Getting Started: How to Create Less Waste

It really wasn’t that long ago in human history that trash became a problem. Landfills started showing up in the 1940’s and became the major form of waste management in the 1950’s. The prosperity that followed the end of World War II encouraged everyone to consume, consume, consume. “Keeping up with the Jones” became the reality for America, causing people to buy things they didn’t really need, and to dispose of things carelessly (only to be replaced by the newer, shinier thing!).

If you’re anything like me, you probably grew up oblivious to the problem of trash. Because you never saw it. As far as I was considered, after something made it into the garbage can, it was gone. I never had to look at it or think about it again. But now we’re seeing it. We’re seeing it on the news, we’re seeing it when we drive past landfills, we’re seeing it on the beaches, which are now littered with plastic bottles and old flip flops. Trash is everywhere. And the scary part is, it’s not going anywhere. The plastic bottle we drank from in 1997 is still around, and it will still be around in 500 years, most likely asphyxiating another sea creature.

So what are we to do?

Just Say No To Plastic

For starters, we can stop adding and contributing to the problem of plastic pollution. And one way we can do that is by buying unpackaged, unprocessed foods as much as possible. A diet that centers around fresh, local produce, legumes, and whole grains is not only better for your health, it’s better for the environment. You can buy nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes from bulk bins at your local co-op and most grocery stores. A trip to the local farmers market will put you in touch with the best foods from the earth, foods that we humans evolved eating.

It’s estimated that 22% of trash that makes it to the landfills is natural, organic material that could be composted. When organic waste is not properly composted, it releases methane gas (the same gas that cow farts give off), which is one of the biggest contributors to global warming. So a couple ways we can solve this problem is by composting our organic waste and eating less beef and dairy.

Properly composted food = less landfill waste.

Less cows = less cow farts.

Both of which = less methane gas and a happier planet!

Invest in Organic Cotton Bulk Bags and Mason Jars

Bring organic cotton bulk bags with you to the grocery store to fill up with produce and bulk items like nuts, legumes, seeds, and grains. Once you’re home, transfer your bulk items to glass mason jars and store them in the pantry. Many local co-ops even sell things like cooking oils, vinegar, nut butters, honey, and cleaning products in bulk. Your local co-op is your best bet when it comes to shopping in bulk, and you’d be surprised to find out how great the selection is.

Reduce, Recycle, REFUSE, Reuse

We all know about the Three ‘R’s of sustainable living: Reduce, Recycle, Reuse. Another ‘R’ that we should really throw in there is REFUSE. If you don’t need a plastic bag, fork, or straw, kindly refuse it. It’s become such an instinct for shop owners to hand you single-use plastics, or even for us to accept them. One example of this that baffles me is: when you pick up food for take-out to bring home with you, and they hand you plastic cutlery. But we’re going home… where we all have our own cutlery. Why do I need a plastic one? I have never understood this.

Hopefully the more we kindly refuse these items, the less automatically they’re offered to us. I remember even just a few years ago, if I went grocery shopping for just a few items and told the cashier that I didn’t need a bag, he/she would look at me like I had an extra head. Now, a lot of the time cashiers will ask me right off the bat if I would like a bag before automatically assuming that I do. Let’s keep this trend going!

Reduce Recycle Refuse Reuse

Composting

Returning organic material back to the soil is the least we can do for Mama Earth. In the United States, nearly 50% of produce is wasted. This is an alarming and heart-wrenching statistic, given the number of humans in the world who go to bed hungry every night. But like I mentioned earlier, when produce ends up in the landfills, it fails to decompose properly and adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Now, I know I’m not the only one to have ever brought home more food than I can eat. Throwing food away is a shame, but we can at least make sure that it returns to the soil.

If you’re adventurous, you can start your own compost pile or compost bin. Back when I was living with my parents (who live on 3+ acres of land), I DIY’ed a compost bin out of a big plastic tub which I drilled holes into for aeration. Even today, I keep a compost bin in the refrigerator of my little apartment, and when it gets full I bring it to my parents’ house and dump it in the forest. There are a lot of YouTube videos and articles explaining how to make your own compost bin or compost pile. But for those of us who can’t be bothered, there are several companies in Rochester that will come pick up your compost from you. Just like the garbage man!

Community Composting is basically the garbage man of compost. For $30 a month, you get one 4-gallon size bin, and Community Composting comes and picks it up from your house every week. You can also opt for bi-weekly service which is $16 a month. If you’d rather bring the bin to one of their designated locations as needed, you can obtain a bin for a $10 deposit, then it’s just $4 per bin swap. They have bin swap locations at the Brighton Farmers Market, Triphammer Beer Works, the Harley School, and Three Heads Brewing (through Good Food Collective). They also offer services for restaurants, cafes, offices, businesses in the Rochester area, so if you’re a business that wants to do better, check them out. And then tell me so I can send you a digital high five and write about you on here.

Impact Earth is a zero waste educational organization which also offers “compost hauling” services. They provide you with a bucket to fill up with compostable material, and whenever it’s full you bring it to one of their locations in exchange for a clean bucket. At $15 a month, it’s a very cost-effective way to be a better steward for the Earth. They are currently operating at the Brighton Farmers Market, Victor Farmers Market, Rochester Public Market, Pittsford Village Farmers Market, Irondequoite Farmers Market, and the First Unitarian Church, but make sure to check out their website for up-to-date times and locations.

photo by Community Composting

I hope you find these tips helpful for embarking on a lower-waste lifestyle. Let me know in the comments what your tools and tricks are for creating less waste!

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