Here are seven things anyone can do to be less wasteful. Try them out. Then suggest 3 of your own to help build the list and start a conversation about figuring out the best strategy for making America less trashy and Americans a bit richer in the process.
1. Refuse. The simple decision by Bea Johnson of the ZeroWasteHome blog to just say no to a lot of stuff is the home run of waste reduction. From unwanted mail-order catalogs to recreational shopping excursions to printed phone bills rather than virtual ones, just refuse them. Say no to those stupid promotional key chains and tchotchkes that come free at conferences and fundraisers. You know it’s junk, and accepting it just encourages more. Refuse. Your trash pile will shrink dramatically.
2. Go Used and Refurbished. Whether it’s a computer, a TV, a car, a book or a coat, used or refurbished goods are always cheaper, are often indistinguishable from new (and many manufacturer-refurbished computers even carry same-as-new warranties), and their environmental footprint is a fraction of new products. You are keeping resources out of the waste stream and saving yourself big bucks, all at the same time.
3. Stop Buying Bottled Water. It’s a waste and a fraud wherever domestic water supplies are safe, which is virtually everywhere in the U.S. You don’t need it. Get a couple of reusable bottles and put tap water in them.
4. No More Plastic Grocery Bags. No, this one won’t save the world (though it will help the oceans), but Andy Keller’s right: Plastic bags are the gateway drug of waste. If you can get that monkey off your back, you’ll see how easy it can be to start chipping away other parts of your 102-ton legacy. (You know, like making your own coffee or at least bringing your own cup to Starbucks, and otherwise .)
5. Focus on Cost of Ownership. The disposable economy wants you to think about the cost of things at the checkout stand. That’s how we end up with cheapo DVD players that become trash in a year, clothes that fade and wear out after a few washes, and cable boxes that eat more electricity than a fridge. The disposable economy gives us things that are cheap in the short term but costly and wasteful over time. Saving up for purchases of things that are more durable, long-lived, reliable and efficient saves money over time, and radically reduces the waste we produce. And it does something else: The act of saving for something that’s really good, something that we really want in our lives for years to come, encourages us to say no to other things we don’t really need. It encourages saving instead of spending. And that means far less waste, too.
6. Drive less. Half of all the trips we take by car are under three miles. Most of these can be walked or biked or just skipped entirely. Transportation is one of our most wasteful activities—in terms of emissions, energy waste and the disposal nightmare caused by junked cars, batteries, oil and tires. Plus all us Americans can use a little more exercise, don’t you think?
7. Recycle Selectively. Avoiding disposable and single-use products and packaging would eliminated the single largest part of our waste stream –that would bemonumental progress---but that’s going to be a tough choice for many of us. When you do buy that single-serve soda or beer, be selective: buy it in aluminum. The aluminum can is the poster child for the recycling economy, so make sure you get yours into the right bin. Mining and refining a pound of aluminum is an incredibly dirty, polluting and water-hungry process that uses 100 times the energy need to recycle that same pound. One of the best things you can do for the environment is to recycle your aluminum can (though an even better thing would be not to buy it in the first place).