Have you ever written a budget?
If you have, chances are it was because you wanted to be more responsible with your money, to spend less than you make, to put some cash away in savings, or to pay down some debt. And I'll bet you started by looking at your spending and assessing what habits you needed to adjust.
Well, you should approach reducing your waste in the same way. The best way to start reducing the amount of waste you produce is by assessing how much you're actually producing. The best way to do that? Dig through your trash. LITERALLY.
No, I'm not kidding. Put on a pair of rubber gloves and go through your trash bin. Light a scented candle or cover your nose and mouth with a hankie if the smell is too much for you, but I want you to dig through your rubbish and see what's there. You'll be amazed at what looking your trash in the face will reveal to you about what you buy and habitually throw away.
Some things to think about as you're going through your bin:
How much of your trash is single-use?
That is, how many of the things in your bin have been used one time and thrown away? This will include (but is not limited to) plastic grocery bags, plastic water bottles, food packaging, straws, coffee cups and lids, paper towels, personal care items, and sanitary products. How might those be replaced with alternatives that can be used again and again?
How much of your trash is recyclable?
Are there tins and glass that you've thrown in the bin that could be recycled? If there is curbside recycling pickup available in your area, by all means avail yourself and recycle what you can. If you're not sure which items can be recycled curbside and which ones can't, give your local council a call. If curbside pickup isn't available to you, find out where your nearest recycling center is, and give them a call to find out what items they'll accept.
How much of your trash is plastic?
Plastic waste is particularly troublesome because it can take hundreds of years to biodegrade, and as it breaks down over time, plastic particles can find their way into our waterways and eventually our oceans, where they are ingested by fish and marine birds, which has a detrimental knock-on effect to the health of the oceans and the whole biosphere. I mean, we've all been watching Blue Planet II right?
KNOW THIS ABOUT PLASTIC:
It can't be recycled indefinitely. Whereas glass and metal can be broken down and re-purposed again and again, even plastics that are recyclable can only be recycled so many times before the strength of the plastic is compromised and it's no longer able to be melted down and turned into something else. There is an end of the line for all plastics, and that end of the line is a landfill. So we can extend the life of some plastics, but not forever, so it's best to avoid them when we can.
How much of your trash is food waste?
And why does it matter? Doesn't food just break down in the landfill anyway? Well, yes. It does. But when it breaks down in a landfill, it releases methane, which you probably know as a greenhouse gas that has been shown to contribute to global warming. Additionally, as food breaks down it creates leachate (aka garbage juice), which can seep into the ground, contaminating ground water. So it's best not to throw away food, even scraps. What do you do with it instead? Compost it.
How much of your trash is paper?
Like food waste, paper is made of organic material and will decompose in time even if you throw it out with your regular trash, but the more eco-friendly option is to recycle or compost it. Depending on where you live, you may be able to leave paper at the curb for recycling pickup; check with your local council to see what they will accept. Glossy paper, or paper that is waxed, gummed, or fused with plastic or metal, is likely NOT recyclable, and definitely not compostable, so it's best to keep an eye out for those types and avoid them when you can.
I'm willing to bet that if you've actually done your due diligence and gone through your own trash, you've already got some ideas for how to cut back on waste. Maybe you see lots of disposable coffee cups and recognize that a reusable coffee cup might be a good investment. Maybe you see an excess of paper towels and realize that reusable cleaning cloths might be a better option. It's the daily things that we do (or don't do) that add up and make a difference.
What daily habit could you change that would affect what you see in your bin?