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Reduce for a Better World

Posted 12/14/2018 by Mia Harsh

Zero-waste enthusiasts often boast their ability to hold years worth of trash in a single mason jar. photo by Baxter Stein

A new “Zero-Waste” concept has been gaining popularity around the globe, and it could be an answer to some of the world’s most pressing environmental issues.

Many people generate two 13-gallon bags of garbage in only one week, so it might sound a bit extreme to be able to fit years worth of trash in one pint-sized jar. Despite this, an expanding environmentalist community has reduced trash production to nearly nothing, inspiring others to follow suit. These people have found alternatives to the most common household waste products and made the seemingly unavoidable plastic industry obsolete within their lives. Many have shared their ideas and green lifestyle choices through social media, particularly on YouTube, with their ever-growing fanbases. Most of these influencers follow what is known as “The Four R’s,” which stand for Reject, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

Rejecting what you do not require is the first step to lowering the impact of your consumption on the environment, and it is also a key factor that has drawn many other people and groups to the community. The idea is simple: only acquire items that are essential to your life, and reject anything that you do not need. This is a notion that has drawn a multitude of minimalists to join the movement, which is a possible cause of the increasing awareness surrounding the community, since it is already a widespread philosophy. Many people enjoy the thought of having less because reducing physical clutter ultimately reduces mental clutter, and by extension the impact of consumerism on their wallets. Even so, this is likely the most difficult step to execute, despite its critical importance in the Zero-Waste lifestyle. Human beings crave the feeling of buying something new, beautiful, or anything that promises to make their lives easier. Rejecting these useless ‘treasures’ might go against human nature, but it is essential to bettering the world and reducing the impact we have on the environment. Here are some ways in which you might begin the rejection process in your own life:

  • Don’t give in to fast fashion – In our internet driven world, it is easy to favor trends over quality, and many people will purchase pieces which they only use for a couple of seasons. Instead, opt for clothes that you will use for years in order to produce less waste.
  • Do not accept disposable items from restaurants – A major portion of wastes found in our oceans are plastics such as straws, which are often given automatically at eating establishments. It is better to bring your own glass, cloth, or metal alternatives.
  • Buy your grocery items in bulk – This does not mean bulk in the ‘Costco’ sense. It means that instead of buying plastic-packaged items, you can bring in your own jars and buy things like grains and nuts from an open bin which are priced by pound.
  • Purchase produce from farmers markets – Not only does this support local farmers, it also allows much greater control over how your produce is packaged, and whether any plastic is included. While you are at it, bring your own reusable cloth bags instead of accepting any plastic ones.

Similar to the idea of rejection is reduction, when you reduce how much plastic you purchase and throw away, even if the function of the product is essential to your life. This is where zero-waste alternatives come in. Influencers who spread their lifestyle on various platforms often create videos and articles which feature plastic-free alternatives to items used daily such as plastic wrap, toothpaste, and grocery packaging. Do-it-yourself (DIY) tutorials make up a large portion of this content and have become particularly popular for their money-saving qualities. When you ensure that most of your household products are multi-use, you make less frequent purchases, and therefore a significant amount of money is saved over time. This saves your money from being used unnecessarily, less plastic is purchased, and leads to a decrease in waste pollution. Ways to reduce in your life include:

All four of the zero-waste “R’s” go hand in hand, so it is of no surprise that reusing the items you already have is closely related to reducing your consumption of harmful products. Single-use items are among the largest reason for the massive plastic epidemic plaguing our world today. Though it has been around for a long time, the rise of single-use products since WWII is one of the essential reasons why plastic is now considered an epidemic. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website, packaging accounts for 146 million tons of plastic produced per year, which is over double the impact of the next-largest category of plastic. Packaging is also inherently single-use since it is merely a means through which a product may be acquired. The best way not to contribute to the massive packaging plastic industry is to find and use reusable items instead of single-use. Finding ways to repurpose the possessions you already have not only reduces your environmental impact immensely, but also reduces the amount of money needed to be spent on additional and unnecessary products. Here is a list of ideas for reusable items you can make yourself or purchase:

  • Reusable Metal Water Bottles

The final “R” is something most people in the United States are well-acquainted with: recycling. Though many take pride in their recycling habits, it is less effective than you might hope. Many people are unaware of which items are actually recyclable, and even if the right items do end up in your recycling can, the chances of them actually being recycled are not as great as one might hope. Though Colorado has yet to be greatly harmed by the effects of this, China has recently placed massive regulations on the recyclable materials they are willing to import. Since the United States largely relies on China to process our recycling materials, this has lead to large amounts of recyclable products being sent to landfills. That is not to say that you should give up on recycling. Instead, people should be mindful of the amount of waste they place in their recycling bins, and bear in mind that much of it may not end up where they hope. It is best to practice the other three R’s as much as possible before resorting to recycling. Another method of “recycling” is more promising, however. In light of the world’s massive food waste crisis where roughly one third of food produced per year is lost or wasted, it is comforting to know that composting is a simple and effective alternative to throwing away. Denver offers a composting service in which residents may pay a small fee to have their composting picked up, but it is also easy to compost in your own backyard. Here is a guide to setting up a simple backyard compost system

It is easy to feel helpless and unable to create change for the state of our planet, especially when so many issues seem to be detrimental to the future of our environment. Being able to reduce your trash production is a wonderful way to gain a sense of control over your environmental footprint and have a large impact on the world. The average American produces enough waste per year to build a Leaning Tower of Pisa entirely out of trash, so anything that can be done to reduce that amount will have a positive impact on our world. Nobody is helpless in the battle to better our world, all we need to do is be willing to put in the effort to turn things around.