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Trash Talk July 18, 2007

Posted by Weird Science Writer in Easy As Pie, Environment.
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The environment and humans are drowning in trash and packaging! Little changes really can make a difference says Kelsey Abbott.

Full Garbage BinLet’s Talk About Trash

Each year, the United States (U.S.) produces approximately 230 million tons of trash. This means that each person throws out more than 1,600 pounds of trash a year. About a third of all trash in the U.S. is packaging (plastic and paper bags, wrappers, foil liners, boxes, etc.). That means that each person throws away almost 500 pounds of packaging each year-that’s a lot of wrappers!

Why Should You Care About Trash?

Trash, garbage, waste-no matter what we call it, we want to get rid of the stuff! We don’t want to touch it. We don’t want to see it. We don’t even want to smell it! So, we throw it away. But trash doesn’t exactly disappear. In fact, some things like plastic bottles and Styrofoam may stick around forever. Waste facilities do their best to make trash disappear as fast as possible, but this requires energy and doesn’t keep the trash from polluting the environment.

Tip: Reducing waste in the first place can help make the earth a cleaner and healthier place to live. But if you don’t care, you won’t want to bother. So, read on for why you should care!

Think About It

Next time you open a pack of gum, think about the packaging. First, you have to remove the plastic wrapper. Then, you open the cardboard box, lined with foil. Finally, you select a piece of individually wrapped gum. That’s a lot of packaging for a tiny piece of gum that’ll probably lose its flavor in a few minutes. You can, however, at least dispose of every layer properly, making sure to recycle all cardboard and paper pieces. Noticing excessive packaging is a step in the right direction.

Gum

Tip: Next time you’re trying to decide between two equal products, choose the one with less packaging. For example, some types of gum are packaged in foil, so you can punch each piece out. It’s a small way to reduce packaging that can still make a difference!

Reduce Plastic Bag Use

Plastic bags are everywhere. Worldwide, we use between five hundred billion and one trillion non-biodegradable plastic bags a year. Some of these plastic bags end up in landfills, but lots of them end up in the environment. Some even end up in lakes, rivers, and oceans where birds, fish, turtles, and marine mammals may swallow them. Because of the environmental damage stray plastic bags cause and the excessive amount of oil required to make plastic bags-that’s right, plastic bags are mostly made from oil-some cities are making it illegal for grocery stores to use them. This spring, San Francisco became the first city in the U.S to outlaw plastic bags in grocery stores and large chain pharmacies. Leaf Rapids, Manitoba soon followed suit and Annapolis, Maryland is considering a similar ban.

Plastic Bags

If plastic bags are bad, what should you use? A reusable bag such as a backpack, purse, or tote is best. If you’re only buying one item, don’t use a bag-carry the item in your hand or put it in your pocket (after you’ve paid, of course!).

Tip: But what about all the plastic bags you already have? There are lots of great ways to reuse them. Packing up a wet bathing suit? Put it in a plastic bag. Don’t want your sunscreen to spill in your bag? Put it in a plastic bag. Picking up dog poop? Definitely use a plastic bag.

Reduce Plastic Bottle Use

People everywhere drink bottled water, but when the bottle is empty they often throw it in the trash instead of the recycling bin. In the U.S. 86% of water bottles-an estimated 60 million-are sent to landfills each year. But the problem isn’t just that we’re not recycling our water bottles, it’s that it’s environmentally damaging to make these plastic bottles in the first place. The production of plastic water bottles requires both water and fossil fuels. Making all the water bottles consumed annually in the U.S. requires 47 million gallons of oil, which is enough to take 100,000 cars off the road and 1 billion pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

NalgeneCities Are Waking Up!

The environmental impact of drinking bottled water has recently gained attention in the U.S. City officials in New York City, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco have started campaigns to encourage people to give up bottled water and start drinking tap water in reusable water bottles. Some fancy restaurants have even removed bottled water from their menus.

Tip: But it’s summer and you’re thirsty. What should you do? Keep drinking water, but use a reusable water bottle like a Nalgene or a sports bottle and fill it up with water from the tap, a water fountain, or a filter.

Give some of the tips here a try and see how that smelly, overflowing waste gets reduced. Your garbage bin, conscience and the environment will all thank you!

Kelsey Abbott is a marine biologist and freelance writer in Maine. She drinks tap water from a wide assortment of Nalgene bottles and bike bottles. She also picks up her dog’s poop with biodegradable plastic bags!

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