This post was originally published it the Teton Valley News on November 7th, 2013. It is reposted with permission.
As the executive director of Teton Valley Community Recycling, I probably think about reducing my personal waste more than the average person. Still, when I was invited to join Northwest Earth Institute’s 2013 EcoChallenge, I realized I could do a lot more. I focused on the five habits below and measured my progress over the last 16 days in October.
- Eat whole foods. This was the hardest challenge for me, but the one that made the biggest difference. I tend to pick up food on the go rather than taking the time to plan ahead and cook meals. Whole foods can usually be purchased in bulk or in the produce section, which greatly reduces packaging. Changing my purchasing habits reduced waste, saved money, and resulted in a healthier diet.
- Recycle everything possible. Much of the waste I produced over 16 day period was recyclable. In addition to recycling metal cans, glass bottles, plastic bottles, paper, and cardboard, I also recycled plastic bags at Broulim’s and compact fluorescent lightbulbs at Fall River Rural Electric Company. My worn out tires will be taken to the transfer station for recycling along with scrap metal and broken electronics.
- Compost food and yard waste. Food waste is by far the heaviest waste product in my home. By composting food scraps, I kept my kitchen bin smelling fresh and diverted several pounds of waste from the landfill. Next spring, my old veggie scraps will augment the soil in my garden.
- Cut the junk. It is estimated that Americans spend eight months opening junk mail over the course of their lives. While paper is recyclable, it is wasteful to have unwanted paper products shipped all the way to your home only to toss them in a recycling bin and ship them back to a recycled paper mill. Websites like catalogchoice.org and dmachoice.org take you off of mailing lists, while optout.org allows you to choose which phone books you want to receive. Sign up for online statements from your bank, your credit card, and your other bills. Taking these steps slowed my junk mail to a trickle, which reduced waste, saved time, and increased my happiness.
- What would grandma do? During the Great Depression and World War II, recycling was a patriotic duty to gather materials for the war effort, and household items were repaired again and again out of necessity. Many of these habits have been lost over time, but they are still relevant today. During the EcoChallenge, I maintained my vehicle to help it last as long as possible, mended clothing, and upcycled scraps into a rug. Grandma would be proud!
There are many more ways to reduce waste. However, keeping these five habits in mind reduced the waste in my two-person household to a small kitchen bag of trash in two weeks. More importantly, I simplified my life and felt happier and healthier. Pick one habit on the list and try it for two weeks. You might like it!