Not sending anything to the landfill is hard.
I mean, it looks hard, right? That’s why I’ve sort of half-assed the zero waste lifestyle for the past three years. I recycle everything…unless there’s no recycling bin around. I grocery shop with an eye toward creating less waste… unless I want meat, cheese, or potato chips. I carry a portable mug around with me… like, once a month. It’s just that I’m busy, I have other priorities, and I run into obstacles, like the fact that I can’t find one brand of green tea in my Whole Foods that doesn’t come in sachets. Little stuff like that is infuriating!
I know that trying to create minimal waste is a worthy goal. There are four main reasons sending things to the landfill is bad for the environment:
- It’s a waste of resources. Every time something gets sent to the landfill, the resources used to make it are taken out of play and buried. Then, new resources need to be extracted and harvested to make more stuff. More oil needs to be refined into plastic, more trees need to be cut down, more bauxite needs to be mined, etc. We should strive for a cradle-to-cradle, circular flow of consumer goods and packaging that mimics the flow of water or carbon through our ecosystems.
- Landfilled items leach their toxins into the ground. Landfill liners are getting more high-tech, but as Elizabeth Royte points out in her book Garbage Land (excellent read, especially for New Yorkers but also for any American), landfills’ contents persist, even after buried for thousands of years, and we don’t know yet when these linings will fail. Many of them have already started failing, leaching the harmful chemicals and heavy metals into the ground and water.
- Landfills produce the potent greenhouse gas methane. Much of it comes from food and other natural waste, which instead of biodegrading into some nice compost, reacts in the anaerobic environment of landfills to produce methane. According to the EPA, “Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential more than 25 times that of carbon dioxide…Municipal solid waste landfills are the second-largest industrial source of methane emissions in the United States, accounting for 20 percent of methane emissions in 2014.”
- It’s stupid. OK, this one isn’t scientific, but … come on! It’s it crazy how we extract oil from deep underneath the sea bed, refine it, send it to Asia to get made in to plastic pellets, which are sent somewhere else to be made into a plastic fork, which is shipped back to the US, put in our hands, and then we throw it in the trash seven minutes later! How did we get to this point?
Let’s Get Real
Several members of the Ethical Writers Coalition and I have decided to give this a real shot. Starting on Saturday, October 1st, we’re banding together to try to not produce waste for two weeks, and will honestly share our progress with our readers. We’re going into this with a curious, open mind, trying our best, but without expectations. Maybe we will fail. Maybe we will succeed. Maybe it will be somewhere in between. I have a feeling it will be ugly.
In the process, we hope to change our habits for the better, learn about ourselves as consumers, and also thoughtfully document the way our cities, systems, and society either support or hinder our progress toward not producing waste.
1. Baseline is not sending anything to the landfill.
2. As long as you can (responsibly), donate it, recycle it, or compost it, it doesn’t count as waste.
3. However, you can’t just throw whatever in there – you have to verify that it can ACTUALLY be composted or recycled in your city’s existing systems. For example, in NYC you can’t just throw compostable cups into your local garden. And beer caps aren’t recyclable. (There’s a lot more of that kind of nuance, as I will discuss in later posts.)
4. You must document how much waste you produce and why, honestly.
5. That includes produced outside of your apartment, like straws, napkins, wrappers, etc.
6. That does not include waste you don’t seeing produced on your behalf, like plastic wrap behind the scenes at grocery stores, because that would be impossible.
Here We Go
Check back in a couple days to hear how I’m doing! I’ll be linking out to other members’ post during the challenge, so you can see how we compare and how this challenge differs from city to city, lifestyle to lifestyle.
And we could use your help! If you have tips or advice, please share it. If you have questions or comments, share that, too. If you have criticism, write it down on a piece of paper, tear it up, and put it in your recycling bin. Namaste.