There are some things that you can’t close your eyes to once you’ve seen them. The worldwide waste problem that humanity is facing has to be addressed. The problem has been burned and buried, but the giant trash elephant in the room has to be addressed. According to the EPA, in 2013, the United States alone produced over 254 million tons of waste. Of that, 34.3% was recycled or composted. Over the last 25 years, recycling has become more commonplace and the recycling rate has more than doubled from 16% in 1990. Through source reduction, composting, and recycling, the United States has made great strides to reduce the waste produced and sent to the landfill. The goal for zero waste is to have 90% recovery of the resources that would otherwise be sent to the landfill. We are a long way from the 90% goal, but it is a goal that we can all strive for. Unfortunately, these numbers don’t account for industrial waste, only municipal waste, which “consists of everyday items we use and then throw away” (EPA). The EPA states the industrial waste is approximately 7.6 billion tons per year.
The industrial waste is linked to our municipal waste as the hidden costs behind our consumption. In order to reduce both municipal and industrial waste, we have to be active in our lives and communities. Civic engagement and sustainable living are closely tied together. In order to truly be sustainable, we have to support each other in the community. One way of supporting each other is by sharing knowledge and skills that can help create a ripple effect of lasting change and mindset altering. Reducing consumption, mindful purchasing, recycling, and composting are all great things that we can do to start a change. If we strive towards these practices and effectively communicate the urgency of the waste problem, it will hopefully be infectious to the people around us and spread from the ground up to the top.
Buy products made locally, or even learn how to make replacements of some of these things yourself. When purchasing commercially produced products, stop and ask yourself if you really need it. Chances are you won’t need as much as you think. Placing a compost and a recycling bin right next to your trash is extremely easy and takes a short time to get used to. Encourage and educate the people in your sphere of influence about the small changes that can be made in order to make a large change overall.
It’s not a big commitment and it’s only made through small changes. When we add a few slight inconveniences (that will quickly become habitual) to our daily routine, we can start to make a change that will become normal for generations to come. I dream that future generations will have the default mindset of “how can this be reused or recycled” instead of the current “but the dumpster is so far away” mindset. It will be a long process, but change is already happening. We can only do it together and I hope we can all agree that it’s face the waste.