Monday, April 11, 2011

Step 1: Reduce Waste

About halfway between Jacksonville and Little Rock, Arkansas where I grew up is a beautiful green hill. Just don't drive along I-40 with the windows down--it is a landfill and the smell is atrocious. I spent most of my childhood and young adulthood watching this mound of trash grow and grow until it no longer resembles a landfill, but a grassy hill.

Likewise, just on the St. Louis side of I-70 across the Missouri River bridge, driving with the windows down is out of the question. This particular landfill can't be seen from the Interstate, but it can be smelled.

Landfills such as these litter the American landscape. What a sad commentary on the "progression" of our society. A mere 80 years ago when my grandfather was born, trash was burned in barrels or composted to be added to the family garden patch, clothes were handed down from child to child until they were worn to threads. A lot can be learned from our grandparents. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published the following statistics of the content of landfills:

Paper and cardboard - 28%
Food scraps - 14%
Yard trimmings - 13%
Plastics - 12%
Metals - 8%
Rubber, leather, and textiles - 8%
Wood - 6%
Glass - 4%
Other - 3%

One ton of this stuff creates about 127 cubic meters of methane gas. All that gas is being emitted into our atmosphere. Breathing high concentrations of methane gas can cause asphyxia, heart problems, and death.

How do we reduce the amount of methane gas emitted into the environment? By reducing our waste. Here is how you can do your part:

1. Recycle. This is such an obvious one, but it is shocking how many suburbanites still toss all their waste products into the trash bin. Glass, paper, plastic, and most metals can be recycled very easily. Many communities now offer recycling programs. If you do not have a separate recycle bin, contact your waste company and ask how to get one. BONUS: find an aluminum recycling center near you. You can get paid around $.50 per pound for aluminum. Other metals can be purchased by these recycling centers as well. We recently took some scrap copper, aluminum cans, and an old dishwasher where we got a nice pay-out for the metals.

2. Donate. Take all those outgrown clothes, household items, and furniture to your local charity where they will either be sold or used for shelters or low-income housing.

3. Re-use. So, what do you do with all those old t-shirts that are too stained or tattered for charity? Turn them into rags. We stopped wasting money on paper towels by cutting t-shirts into re-usable rags. We turned them into disinfecting wipes (recipe and instruction will come soon), dusting wipes, and glass cleaning cloths.

4. Compost. Of all the things found in landfills, the one that blows my mind the most is organic waste. Whether you enjoy small outdoor gardening or indoor potted plants, the best plant food on earth is other organic matter. Scrape all your unused vegetable and grain scraps as well as grass clippings into a compost bin and wait for nature to take its course. (Watch for a more detailed composting instructional coming soon.) Add this rich matter to your plants and watch them burst to life. BONUS TIP: Pour the water used to boil eggs into your plants for a boost of nourishment.

5. Reduce. Seriously, Americans are so obsessed with stuff. We've become so fascinated with our addiction to stuff that I've seen no less than three TV shows dedicated to the overabundance of it. If you carefully consider each purchase, you may find yourself eliminating unnecessary items. Additionally, you can reduce the production of stuff by purchasing used items instead of new. Before I was married, I furnished my entire apartment with items I purchased at thrift stores and garage sales. My mom and I spent many Saturdays perusing resale shops looking at piece after piece and imagining what it could be. These are some of my favorite memories as we laughed and, yes, even argued over potential purchases. In the end, however, I had exactly the home I wanted with items that I had rescued from landfills.

Now, share your ideas for reducing waste. I love to learn new ideas. Good luck!

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