Over 2 billion tons of municipal waste are produced worldwide each year. At least a third of that waste isn’t managed in a way that’s safe for the environment.
Waste that’s incinerated or dumped in a landfill contributes substantially to greenhouse gas emissions that cause a warming climate. In fact, waste management in the U.S. is estimated to cause 42% of overall greenhouse gas emissions.
As the impact of climate change becomes more evident, environmentally friendly waste management is one of the easiest ways for an individual to make an impact. Recycling just 8% more could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 million metric tons.
This guide will help you understand how proper waste management can help in the fight against climate change and how you can
Waste Management Basics
You probably don’t spend too much time thinking about what happens to your trash after it’s picked up. Generally, waste management happens out of the public eye.
The main methods of waste disposal are landfill, incineration, recycling, and composting.
Landfills are large areas of land used for the disposal of solid waste. They are designed to eliminate the possibility of waste contaminating water supplies. Landfills are one of the oldest and most common methods of waste management.
As trash decomposes in landfills, it creates methane and carbon dioxide which are dangerous for human health and some of the largest contributors to climate change.
Incineration is another waste management method that burns waste to convert it into gas or ash. This process reduces the mass of waste greatly and is convenient when there is a shortage of land.
Oftentimes the heat generated in the process can be converted to power which reduces the need for coal-powered plants. However, incineration also results in smoke which can pose serious long-term health effects for people living in the area.
Recycling is the process of converting certain materials so that they can be used again. Common items that are recycled include paper, aluminum cans, and glass bottles.
Using recycled materials greatly reduces the energy used to create materials and results in fewer items ending up in landfills or incinerators.
Composting is a natural recycling process that breaks down organic material into fertilizer. This fertilizer can be used to enrich the soil that grows future food products.
Food scraps and garden waste are compostable. These types of waste make up approximately 28% of household waste.
These items will naturally decompose if given enough time, but composting speeds up that process. Oftentimes worms and other insects are used to help with the process.
Composting can be done on an individual level or on a community level. Many individuals manage their own compost piles and some local governments collect compost from residents for proper recycling.
Why Does Waste Management Matter in the Fight Against Climate Change?
Each time you put your garbage out for collection, you are contributing to the growing pile of waste in your local landfill. In considering the environment in waste management, the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere can be reduced.
Poor waste management also risks trash pollution of natural habitats that communities may rely on.
Many people have seen the images of the plastic island that has formed in the Pacific Ocean as human garbage has found its way into our waterways. This pollution is detrimental to the ocean habitats where one million different species live.
Luckily, you can make an impact on the climate with waste management that is thoughtful and intentional. Read on for more information on how you can stay informed and make a difference.
Getting Started With Eco-Friendly Waste Management
The world of climate change and waste management can feel daunting if you are just getting started. But with a few basic principles, it can quickly become second nature.
There are three basic steps you can take to get started with environmentally friendly waste management.
1. Evaluate Your Waste
It is easy to throw something into a trash bin without thinking much more about it. But, evaluating your waste is one of the most important first steps you can take when you are thinking about starting to put the environment first with your daily waste management practices.
Not only does this help you to become more cognizant about separating your waste properly, but it will also let you get a clearer picture of waste in your home.
Spend some time paying close attention to what you are actually throwing away each day. Once you have a clear picture of what kind of trash you are creating, you will be able to identify the next best steps to reduce your waste footprint.
Perhaps you will notice that you are throwing away a lot of plastic produce bags from the grocery store each week. Or, you might see that you are letting a lot of produce go to waste by buying more than you can consume while it’s fresh. With this knowledge, you will have a better idea of how to take the right steps going forward.
2. Get Everyone in Your Household Involved
After you have completed an evaluation of your waste, it’s important to make sure that everyone in your household is on board. If just one person throws the wrong item into the wrong bin, you aren’t having the same impact.
Share your knowledge with your family members or coworkers in an office setting and make sure that they understand the importance of joining in. It can be difficult to undo a lifetime of habit, but creating some basic signs that clearly lays out how to throw away each item can be an easy way to take the guesswork out of throwing away your trash.
Connecting with others in your community is another great way for your climate-friendly waste management to have a greater impact. Share your new tips and tricks with your neighbors and consider encouraging them to join in. You might even decide to start a community compost pile or team up to host an electronics
3. Research Waste Management in Your Area
Every local government and waste management company has different policies and protocols for waste disposal. When items are improperly sorted, they may end up in the landfill when they could have been recycled with a little bit of knowledge.
Some areas will accept any sorts of plastics for recycling and others only accept a certain kind of plastics. Additionally, some areas have a formal compost collection, whereas you might have to carry the burden of composting yourself.
Once you have done your research, you will be able to properly sort and dispose of any waste that you generate. This makes sure that the fewest items possible end up in a landfill or incinerator.
Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
Reduce, reuse, recycle is a common refrain when you think about environmentally friendly waste management practices. But, you may not actually know how to implement this practice in your everyday life.
Here are some tips to help you to understand how to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
The most important thing you can do is reduce the amount of waste that you produce. Rather than using plastic bags or water bottles, invest in reusable options that will have a longer lifespan.
Bringing your own bags and shopping at the local farmers’ market is a great way to eliminate the plastic used to package produce. Buying from local farmers also reduces the carbon emissions that come from transporting materials from the farm to your local grocery store.
It’s also important to reduce waste in other aspects of life. Fast fashion is a major contributor to carbon emissions around the world. In fact, it contributes more to emissions than all maritime shipping and international flights combined.
Shop from secondhand stores whenever possible and donate or sell your old clothes. If you must buy something new, choose brands with sustainable practices and invest in pieces that are timeless and high-quality.
When you do end up with single-use glass or plastic items, try to reuse them before you throw them into the recycling bin.
Glass jars can be rinsed out and used over and over again to store your kitchen goods. Many plastic containers can also be reused to bring your lunch with you to work or store leftovers in the fridge. Even plastic bags can be used more than once if you rinse them out and let them dry between uses.
Food scraps can also often be reused to create stock. Try storing vegetable scraps and bones in a container in your freezer and to use for creating homemade stock for your next soup or stew.
If you have an item that you aren’t able to reuse, recycle it. Aluminum cans are a good example of items that are cannot be easily reused but will be recyclable by all major waste management companies.
However, you can’t just throw your can into the bin after taking the last sip. Be sure to rinse off your containers so that they are clean before recycling. You may also be surprised at what items you can recycle. Clothing and old appliances are considered recyclable in many areas.
Some items that aren’t collected by your local trash collection might be recyclable at certain drop-off points. For example, many city facilities aren’t able to recycle plastic bags, but they can be dropped off at a local grocery store for proper recycling.
Look into the options in your area for recycling materials that aren’t collected with your normal waste collection. It may take an extra trip to get those items recycled, but the impact that it makes on the volume of trash that ends up in landfills is immense.
Disposing of Household and Hazardous Items
Whether it is clothes, electronics, or old furniture, there are a lot of things you throw away that you might not consider traditional waste.
When disposing of hazardous materials, you should take special precautions to make sure that you aren’t contributing to land or ocean pollution that can prove harmful to the environment.
Common hazardous materials that you might dispose of include:
Each municipal area will have its own guidelines for the disposal of these materials, but as a general rule, you should not include them with your regular waste collection.
These materials can pose a great environmental risk if they aren’t properly disposed of. They may also be able to be reused if they are taken to the appropriate place to process that material.
Cleaning Up Big Jobs
Moving, construction jobs, or even some heavy-duty spring cleaning can create a big pile of waste that you aren’t sure how to properly dispose of.
When a clean-up job is large, many are tempted to forget about sorting the waste and just get it all into the bin and out of the way. Other times, people will illegally dump materials that they can’t dispose of otherwise.
When you’re cleaning up a big job, the best practice is to call in the experts.
When you are faced with more waste than you are able to dispose of yourself, consider contacting a waste management company. Mobile skips can be delivered to your address and later collected, properly sorted and disposed of.
Go Green with Eco-Friendly Waste Management Today
When faced with the climate crisis, it is easy to feel powerless. But by changing up your daily waste management, you can dramatically decrease your carbon footprint.
Fighting climate change requires action, but that action will become a habit with a little bit of practice. Before you know it, you will be properly sorting your waste without thinking twice. And, the planet will thank you.
For more helpful tricks for everyday life, be sure to check out our latest posts.