Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle: Make Every Day Earth Day by Producing Less Trash

Americans throw away over four pounds each of trash a day, totaling up to 1,500 pounds of trash per person each year. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that Americans generated 250 million tons of trash in 2010, and the amount of refuse piling up in landfills is quickly expanding. Though the average American recycles and composts (totaling an annual amount of over 85 million tons,) the national recycling rate is only 1.51 pounds of the 4.43 pounds of waste generated every day. The rest of the trash piles up quickly: every year, the United States throws away 83,557 square miles of plastic wrap — enough to cover the state of Idaho! The alarming truth buried under all of that trash, is that "Waste is an air pollution concern. Trash is often incinerated, which releases emissions — including air toxics — into the air. Even when trash is buried in landfills, emissions and greenhouse gases are released into the air."

Not only does garbage contribute to pollution and climate change, but research has found that Americans throw away over $100 billion of food a year. In 2009, a scientific study published in Science Daily found that food waste was estimated to account for more than "one quarter of the total freshwater consumption and more than 300 million barrels of oil per year representing about 4 percent of the total US oil consumption." The national average household tosses out over 1400 calories of food per person per day, wasting up to "more than 40 percent of the food [America] produces for consumption."

What can the average household do to reduce the amount of trash generated on a daily basis? Keep America Beautiful, a non-profit founded in 1953 to promote a national cleanliness ethic, says that the power to reduce waste is entirely in the hands of the consumer. "At the point of purchase or use, consumers have the opportunity to consider a product, its packaging, how it is constructed, whether it can be reused or recycled, and whether it is made from recycled materials. By choosing recycled, recyclable or reusable products, we can extend the functional life of a product and divert it from the landfill." Once an item is ready for the bin, there are numerous alternative to simply tossing it in the garbage. If the item can be reused by another person, consider offering the item up on Freecycle or sign up for an upcycling program like Terracycle. Terracycle lets individuals, schools or organizations opt to collect used yogurt containers, juice pouches or candy wrappers and ship the products off to Terracycle for upcycling into reusable items.

Many electronic items can be recycled and repurposed instead of just being set out on the curb. Electronic recycling centers, like TurtleWings, collect and dispose of your used electronics in an environmentally friendly way. The Clean Air Council reports that recycling one million laptops saves enough energy to power 3,657 American homes in a year, and the EPA reports that recycling one million cell phones recovers 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium. There is also a direct link between recycling programs and the creation of green jobs. According to Dave Ciplet, author of An Industry Blowing Smoke, "recycling, re-use and composting create six to ten times the number of jobs than both waste incineration and landfills." Finally, if the time comes to dispose of any hazardous materials, many local governments and counties host events where residents can drop off hazardous materials (paint, used car oil, non-rechargeable batteries) to be recycled for free.