The U.S. Environmental Agency estimates that we generate 4.9 pounds of trash per person per day and about half of that ends up in the landfill! Although many aspects of our system work against us, we have a lot of control over the amount of waste we generate in our own homes. We have covered a lot of ways to reduce the waste we generate in how we shop, how we recycle, and how we use and reuse what we own because there’s no one solution to this problem. This week was our final week of our 21 Actions campaign and we talked about additional ways we can reduce our waste and send less to the landfill. By reducing the waste we send to the landfill, we’re also making better use of the water and energy that it takes to produce the materials that could otherwise end up as waste.
To really reduce the amount of waste we send to the landfill we need to start with how we buy things. We can think of precycling as prevention, rather than intervention. It’s also related to the zero waste movement, in which you try to keep from getting stuff that will need to be thrown away. Many sources say that if you remove the plastic ring from an oatmeal container, the container itself can be recycled. But, if you practice precycling, you can use a reusable container to buy bulk oatmeal from one of our local natural foods stores. That reusable container can be reused over and over and over again, preventing the resources needed to make and recycle the prepackaged oatmeal. There’s a reason why the 3 Rs are listed as reduce, reuse, recycle, and that’s because recycling should be the last resort. Though recycling is better than throwing it in the trash, reducing and reusing are always best. When making a purchase, consider the life of the product and its packaging and whether there is a more sustainable option.
For the Gardener
If you’re a gardener, you can accumulate a lot of plastic flower pots. Lowe’s advertises that they recycle pots, but many places that sell plants will take back their pots for reuse, which of course is better than recycling. Ann Raridon, President of the Board of Directors of Sustainable Blacksburg has returned pots to Blacksburg High School, Crows Nest Greenhouses and Wood Thrush Native Nursery, but you may want to ask first before loading up. Draper Springs Nursery & Gardens is a new nursery dedicated to educating and promoting both the use of native plants in the landscape as well as growing your own food. They are also trying not to sell anything plastic, using biodegradable pots and wood labels. We can make a difference by making the effort to put things back into the circular economy and by patronizing businesses that are doing the same so they know that we want to see those changes.
A New Home for Your Egg Cartons
Don’t throw away your egg cartons! There is a particular need for them in the community right now and there are ongoing reuse purposes for them throughout the year. A current research project at Virginia Tech is generating a lot of eggs that are being passed on to local programs that are distributing them to people in need and they need egg cartons to package them in. You can take egg cartons to the cashier at the Y Thrift Store for the Meals on Main program, to the front desk of Wonder Universe to be distributed by the New River Creative Reuse Center, to Eats Natural Foods (12-count cartons only) for use by local farmers and to vendors selling eggs at local farmers markets. Some people have also found homes for egg cartons using our local Buy Nothing groups, giving them to people raising their own chickens. There is just no reason to be throwing them away! If you buy your eggs from a local farmer, they are likely packaged in reused cartons so you can help keep the cycle going.
Although we had a separate action earlier to reduce food waste, we want to revisit reducing food waste through composting since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that food waste constitutes almost 22% of municipal solid waste! A lot of people asked us about composting at our Steppin’ Out booth and we recognize not everyone has a place to do it, but if you can, composting will dramatically reduce the waste you send to the landfill. Some people worry about not having a place for the finished compost but you would be surprised how little there actually will be. Plants are mostly water and nature is very efficient at breaking them down so you shouldn’t expect to have a lot of finished compost to worry about (and any gardening friends would likely be more than willing to take it from you). If you’re able to compost, please consider signing up to be a host through ShareWaste.com to accept food waste from people who don’t have a place to compost. You specify the waste that you’re willing to accept and potential donors will contact you about bringing you their waste.
Boxes and Packaging Materials
The Easy Way Packaging Center on N. Main St. in Blacksburg accepts cardboard boxes and packaging material, like peanuts and air pillows, for reuse. Returning these items for reuse keeps them circulating and prevents the need for materials to make new ones and even saves the energy required for recycling. Some people have also found takers for these types of items on local Buy Nothing groups or other similar sites. These items are still useful and shouldn’t go in the trash. When you need a box, you can also pick one up there. Although the boxes can go in municipal recycling and the air pillows in plastic film recycling, reuse is always better since it reduces the need for new materials, accomplishing two of the three Rs at once. Diverting as much as you can, in combination with precycling to reduce what you accumulate in the first place, will greatly reduce the amount of waste you ultimately send to the landfill.
Even though this concludes our 21 Actions for 2021, that does not mean we are done. Sustainability is a life-long endeavor and is ever-changing. If you would like to learn more about sustainability, we invite you to get in touch with us. You can also learn more at the following sites:
Let’s Talk Blacksburg: Climate Vulnerability, Adaptation & Resilience
EPA: Learn About Sustainability
United Nations: Sustainable Development Goals