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Refuse. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

Every day, people dispose of billions of tons of trash. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American typically produces an astonishing 4.4 lbs (2 kg) of trash a day, which translates to 1600 lbs (725 kg) a year.

You may wonder where all this trash goes. It disappears from our curb side, but not from the Earth. Some might be recycled, some might be recovered, and some might be burned. However, the larger part gets buried in landfills.

How can we significantly reduce the amount of garage that ends up in landfills?

With a little planning, we could refuse, reduce, reuse or recycle a large percentage of landfill waste, which includes materials such as plastic, glass, metal, and paper. This would significantly lower the demand on virgin sources of these materials and potentially eliminate environmental, economic, and public health problems.

The plastic bag story. How to eliminate plastic bags from being sent to landfills.

To demonstrate how the refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle approach works, here is an example using your run-of-the-mill grocery bag.

You go to the store to buy some groceries. The nice lady behind the cash offers to put your food into plastic bags. What do you say? No thank you I already have some cloth bags. This is refusing. By refusing the plastic bags, you have diverted them from being put into a landfill altogether.

Let's say, you actually forgot your cloth bags. What do you do? You don’t want to take the plastic bags, but you have all this food. Instead of taking 4 plastic bags, why not try and put all your food into 2 or 3 bags?

This is reducing. You just reduced the amount of plastic that could potentially be disposed of into a landfill.

You go home with your plastic bags. Do you just throw them in the trash? Of course not! Leave them in your car and the next time you go to the store bring them with you to reuse. They can be reused for produce or meat bags as well.

Finally, if you are unable to reuse the plastic bags because they are too worn out, please recycle. To me the best forms of recycling are composting or upcycling.

Nowadays many plastic bags are biodegradable. So, why not let them biodegrade in your backyard composting pile or let them sit in a hot, active home to degrade?

If composting the bags is not an option, try upcycling, which is taking something that you would otherwise throw out and finding a way to make it into something else.

Yes, it’s recycling, but the difference with upcycling is that it transforms the item into something that has equal or greater use or value. I have seen baby bibs made of plastic bags; this would be a form of upcycling. *Please do not put a plastic bag around your child's head and use it as a bib.*

As a last resort, simply put them with your recyclables; that is if they are accepted at your local recycling facility. If not, many large chains, such as “Staples” or your local grocery store, take all plastic bags to be recycled.

So you see, living a greener lifestyle will in turn help to reduce and/or eliminate trash that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

These were just a few examples of the many ways to eliminate our trash daily.

How many things will you throw out today? Or this week? And how much will you try to redirect from a landfill by refusing, reducing, reusing, and recycling?

Need more tips on eliminating trash or have “trash” questions? Please feel free to contact me and I will help you start to live a greener lifestyle with less waste!

Source: Environmental Protection Agency

photo credit: Randy Wick via photopin cc

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Reader Interactions


  1. Terra says

    Much of your post is spot-on, but there’s some pretty glaring factual errors that I’d like to address.

    While I sincerely appreciate and wholeheartedly agree with your recommendation to reduce, when it comes to recycling, the best way to recycle plastic bags is to take them back to your local grocery store. Most stores have a barrel for them just inside the door (you mentioned Staples, but most grocery stores have them too and most people are already going to a grocery store 1X/wk if not more, so it’s best to drop off things “on the way” and not make a special trip to recycle, if it can be avoided.)

    Biodegradability of plastics is a very difficult subject. There are many different types of plastics out there that claim to be biodegradable. This can mean that they have some additive that allows them to break down into minute pieces that the human eye cannot see (but they don’t actually return anything good to the soil) This can mean that they do actually break down in a compost system, but this usually means a *commercial* composting facility. I’ve never heard of a bag that degrades in a home compost system. I have a “biodegradable” plastic bag in my compost bin in my backyard that has been in there for more than 2 years now and every time I turn my compost and unearth it, it looks the same as when I put it in there. Suffice it to say that claims of biodegradability are confusing and not proven in most cases. These so-called “biodegradable” plastics are very new and as far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out on whether they’re actually a good idea or not.

    What is a “hot active home”? Why would a bag degrade in this environment?

    Even in areas that supposedly accept plastic bags, I still wouldn’t recommend EVER putting plastic bags in your recycling cart. The materials recovery facilities that handle the recycling HATE plastic bags (and all types of plastic film, actually) because it very badly clogs their systems and in most cases the machinery needs to be shut down at least 2X/day (if not much more than this) in order for the plastic film (bags, bubble wraps, shrink wrap, strapping, etc.) to be hand-cut out of the screens with box cutters. This results in a drop in efficiency somewhere in the 20-30% range. The film that is cut out is now called “dirty film” and has either a very low market value or none at all. If that film had been separated and placed in one of those barrels specifically meant for film, it would have been recycled (downcycled into something that is not then recyclable in most cases-plastic lumber being the most common) but recycled nonetheless.

    Lastly, I’d like to know if you have any evidence for your claims made in the first few paragraphs. Specifically: 1. “billions of tons of trash every day” 2. that “the larger part gets buried in landfills” and 3. the time period for the claim about the garbage trucks to the moon. I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’d just like to know your source.

    I hope you don’t feel like I’m attacking your article. Like I said at the beginning, I think your assertions that refusing and reducing our consumption of items such as plastic bags in the first place is absolutely the best possible action. However, working in the industry I do, I find that so many people are being green-washed into believing that certain plastics are harmless or better than others because they somehow magically melt away into something beneficial. I would encourage everyone to think very critically about that assertion and who exactly is making those claims and whether or not they have any scientific evidence to back up those claims.

    to see a picture of a sorting screen choked with plastic bags: http://wcnorthwest.com/Resources_Local/files/plastic_bags_clogging_sign_small.pdf

    • Good Girl Gone Green says

      Thank you Megan for the link. I am aware of the contamination that happens with reusable plastic bags if they are not washed. Personally, I use cloth bags as a grocery bags as well as cloth bags for my produce and such. I was saving this information for another post! I guess you beat me to it! Have a great Friday!

  2. Julie F says

    I am trying to find a place where I can send old sandals, hiking boots to be recycled. I know Nike only takes tennis shoes but where can other shoes go to be recycled. These are shoes that cannot be worn again by anyone. Thanks.

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