Resolve to reduce your waste in 2020

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composting waste

For many Americans, New Year’s resolutions often include some intention to reduce their waist. However, in 2020 and beyond, the Portage Soil, Water and Conservation District is instead encouraging you to consider a resolution to reduce your waste.

Instead of “ringing out the old and bringing in the new,” we’d like to suggest that you “wring” out the old, that you reuse, repurpose and completely wear it out before you discard it as waste.

And when it comes to ‘bringing in the new,’ well, just stop and take a minute to think about that first. Sadly, our current single-use lifestyle choices do not come anywhere close to wearing things out.

Even more sadly, with an average 4.4 pounds per person of generated trash daily, Americans are among the most wasteful stewards of our planet. We waste food, water, energy, money, etc.

Additionally, many of the ways we choose to manage our land also leads to additional wasting of our natural resources. Has our abundance made us indifferent to our reliance on natural resources?

Food waste

The results of a 2010 study by the USDA’s Economic Research Service determined that food waste in the United States accounts for over 30% of the food supply. The loss was measured at approximately 133 billion pounds of food, which was valued at $161 billion dollars.

These monumental numbers are perhaps so inconceivable that we fail to attribute our daily contribution to the totals. But these are collective numbers and do include your waste. The EPA estimates that each of us is contributing approximately 218.9 pounds annually to these food waste totals.

Additionally, the U.S. food waste per capita has increased by 50% since 1974. Reducing waste at the source is always the most effective management strategy and the data indicates that we used to manage our food much better.

Far-reaching effects

The EPA report also concludes that this amount of waste has far-reaching impacts on food security, resource conservation and climate change:

  Wholesome food that could have helped feed families in need is sent to landfills.

  The land, water, labor, energy and other inputs used in producing, processing, transporting, preparing, storing and disposing of discarded food are pulled away from uses that may have been more beneficial to society — and generate impacts on the environment that may endanger the long-run health of the planet.

  Food waste, which is the single largest component going into municipal landfills quickly generates methane. As it relates to climate change, atmospheric methane is 34 times more problematic than C02, and landfills are the third-largest source of methane in the United States.

Strategies

Simple strategies we can all adopt to reduce food waste include the following:

  Prepare only the amount of food that will be consumed, or if you are preparing extra, promptly freeze leftovers for use at another time.

  We know we should eat our fruits and veggies, but produce accounts for nearly half of our food waste. So shop wiser. Consider the week ahead before you choose perishable items. If you will not have the time it takes to clean, properly store and prepare meals using perishable items, then it would be better not to buy them at all.

  Since inedible food items such as banana peels and coffee grinds are also included in our food waste totals, let’s get serious about composting. Composting is a wonderful way to divert waste from landfills while also capturing nutrients that can be returned to our soil.

  Eat out less. Whether you dine-in or carry-out, restaurants offer extra-large portions. Uneaten food left behind will be landfilled. If you take the leftovers home, think of all that excess packaging (typically Styrofoam containers) that will end up in landfills — which leads us to another major waste issue: packaging waste.

Convenience packaging

Americans have the ability to influence the consumer market with the “power of the purse.” Our consumer habits are continually analyzed and then used in predictive models and marketing strategies.

In a recent interview, Phil Plourd, a dairy marketing analyst with Blimling & Associates made this statement, “One of my rules is that I never bet against the laziness of the American consumer. If it’s convenient, it’s got a chance. If it’s asking the consumer to do a lot of work, it’s really hard to get traction.”

Ouch! Do we really want to represent this statement?

“Laziness” is a rather harsh judgment and it may not always be what’s driving our choice for convenience. Perhaps most of us just don’t think enough about the consequences of our habits.

Land-use legacy

Regardless of our motivations, the fact remains that our landfills are full of individually wrapped conveniences, and that is quickly becoming our land-use legacy. Would any of us want to take our child or grandchild to a landfill to gaze upon it with pride and say, “Yep, I helped create this.”?

Think of all of the other uses that same land could support: agriculture, housing, wildlife, woodlands, meadows, recreational activities — pretty much any other use seems better than a landfill.

However, if we are honest in our examination of the problem, we will quickly realize that what landfills are really filled with is individual choices. Every single unit of trash represents a choice — and many of them are your choices.

This should come as encouraging news because it would indicate that we could make different choices, better choices. So what should your choice be?

Reduce

Think about it before you buy it. Take your reusable shopping and produce bags to the store with you and as you shop, and select mostly items that have compostable, reusable or recyclable packaging. You do realize you are paying for that extra packaging, right?

In our Portage County waste education lessons in K-12 school cafeterias we provide a simple demonstration comparing the amount of chips in a family-sized bag with the big bag of single-serving packaged chips.

By the end of the demo, students learned that when you buy the single packaged chips, you pay $1 more for the convenience of receiving one less serving of chips while also purchasing over three times the amount of plastic waste than if you’d purchased the family-sized bag of chips and packed them in reusable lunch containers.

And the absolute worst thing about purchasing the convenient choice is that when we do, we are teaching our children that it is okay to habitually toss away packaging with the drink and food items we consume. This bad habit is not sustainable.

Instead, choose to use your hard-earned income to select economical and Earth-friendly options. Demonstrate stewardship to your children by explaining the economic and environmental benefits of this decision. Your children will learn that stewardship is a choice with many benefits!

Waste reduction can be difficult to tackle. Contact your local SWCD to find out what assistance is available in your area.

To help support waste reduction efforts in northeast Ohio, Portage SWCD is teaming up with staff from Summit SWCD to offer a Reduce Your Waste and Reduce Your Runoff workshop Feb. 8 at 10 a.m. To register for the workshop or for more information, contact Lynn at lvogel@portageswcd.org.

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Lynn Vogel is the new part-time Stormwater Educator at Portage County SWCD. A graduate of Ohio University with a degree in Industrial Hygiene and Environmental Health, she looks forward to working in the county on stormwater and other conservation issues.

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