Reduce Your Waste ““ Scientifically!

In two weeks, all of us will be turning over new leaves, or at least replacing our calendars with the most recent versions. For those of us who like to plan, now is the perfect time to think long and hard about which New Year’s resolution to grab hold of and follow. I humbly suggest waste reduction for New Year’s resolution contention.

The thing about new beginnings, even if they are a little arbitrary, is that they provide a feeling of a clean slate, a fresh sheet of paper as of yet un-besmirched by our (my) inevitable mistakes. As such, a trash and waste centered resolution appeals to me ““ keep things clean in the New Year! Keep trash from eating your life in the New Year! Get acquainted with the fine art of Recycle-Bin-Bedazzling in the New Year!

As someone who cares about the environment, I like this resolution, too. Waste reduction has fallen a little out of favor after the reduce reuse recycle hype of the 1990s. Sure, those blue (or green or whatever) bins are ubiquitous, but they are often overlooked and the plastics, with their tiny numbers and ridiculous rules, are getting oh so complicated. It is time for a revival of trash-centered conversation.

Let me be clear: this whole “green” movement stuff has been going on for years in communities of color and among poor people. What I am writing here and what I am practicing is not something that is in any way shape or form either new or my own. Voices that have been traditionally shut out of environmentalism are often the ones that have done the most for this earth.  I suggest (and this has worked for me) that we all acknowledge this as we move to a new, trashier state of being.

So if you have made it this far, I assume you either want to think about waste reduction or you want to tell me what you think about waste reduction. Great! Let’s get scientific! Reducing waste in the home can be a challenge. Things inevitably pile up like so many shrimp on the plate of a hungry buffet goer.  Thinking about where to make the most effective in-roads in waste reduction can be overwhelming since there is so much stuff just lolling about.

This is where the science comes in! You won’t be running any experiments, but you will be collecting observational data that can then be applied to changing household behavior in the most efficient way.

To get going, enlist the help of roommates, children, pets that can count (looking at you, parrots) and get to tracking your trash for a week or two. Sounds gross? It is a little bit, but if you want to know where to reduce you have to know where you use. In general terms keep track of what’s going in the garbage – do you have a lot of food scraps, or packaging, or half empty containers of face wash? If you like graphs, draw bar graphs for key groups and give the bars a nice chevron pattern, just to make staring at those graphs more aesthetically pleasing.

Then, tackle that area. If you throw out a lot of food scraps, think about whether you need to buy less or use more efficiently. Explore the concept of compost, but don’t get too carried away on the hype – accept that it is totally OK not to have a bin of rotting fruit and vegetables in your apartment.  If you throw out a lot of paper, look to recycle it. And if everything in your bin is packaging, look into reusing some of it. Those are just a few suggestions – the key is to explore. Treat this resolution as a process, one that starts and ends with data collection, reflection, and a willingness to bend and seek new alternatives if the first attempt isn’t working.

4 replies on “Reduce Your Waste ““ Scientifically!”

excellent! Between recycling (and consciously buying things with packaging I know I can recycle – damn you #5 plastic almond container!) and compost, my SO and I usually produce less than one shopping bag of trash a week. If we ate less meat we’d probably be even more kick-ass on the waste front.

On the same wavelength, there’s a book called Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte. Some parts of the book are definitely better than others, but she goes through her trash for many weeks and basically dissects what it is her family of 3 were throwing away and how they could make it better/less. It was one of the things that prompted me to change how I tossed stuff.

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