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American Refuse 

What does 'waste' mean to you?

Promotional Feature


March 21, 2019 | View PDF

American Refuse

A selection of single-use waste found in "garbage."

When most people hear the word "waste," they think of garbage, trash, landfill, discarded, what we throw away and don't need. It is the last step in a very long process from manufacturing, transport, retail, to consumer, to home, to use, to not needed and discarded. Many people, products and resources are used in everything we buy. Just think of the worldly things that are available to us when we walk into a store. As you back out of your "waste," did you really need to create what you did? Did you plan ahead for all the things you were going to waste?

Waste, as in being "waste full"

When you are dishing up your plate of food at a buffet, you are most likely really hungry. As you pass through the line, you see one item, then another and another, stacking your plate until it resembles a pyramid of food that is waddled through. Have you ever stopped halfway through that line and contemplated, "Am I really going to eat all this?" Or is your mind consumed with hunger and getting your money's worth? How much did you actually eat and how much did you throw away when you came to the end of that meal?

When you fill a glass of milk all the way to the top, is it out of habit to fill an empty item or did you really want all that milk? Did you drink it all or throw it down the drain? Can we retrain ourselves to only take what we need? Can we stop ourselves and change our habits to examine what we are actually going to use and train ourselves to take just what we need?

Waste as in one use

A good example is single-use plastic. A single-use plastic item is something you know you will only use one time and then discard it. It can be a plastic bag for some, a wrapper on an item we are buying, drink container, etc. What about when we are in a rush to grab a meal on the go? How much waste do we generate?

Take for example a salad to go. It probably has a fork wrapped in plastic that is discarded and a salad dressing wrapper that is thrown away. In addition, there is the container. How many items of plastic trash did that make? Could we have done something to be proactive and maybe packed a salad in reuseable containers and not generated all that single-use plastic which we discarded?

Do I get a new plastic water bottle every day and throw it away, or do I bring a useable one? When we are at the store, do we buy for convenience or what we plan to throw away? Most of us buy out of convenience, but what if in that moment, we thought about the end results of our actions. Think backward from our waste. If we buy in bulk, can we use reuseable containers that would serve the same purpose as the exact same item in 30 prepackaged items, plus the outside package?

The latest Cal Recycle 1383 study shows that two-thirds of our waste stream is organic materials. NRDC studies show that 40 percent of the food we buy, we throw away.

With National Sword and its ban on plastics going to China, what can we do with all the single use plastic we generate? Most of our single-use plastic does not have a "home," so it's going into our landfills. As we trend into this new market of waste, we need to reevaluate what we buy. Stop and ask ourselves, "Is this something that can be made into something else again? How many times will I use this item before I discard it? Is there a better choice when I am at the store of what I am buying? When I get take out, is it in a Styrofoam container that will take 500 years to decompose or is it a cardboard container that can be sent to compost with my food waste?"

The time has come that each of us needs to look backward from the waste -- a look into what am I producing or using and the results of my single action. One small step forward to changing our mindsets and habits will yield big results that affect all of us.

-American Refuse


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