4Cents: Zero Waste

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Greetings all!

I’m Jen and I’ll be blogging periodically for Women in the Environment.  I like exploring sustainable strategy, urban green infrastructure, maps, biodiversity and learning.  I’m into trying new things, so come along for the ride.
Speaking of new things, let’s try one:  In 4Cents, I’ll introduce a topic, throw in some haphazard opinions (my two cents) about it and ask for your opinions (your 2 cents) back!  It’s a great way for you to interact with us, share some tips from your experience and industry, ask questions or suggest another topic.
So for the inaugural 4Cents, let’s talk about something near and dear to our hearts…and the rest of our bodies…all the time: Waste.
Check out this video.

Putting the carbon issue aside, let’s just talk about the single-use economy for now.
Firstly, not everybody can live like Lauren Singer (and I’m not really sure this is an accurate representation, since she didn’t track her recyclables…every item sent to a facility doesn’t necessarily make it into a new product…different story) but everybody can do something.
For instance, a few years ago I greatly reduced my consumption of plastic and single-use items by decreasing fast food visits, saying no to straws and a few other little things. I’ve slipped lately (so easy to do when we’re literally swimming in it and life fast comes at you fast) but am looking to ramp it up again.
Little ways I have rebooted my reduction in the past is to start by saying “no bag please,” bringing (and desperately trying not to misplace) reusable cups and containers with me, composting in my backyard and reusing little things if I can for other purposes. What does this look like in reality? A pantry of horded small items like paper sacks, egg cartons and cotton tamale bags, a collection of twist-ties and rubber bands from produce, piled mail to be sorted and shredded….you get the picture.

Secondly…wait why is it up to the individual to fight the tidal wave of single-use products coming at us from all directions, woven so intricately into the fabric of our economic infrastructure? Recycling can be more effective when companies innovate to help solve the problem.
A colleague at a conference put it this way: The product should be designed to easily be transformed into another product or usage at the end of its first life. And ideally…at the end of its second life…and its third. Paper products are sometimes recycled this way, spiraling down in transition in accordance with their ever shortening fiber lengths.
I guess what I’m really saying is it takes phenomenal individual effort to combat the huge wave of industrial momentum driving an economy built on single-use items. But every little bit can help, so if you as an individual want to start reducing, I’d focus on one or two things at a time. If you eat out a lot on the go, I’d start with “I don’t need a bag, thanks” and “no straw please” and “could you put it in this?”
And you’re going to mess up. Why? Because you’re just one person and the whole game as it is now is built to make it easier to use these items than to not, so don’t beat yourself up too much, just start again.

Now it’s time for your two cents!

What are some suggestions YOU have for an individual or family trying to reduce consumption of single use items?
What about insights from our recycling professionals?
In what ways should recycling industries and production industries start to work together to combat this problem and how can they innovate to make money while doing so?


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