I’ll be honest. New Years is my favorite holiday. I’m not idealist (don’t tell anyone but I actually am) but it gives you a clean break.
I don’t always wait until the New Years to try to start something new, I mean that would just be an overwhelming and daunting task, but it gives me an official goal, if that’s what I need. While there is nothing different between December 31 or January 1, really, but I can make it one if I want to or need to. You can also just make a clean slate in certain areas of your life. The past was last year and this year is a new opportunity to be different.
That being said, if you’re looking for an opportunity to be a little more eco-conscious this is it. Here are some tips to get you started. It’s not so much about making resolutions, as it is about setting a goal. If you set a goal, you can create small steps to meet it.
1. Shop with reusable bags beyond the grocery store.
Why: The paper vs. plastic argument is solved. Both require energy and resources to recycle and reusable bags don’t. Americans use about 100 billion plastic bags a year made with about 12 million gallons of oil. They are impossible to handle, often clogging the recycling machines because they are so light and flimsy. They also cause a lot of harm to wildlife. Plus, they could take up 1,000 years to decompose. The negative effects far outweigh the convenience.
2. Reduce waste by purchasing durable goods and reuse, repair, share, and donate items instead of throwing them away.
Why: There is a whole host of reasons why buying used is a good practice. From supporting the community, saving money, being less of a strain on the environment, to human rights issues, buying reused items is just a good thing to do, if possible and it most certainly is in Stillwater.
In Stillwater, there is no excuse not to reuse or donate our working goods. There are tons of resale shops in our downtown area, plus St. Andrew’s on 3rd St and Habitat for Humanity on 18th St. If you have more expensive taste, there is Elite Repeat,which donates their profits to many non-profits around town. If not, there are plenty of other stores from which to choose and they have everything from home building supplies and housewares to electronics and clothes. We also have our very own shoe and boot repair guy on 6th St. We also have a leather repair shop on Main. There are also several electronic repair shops around Stillwater.
3. Reduce waste before you even leave the store
Why: Recycling is often thought to be the answer to the excessive piling in the landfill, however, it is not always the best answer. There are many packaging solutions, such as glass and plastics #3-7 that are just not very economical to recycle. Stillwater has done a great job giving us an easy way to recycle these options, but when the market is so low, as it often is, the MRF’s have a hard time making money on these products. While they might or might not throw them away, depending on the MRF, it does cause a financial drain for them. It would be better to reduce the amount of these types of packaging we bring in, use and recycle.
4. Buy in Bulk
Why: Although, this is some what linked to three, I have made this another individual point because packaging has a unique problem. Packaging makes up 30% of the weight and 50% of trash by volume. To help with this problem buy juice, snacks, and other non-perishable items in bulk and use those reusable containers each day.
Green Acres in the shopping center by Walmart has plenty of ways to buy in bulk. If you don’t think you need all that extra, there are bulk stations where you can bring your own container to fill up. Once your container is empty, bring it back and fill it up again. This and using a reusable bag is a great way to cut down on packaging. Food Pyramid has done a huge remodel in their store and has similar options available.
Just about every grocery store, has bulk packages for non-perishables, such as sauces, noodles, beans and rice, water, etc. These products can usually be found on the bottom shelf for any particular product type.
5. Start a Compost
Why: Oh boy. Where to even start…35 percent of the average person’s trash is food, 25 percent is paper, 19 percent is yard trimmings or wood. All these materials quickly decompose in a natural setting. However, when they are sent to the landfill, they do not have access to air or sunlight, which provide the right settings to decompose naturally.
Composting is probably one of the best things you can do for the environment. What is so great about composting is that it doesn’t require a city program, an honest MRF or a decent market to be successful. It is something that you can do literally in your own backyard. Instead of contributing to the waste epidemic, the nutrients would be returned to the soil to help the earth. It’s a win-win.
If you have more space, then you can set up bigger piles in your yard using even the most basic materials. Get started here or here. If you’re like me and live in a small apartment or have limited space, this DIY vermicomposting system is perfect. You can compost large amounts of food with limited space. You can stack to take up vertical space vs. horizontal and you can easily find these types of bins on Craigslist.
6. Reuse Food
Continuing on the topic of food, according to the USDA, Americans throw away 25 percent, 52 billion pounds, of the food they purchase. Although this is a huge problem, there are also several solutions.
- You can also make stock or broth from your turkey bones to reduce waste and use your leftover meat to make other meals too.
Fortunately, there are several apps to help with our food waste problems:
- Fridge Pal-This app makes shopping lists, tracks expiration dates, and searchs for recipes for your week’s ingredients to make better use of them. It’s made for meal planning so you can utilize the best food at the right time.
- Home Compost-Interested in composting, but not sure how to get started? With this app, find out how to use your food scraps to make soil for your garden. It’s available on the Android store, and is the most in depth explanation we’ve seen on an app so far.
- Love Food Hate Waste-This app will help you cut your food waste by providing recipes based on the leftover food in your kitchen. Keep a track of your shopping within the app and use it to help you reduce the amount of good food you throw away by cooking inventive meals.
7. Buy Recycled Items
Why: It’s very simple. The more recycled items we buy, the more companies will see there is a market for those products. They will be more encouraged to use recycled materials for their product.
8. If possible, buy cardboard instead of plastic containers
Why: Of the 30 million tons of plastic waste generated in the U.S. in 2009, only 7 percent was recovered for recycling. This plastic waste ends up in landfills, beaches, rivers, oceans and in the stomachs of animals, who mistake the plastic for food. Here is a great article for more ways to drastically reduce your use of plastic and why these steps are so important.
9. Use a reusable bottle
Why: This is a continuation of the tip mentioned above. To make a long story short, unless there’s some kind of contamination crisis, plastic water bottles are an easy target for reducing waste. Instead, keep a refillable bottle handy. Plastic requires sunlight and air to decompose and landfills are just not set up for that. What might have taken 10 to 100 years to decompose, now takes 1000s. I hate to tell you this folks, but there is more and more information being released that clearly says tap water is no worse than bottled water. If you just HAVE to have bottled water, opt for gallon jugs or those huge reusable jugs for your bottled water needs.
This doesn’t go for just bottled water. This also the case for Styrofoam. Styrofoam has a whole list of chemicals linked to all kinds of health problems that can be leached into your liquid, especially hot liquids like coffee. Plus, Styrofoam is virtually impossible to recycle or reuse.
This is why a reusable bottle is one of the first changes you can make to help reduce the amount of trash you throw away.
Why: Of course all of the tips I mentioned above help reduce and reuse because recycling is not the answer for everything, which is why I mentioned it last. At the end of the day, it still requires infrastructure that takes time to create, resources and energy. However, if reducing and reusing are not options then it saves us resources, which saves us money compared to throwing it away in a landfill. If there is one thing I’ve consistently heard through all these interviews, it’s that recycling and reusing saves us money. It’s expensive to keep dumping everything into the landfill instead of selling it for profit. The more we continue to dump, the more expensive it will be. Those who see potential in their trash will advance and be ahead of everyone else. The city of Stillwater saw the potential in their trash and it’s up to us to help support the program. They can’t make it much easier for us to recycle, so we have no excuses.
To one person, it might not seem like a lot, but recycling even a little has huge impacts. Consider this about aluminum for instance. Recycling of aluminum cans saves 95% of the energy required to make the same amount of aluminum from its virgin source. This amount of energy can be used to light a 100-watt light bulb for 3 hours.
In just one month, Stillwater recycled around 5.5 tons of aluminum cans. One ton of recycled aluminum saves 14,000 kilowatt hours (Kwh) of energy, 40 barrels of oil, 238 million Btu’s of energy, and 10 cubic yards of landfill space.
Every little bit helps and it’s up to us to stay ahead of the curve. Of course, Stillwater can’t recycle everything so here is a list from the Sustainable Stillwater group of a complete list of places to reuse or recycle less common items like electronics.
Feel free to comment with your goals for going green in 2016!