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Jul 16

Small Changes Lead To Big Impact

Posted on July 16, 2019 at 11:52 AM by Alyssa Eveland

I’d like to tell you about an encouraging conversation I had last week with a 20-something year-old who was telling me how she is doing what she can to reduce the amount of waste she personally generates.  Her name is Jessie. She is a graduate of Hobart William Smith College and is somewhat familiar with Ontario County’s landfill operations. She is aware of the March 2020 plastic bag ban. She’s also seen the recent headlines about plastic harming and killing marine life, and a recent account of an ocean diver who, upon reaching the deepest known point in the Pacific, discovered plastic bags and candy wrappers.  The current state of our environment concerns her. 

As we talked, she pointed out that she uses her own cloth grocery bags. She donates clothing or passes items to her friends, and a few years ago stopped purchasing fast fashion. Fast fashion is the style of apparel that is trendy and cheap and usually falls apart after one spin through the washing machine. We are all familiar with the worldwide retailers of this kind of clothing. She also said she has stopped using plastic straws and plastic water bottles. 

In the big scheme of things, the new habits Jessie has developed may seem like no big deal, but these small changes would add up to monumental environmental impact if people worldwide did the same. 

Let’s look at clothing. Reports show that every year the United States alone sends about 21 billion pounds of textile waste to landfills every year. And 84% of all unwanted clothes end up in landfills.  Generations ago, clothing was not casually cast off like it is today. Fashions changed, but not at the hyper speed of today’s lines. Within families, clothes were handed down from one sibling to another.

How about the ubiquitous plastic water bottle? One could easily conclude that the bottles, because they are recyclable, should have no landfill impact. That would be true if they were properly recycled. However, data shows Americans buy 29 billion water bottles a year, and that for every six bottles people buy, only one is recycled. Keep in mind, it takes at least up to 1,000 years for every single bottle to decompose.

United States landfills are overflowing with 2 million tons of discarded water bottles. And because plastics are produced with fossil fuels, not only does that make them a potential environmental hazard, but also an enormous waste of valuable resources.

Fast fashion and plastic water bottles were definitely not part of the American culture when the Ontario County landfill first opened in the early 1970s. These two waste stream elements alone are needlessly and exponentially gobbling up landfill space.  No doubt, they both provide a level of convenience and affordability to consumers, but we are paying in the end with environmental consequences. 

My chat with Jessie left me feeling hopeful that the very consumer habits that have the potential to impact our landfills could now be shifting toward obsolescence, and that a new generation of business leaders and consumers could be ushering in a greener way of thinking and living.  


Carla Jordan