Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Is Satan Stealing From You Too?

I have been a bit obsessed lately with waste - that of the carbon and methane varieties, which are belching out of our cars, factories, landfills, and even farm animals, but also the kind that I feel I can directly control - the waste I am creating here at home. Perhaps this heightened interest of mine stemmed from the fact that I just re-read Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte, an entire book about how much trash individuals generate (about 4.5 pounds a day, according to the EPA) and where it all goes. Often it's to places we should be really concerned about - air, water, land. Garbage doesn't just disappear; it goes somewhere else on Earth, and it often wreaks much more havoc long after we have bid it a hasty adieu.

So what exactly is one person to do about their personal waste?

At this point, we are well versed about reducing our water, electricity, and fossil fuel use, and one can only hope following these suggestions, but there is still something rotten at home - that big heaping mound in our kitchens.

In the spirit of the very young year, might I suggest a personal pledge to reduce your garbage? I know this post is too late to serve as a suggestion for your New Year's resolution (mine is to remain calm, which I have so far achieved about a 63% success rate on), but perhaps this commitment could serve as your New Year's resolution addendum.

If you need a bit more convincing to add this addendum to your intentions for 2009, remember that each time you throw something away, you have just tossed money and resources too. Chances are, most of what you are discarding either directly or indirectly cost you cash in the form of goods you have not used or excess packaging that added to the overall purchase price. Be sure to also take into account the cost of transporting those goods to the store, to your house, and to the landfill. Rest assured dear consumer, the cost of all of this is passed on to you.

In the weeks to follow, I will post more specific ideas about how to reduce your waste, and by all means, go read my blog over at Earth911 that offers more specific suggestions for reuse, a great way to reduce your overall waste.

For now, whether you are looking to save the planet, save some cash, or a little of both, here is one way to make a significant dent in your trash heap:

Use less plastic! I know this is a repeat of a suggestion I have made in the past, but I still see so many otherwise eco-savvy people with plastic water bottles in their hands. Consider this go-round a personal (albeit calm) plea. Here are some good reasons why it is crucial for us to break the habit:
  • Water in a single use bottle is much more expensive than filtered water from your tap.
  • Reusable SIGG containers come in all sorts of cool designs. Single use bottled water from a faraway land is so 2008.
  • Plastic is not a great candidate for recycling in the way that paper or glass are because plastic downcycles each time. Of course, I am not discouraging recycling, but don't be fooled - you are just prolonging the inevitable, and plastic does not biodegrade.
  • The plastic production process releases toxins into the environment. Once discarded, plastics can leach phthalates into the water, toxins into the air if burned, and the many pieces of plastic that end up in oceans, lakes, and rivers can kill a variety of wildlife from turtles to jellyfish. Perhaps this is why Royte called her chapter on plastics "Satan's Resin".
  • Plastic is made out of petroleum, which is obviously also in short supply.
Once you have tackled the bottled water issue, be sure to put your anti-plastic energy into carrying reusable bags, refusing Styrofoam and plastic to-go containers (bring your own), and buying items with the least amount of packaging.

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