Why should I have to think about what I use and throw away?
When you buy something, then use it, and eventually discard it, what gets wasted is not just what is in your hand. It’s all of the energy and resources required to put it there and then replace it when you need another. The graphic below depicts the ‘lifecycle” of stuff. Every step in the cycle requires expending energy and resources. Understanding all 5 steps helps you understand why it’s so important to minimize waste. Those impacts really add up!
- Graphic from USEPA: https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/climate-change-waste/life-cycle-diagram.html
What can we do to live higher up on the Waste Management Hierarchy?
First of all, what is the Waste Management Hierarchy?
The waste management hierarchy (WMH) represents an idealized set of priorities for reducing and managing waste. At the top is reduction and re-use. At the bottom is landfilling. The ranking is based on the amount of waste generated, energy used and overall impact on our natural resources.
Another great website for more information on the 4 steps of the solid waste hierarchy is EPA’s website: https://www3.epa.gov/region9/waste/solid/reduce.html#recycling
What is “Reduction”?
Reduction is at the very top of the WMH and is the preferred option for avoiding waste. The idea is that if waste is not created in the first place then there will not be anything to recycle or throw away. Source reduction can seem challenging but you can get started with just a little research and planning.
- Buy and use less! Plan ahead and buy only what you know you’ll need.
- It takes a lot of, energy, clean water, and other resources to produce food. Wasting it costs you money is and puts an even bigger strain on our environment. Here is a link to a US Environmental Protection Agency web page with lots of information and ideas about reducing food waste (link)
- At birthday parties consider having guests make a donation to your favorite charity instead bringing a gift.
- Buy items that are durable and when practical, items that can be (gasp!) repaired!
- Purchase bulk items to reduce packaging
- Reduce the amount of junk mail you receive. Here is a link to the Federal Trade Commission site for reducing unwanted mail (link)
What is “Re-use”?
Reuse is the second step of the solid waste hierarchy. It’s all about providing a used product or material to someone who needs them. The donation of used items supports our local community and social programs, and reduces disposal fees. Reuse consumes far less energy, raw material, and labor and reduces pollution and other negative environmental impacts. Re-use options include:
- Facebook, Craigslist and many other social media outlets are a perfect way to share what you have and find what you need.
- Take care of what you have and when you’re done with it, donate it! There are lots of charities that are experts at finding new homes for just about everything that is worth re-using.
- Buy durable and repairable items. They’re cheaper in the long run and a lot more likely to be worth reusing when you’re done.
- Use Re-usable bags when grocery shopping. They blow around and once they get into the environment they present a lasting hazard to wildlife.
- When you do get plastic bags, re-use they’re just the right size to be used as liners for smaller waste bins.
What is “Recycling”?
Recycling is the next to last step on the solid waste hierarchy and is the separating, collecting, processing, marketing, and ultimately finding new life for a material that would otherwise have been thrown into the trash. Recycling reduces environmental impacts as well as energy use associated with generation and processing of raw materials, many of which are not renewable.
To find out more about how Ontario County is working to implement Reduce, Reuse, Recycle programs for residents throughout the County, read the County's Local Solid Waste Management Plan.