Not many of us think about where our trash actually goes when it leaves our home. But as more and more people inhabit this earth, rethinking how we live right now is mandatory in order to ensure that our earth is habitable for generations to come. We’re generating more trash than we have at any point in history. In fact, the U.S. is the #1 trash-producing country in the world at 1,609 pounds per person per year. This means that 5 percent of the world’s people generate 40 percent of the world’s waste. When all of our trash ends up in one big heap, that heap becomes a toxic landmass that releases carbon dioxide and methane. As trash continues its decomposition process, more and more of these toxic gases are released, and this is a major contributor to climate change.
This may feel like a lost cause, but we can start at the source: our very own trash! Most of us are unaware of what could have been handled or disposed of in a different way. So let’s rip open that trash bag and see what we can do to make things better!
Major Bummer #1: Plastic bags take up to 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill.
Sure, we all know the plastic bags we get from the grocery store, but this includes more than just that. Think about the last time you ordered a new shirt online and it came in that beautifully branded plastic bag that you readily threw in the garbage will be on this earth long after you are gone.
What you can do right now: Did you know certain large grocery chains will actually recycle those bags for you? This goes for those shipping bags, plastic grocery bags, plastic-wrapped toilet paper, and even food bags (although give these a quick rinse and let them dry out to make sure they are clean!). Whenever possible, though, use reusable bags instead of plastic.
Major Bummer #2: Plastic bottles require up to 700 years to dissolve in a landfill. Thirty-eight million plastic bottles go to landfills each year in America alone.
Humans buy about 1,000,000 plastic bottles per minute in total. Only about 23 percent of plastic bottles are recycled within the U.S. Not only that, but we are also wasting our resources on creating them as well. According to estimates, every year we use approximately 1.6 million barrels of oil just to produce plastic water bottles.
What you can do right now: Stop buying one-use plastic bottle containers of water, Gatorade, soda, and other various beverages. Instead stock up on those oh- so- fashionable reusable water bottles.
Major Bummer #3: More than 15 million tons of used textile waste is generated each year in the United States.
As clothing decomposes, it releases greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, and methane—and synthetic clothing may take hundreds of years to decompose. An estimated 95 percent of textiles and clothing are recyclable, and consumers are the main culprits for throwing away their used clothing.
What you can do right now: If it’s in good, wearable condition, donating your clothing to a local homeless shelter or Goodwill is a great way to go! For clothes that may have seen better days, consider recycling those items at a variety of places such as H & M Stores, The North Face Stores, and Levi’s.
Major Bummer #4: Collectively, we manage to throw out an estimated 80 billion pounds of food every year.
Wasted food is also the single biggest occupant in American landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Not only is it bad for the environment, but it’s also hard on our wallets. For an American family of four, the average value of discarded produce is nearly $1,600 annually.
What you can do right now: Meal planning can go a long way in ensuring that you use all the food you purchase. Also, remember that freezing products can prolong their life, so if you find that you’ve overbought, you can freeze some of your goods for a later date. Also don’t fall into the trap of only buying foods that look “perfect”; this leads to a lot of food waste within grocery stores. So the next time you are at the grocery store, go for that wonky-looking apple! It will still taste just as good!
Major Bummer #5: The United States throws away $11.4 billion worth of recyclable containers and food packaging every year.
Food packaging accounts for almost two-thirds of total packaging waste. That salad you bought for lunch yesterday might have been healthy for you, but its packaging is toxic to the environment.
What you can do: Packaging can be hard to avoid;, however, there are steps you can take to help. Look up online to see if there is anywhere locally that you can buy foods in bulk. Take your own containers, and stock up on the essentials with your own containers and glass jars. This will help you avoid buying anything that comes in wasteful single-serving packages, such as candy, gum, granola bars, popsicles, etc. Avoid food wrapped in plastic or single-serving packages.
The bottom line is, we are all in this together, and we need to work together to make sure our planet is here for the future. All the little steps each of us choose to take individually can really add up to one big, collective difference.