reduce, Then Reuse and Recycle Last
Recycling rates will grow higher in the U.S. if our attitude toward waste changes.