By Stephanie Stevens
Have you heard of the Zero Waste Movement? In 2008, French-American Bea Johnson took an established term used in the recycling industry to describe manufacturing and municipal waste management practices and made it her own while sharing her family’s year-long waste reduction journey. Zero waste has since become a social media sensation, with proponents like Lauren Singer encouraging thousands of followers to try to reduce their waste output to nothing more than what will fit in a quart jar.
And while practicing a zero-waste lifestyle is an admirable goal, not everyone has the time or means to take on such an intense challenge. So what are some of the more accessible ways to reduce our waste?
1. Ask for alternatives.
Reach out to companies who are packaging foods unnecessarily and ask them to develop package-free alternatives. You can request that your local grocery store limit the amount of packaging of fruits and vegetables (while keeping in mind that some pre-packed foods are necessary for people with dexterity issues) or ask restaurants and coffee shops to use dishware or reusable containers.
2. Improve waste management where you live.
While waste management techniques are improving and becoming more common across the U.S., it’s still rare to find a city that takes all the steps necessary to reduce waste. It’s up to community members to pressure local governments to provide alternatives like composting. Find out how to get a program up and running in your area.
3. Make sure there are garbage cans and recycling bins available.
Consider contacting neighborhood business associations about providing good waste management options like more trash containers or recycling bins to help keep food waste and garbage off the streets.
4. Pick up trash.
You’ve likely seen the videos of animals injured by plastic packaging or the sprawling immensity of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. One of the best ways to help is to keep trash from getting into the environment in the first place. Consider taking part in organized area clean-ups, starting your own or simply keep a glove and compostable trash bag in your pocket, purse or backpack to pick up trash as you come across it in your daily life.
5. Be prepared.
There are simple and easy ways to lessen the amount of waste you produce. Keep a reusable water bottle, coffee mug, food container and a cloth bag in your car or backpack, so you have them available whenever you need them. No more issues with takeout boxes, plastic cups and storing dozens of grocery bags!
With the increased popularity of “Buy Nothing” type groups, there are now a wide range of opportunities to reuse materials and turn them into art or refurbished furniture to add a unique flair to your home. If upcycling isn’t your style, consider donating furniture and other materials to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore.
7. Buy better quality items.
There is truth to the maxim, “You get what you pay for.” While many of us have to maintain strict budgets and go for the least expensive deal, that can lead to buying a lower quality item that wears out sooner. If possible, consider saving up to buy a better quality product. Doing so should lessen the number of purchases you make and decrease your level of consumption. This is especially true for the clothing industry, which has a significantly disproportionate impact on the environment.
8. Get active online.
You can meet people of like mind, get more tips about reducing waste, find out about new programs in your area and learn about petitions, protests and other ways of using your voice to raise awareness about waste management and other environmental issues by participating in online groups on Quora, Facebook, Reddit and other websites.
9. Make a meal plan.
It’s been estimated that Americans waste 30-40% of their food, with a value of more than $218 billion each year (via HuffPost). And while it may seem simple, the best way to avoid wasting food is to plan out your meals for the week and buy what you know you’ll eat when you head to the market.
10. Become a sustainability expert.
To make an impact beyond your home or neighborhood, expand your knowledge of sustainable practices in UC San Diego Extension’s Sustainability & Behavior Change certificate program. The program focuses on giving you the strategies and tools needed to influence behavior change and promote environmental protection.
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