How much trash does an individual produce in a given day? The exact answer will most certainly vary from person to person, but, generally speaking, quite a bit. The average American is estimated to throw away 7 pounds of trash every day according to a study done by Columbia University. Moreover, the United States alone “produces more than 30 percent of the planet’s total waste, [even] though it is home to only 4 percent of the world’s population” (Bradford, et al). Much of this unnecessary waste can be traced to our widespread consumption of single-use plastics. From product packaging to food and beverage containers, our culturally acceptable consumption of single-use plastic is a practice that every American citizen should thoughtfully re-evaluate.
Thankfully, there is a small but increasingly growing movement of people who strive to live a zero-waste life. What is zero-waste living you may ask? Formally, it is defined as “the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment” (“Zero”). In simpler terms, it means to produce the least amount of waste as possible.
Since 2012, Lauren Singer, a zero-waster from New York, can fit all of her trash in a single 16 oz. mason jar. Singer’s strategy has been to avoid packaging at all costs by shopping at bulk grocery stores and making her own products like toothpaste and deodorant to limit unnecessary trash. When needed, she composts and recycles the trash that she produces, and the rest is placed in her small mason jar (East). Though people like Singer are currently only a minority, environmentally conscious consumerism has gained momentum as the effects and science of climate change are becoming all the more prevalent.
In November 2016, California voted in favor of a statewide single-use carryout bag ban that was implemented in “most grocery stores, retail stores with a pharmacy, convenience stores, food marts, and liquor stores” (State). As a result, these types of stores have offered incentives to consumers to bring their own reusable bags and offer for sale alternative reusable bags. This is just one example of the types of legislation that have been enacted to reduce climate impact nationwide. Governmental action is vital to help change our consumption habits and create meaningful change on a widespread level. Similarly, large corporations must be held accountable for their waste production and carbon emissions. Big change happens when individuals like Singer take personal responsibility and unite to change their personal habits, lobby for governmental support, and use their spending choices to send a clear message about climate change to corporations.
While Lauren Singer is an exceptional example, we can all take more environmentally conscious steps in our day to day lives. In the past few years, I have seen a growing number of people in our own microcosm doing so – from using reusable water bottles to carrying around metal straws to replace their plastic counterparts, small actions like these can evoke large-scale societal change that will help combat the ever-growing problem of climate change. As zero-waste chef, Anne Marie Bonneau, once said, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero-waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly” (Nelson). In other words, we don’t need to be perfect to perfect change.
Click on this link to get some inspiration for implementing some simple zero-waste swaps into your life:
Bradford, et al. “Trash in America: Frontier Group.” Trash in America | Frontier Group, 12 Feb. 2018, frontiergroup.org/reports/fg/trash-america.
California, State of. Single-Use Carryout Bag Ban (SB 270), www.calrecycle.ca.gov/plastics/carryoutbags.
East, Susie. “Four Years’ Trash, One Jar … Zero Waste.” CNN, Cable News Network, 6 July 2016, www.cnn.com/2016/07/04/us/lauren-singer-zero-waste-blogger-plastic/index.html.
Nelson, Jenna. “A Million Imperfect People.” Zero Waste Mum, Zero Waste Mum, 6 Mar. 2019, http://www.zerowastemum.co/blog/2019/3/6/a-million-imperfect-people.
“Zero Waste Definition.” Zero Waste International Alliance, zwia.org/zero-waste-definition/.
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