During the pandemic, we all became well-acquainted with our stuff. Perhaps you purged a lot of things to make more room for … well, living. Or maybe you acquired more things to make staying home more conducive to the "new normal." Either way, it's likely that the past year-and-a-half has made you think differently about stuff.
The World Resources Institute says that 50-75% of the stuff we buy ends up in a landfill within a year. In Hennepin County, if you add up all of the waste created in just one year, it would fill Target Field … more than 11 times.
So, how can we reduce our waste? There are many ways to approach this question and endless areas where we can all improve, but the most important first step is to do something you can stick to. It's tempting to feel that little actions don’t really matter, but every little bit counts, and the more we can all swim in the direction of waste reduction, the better off we'll be. Let's take a look at how we might implement the “Five R's" into our daily lives.
Find ways in your daily life to refuse packaging and "add ons" you don't need. Do you need a bag for the two items you bought? Do you need a straw? Can you unsubscribe from junk mail? Are you really going to wear that free T-shirt? Remember, there's no judgement here. Finding what items you personally can live without is key.
Doing an audit of what you throw in the trash each week may be helpful in finding areas where you can reduce your consumption. For our family, packaging was a big share of what was in our trash, so we began paying closer attention to this. For us, this meant using containers from home to buy in bulk, prioritizing purchasing things in-store instead of online, choosing products in compostable or easily-recyclable packaging, etc.
Did you know that half of the emissions for electronics and nearly all of the emissions for clothing and furniture happen before they even arrive at a store? Reusemn.org is a great resource for finding used or rentable items – everything from electronics and building materials to clothing and furniture. It also resources for repairing your items. Our neighborhood Buy Nothing Facebook group is another great way to reuse (and meet your neighbors while you're at it!). If you are planning a big house renovation, check out Hennepin County's Deconstruction Grants.
In the hierarchy of most-environmentally-friendly “R’s”, recycling falls at the bottom. It's certainly better than throwing recyclable items away, but it still requires additional energy and emissions to turn materials into something new. When recycling, just ensure that you are not "wish-cycling" (throwing something in the trash without knowing for sure that it can be recycled). hennepin.us/green-disposal-guide has a great searchable database you can use to decide which bin your items belong in.
I would add an additional item to this list: Smart Purchasing. Because we know that the best thing we can do is consume less, it becomes even more important that the new items we bring into our lives are high quality, repairable, efficient, and durable so that they last as long as possible. This may cost more up front, but will save time, resources, and money (no longer having to replace items every few years) in the long run.
Remember, we're all in this together! Every little bit we can do to waste less is a win for our community.
Cooper resident Jessie Roelofs recently completed Hennepin County's Master Composter/Recycler program.
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