Sustainable living is a mind-set we can incorporate into our everyday lives, but we might not realize where we succeed and where we fall short. Living sustainably means more than just one effort. Instead it is a combination of approaches we take personally to make an impact.
For many of us, it is second nature to separate plastics, glass, and aluminum cans from trash. Yet, there’s still a lot of recyclable waste going into our landfills every day. Only 34.3% of our trash is recycled or composted annually, leaving tons (literally) of missed opportunities to reduce waste. For example, approximately 40% of food in the U.S. goes to waste. When broken down, food waste produces methane gas, which is 21 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.
With Americans representing 5% of the world’s population and generating 30% of the world’s garbage, we can take steps to reduce our waste as a country with the Three “R’s” of Sustainable Living.
Reducing your consumption, or buying less, is the most important ‘R,’ because it is the most effective way to avoid landfill waste.
Reduce the amount of energy you use by turning off lights or unplugging electronics when they are not in use. Turn off running water when brushing your teeth or washing dishes until you need to rinse. Consider carpooling, using public transportation, or biking to work to reduce emissions created by motor vehicles.
When purchasing products, think about the packaging. Can you find this item in bulk or is there another option with less packaging? Some manufacturers specify that their containers use less material. Look for those options or items with visibly less packaging to avoid unnecessary waste.
Another way to avoid the landfill is to reuse items. Think about the trash you are throwing out. Is it really trash or could it be reused for another purpose or by someone else? There are plenty of DIY blogs and websites that can help you turn your trash into useful items. Wine corks can become backsplashes for your kitchen sink or decorative ornaments. Mason jars can become organizers for your bathroom.
If you can’t reuse your items, there might be someone else who can. Donate your clothes and old appliances to your local Goodwill or a similar organization, or organize a clothing swap with your friends.
Use reusable items instead of disposable items as much as possible. These items include reusable shopping bags, lunch containers, refillable water bottles and Keurig cups. Use disposable cutlery and plates as little as possible.
When you have to discard an item, see if it can be recycled or composted before throwing it out. Check with your municipality for the types of plastics your city recycles and where you can do so. Many communities have a variety of recycling options that support sustainable living such as curbside pickup, drop-off centers, and buy-back centers that give you money for recyclables. For appliances, oftentimes you will be able to find a local electronics recycling center.
You can also be proactive by purchasing products that come in recyclable containers. Try going one step further and look for packaging that is made out of post-consumer recyclable materials. Recycling paper takes 60% less energy than making paper from raw materials. By purchasing recycled paper, you can reduce the amount of energy used to create paper, reusing the material itself, and recycling it when you are finished.
For more tips and information about sustainable living and the 3 R’s, you can visit the EPA’s website.