Just how much waste do industrialized societies produce every year? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, America alone generates a mind-blowing 134 million tons. That is 4.4 pounds of trash each day for every person in the country.
Of that waste, roughly 25 percent gets recycled and just nine percent gets composted. The remaining 66 percent ends up in landfills. The problem has gotten so out of hand that some municipalities are building more landfills to keep the ones they have from literally overflowing. Some states now transport their trash to nearby states as well.
What Can the Individual Do to Achieve Zero Waste?
A society with zero waste is not out of reach if individuals, groups, and corporations make a commitment to it. The sacrifices don’t even have to be all that great at the individual level. For example, deciding not to buy packaged food is a good place to start. That is because most food packaging is not recyclable.
By purchasing food items in bulk and bringing their own reusable bags to the grocery store, consumers prevent Styrofoam trays and plastic bags from ending up in landfills or in the ocean. Some other changes to make at the individual level include:
- Replace paper towels with reusable and washable rags
- Switch from disposal razors to an electric razor
- Compost food scraps
- Use cloth diapers and menstrual cups instead of disposable products
- Don’t buy paper plates, cups, or silverware
Training Tomorrow’s Leaders to Save the Planet
University students of today seem to have a much better grasp on the serious consequences of too much trash than their parents and grandparents. As a case in point, Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN) is a non-profit student group at more than 100 campuses nationwide.
These student leaders understand that achieving zero waste requires more than changing behavior at the individual level. The group tasks individuals to come together for collective action to create and support zero waste initiatives on university campuses and elsewhere.
University campuses and cities have many parallels. They each have their own energy sources, install and repair their own streets, and provide housing and food for thousands of people every day. As it turns out, universities also lead the way in waste reduction initiatives.
From bottled water bans to cafeterias with no plastic containers to on-site fix-it clinics that encourage students to repair rather than throw away broken items, the rest of the society could learn a lot from these ecosystems.
Recognizing Organizations That Achieve Zero Waste to Landfill
Carbon Trust is a non-profit organization that helps companies reduce their carbon emissions as well as waste that ends up in landfills. Recently, they created a recognition program to pay tribute to companies that avoid sending non-hazardous waste to landfills, reduce waste, and find creative ways to recycle.
Companies that claim zero waste to landfill status must pass rigorous criteria to receive this recognition. Becoming a more sustainable company benefits everyone, including the organization itself that enjoys better public perception. From the individual to the university campus to multi-million dollar corporations, zero waste is everyone’s responsibility.
[Image credit: malp / 123RF Stock Photo]