Follow these tips to help prevent trash accumulation in landfills and reduce the production of new materials (especially plastics). Landfills harm the environment – and our communities – by leaching toxins into soil and water sources and by emitting greenhouse gases as organic waste breaks down anaerobically (without oxygen) in them. Plastics are produced in massive quantities (300 million tons per year!), using fossil fuels in the process, producing toxic emissions, leaching chemicals when they end up in landfills, and threatening human health.
The first step towards sustainability is reducing what you use in the first place. One important reduction to make is your food waste. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN estimates that a third of all food produced in the world every year goes to waste, amounting to 1.3 billion tons. Not only is this incredibly wasteful considering the persistence of food insecurity in all countries, but it is additionally harmful because it contributes to global warming. Food waste in landfills produces methane (a greenhouse gas), which is why if you do need to discard food scraps, it is best to do so by composting.
If you find yourself with too much produce on your hands, find out if you can donate it to a local food bank, church kitchen, homeless shelter, etc.
Read these 9 ways to use up or preserve old fruits and vegetables before they go bad
Another important waste reduction? Your disposable plastic use. Instead of single-use plastic bags, bring reusable bags when you shop for groceries, clothing, and other items (we want to know about your commitment – let us know you’re taking the Better Bag Challenge!). Reduce your use of plastic wrap, ziploc bags, and other frequently discarded materials by switching to reusable sandwich bags and storage containers.
Quick tip: Save plastic takeout containers, glass jars, and other food containers to use for storage!
Check out this video of how a young woman in New York City is aiming to live a plastic-free life. The trash she has accumulated over almost four years fits into a mason jar!
Reducing your use of disposable items and packaging often goes hand-in-hand with reusing things you already have. Here are some ideas:
Reuse containers and jars from takeout and other foods for storage in your pantry, at your desk, to bring lunch to work/school... you name it! Stick with plastics labeled #2, 4, and 5 for health safety reasons
If you can’t reduce or reuse something, be sure to see if you can recycle it! Recycling rates can vary widely country-to-country, but we can all do more to make sure everything that all potentially recyclable products are actually recycled. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 75% of waste in the U.S. is recyclable, yet only about 30% of it ends up being recycled. In comparison, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium all divert over 60% of their waste streams to composting or recycling. Austria does even better, recycling or composting 70% of waste. Be sure to learn what items are recyclable in your area. Unsoiled paper and cardboard products, glass and plastic bottles, and tin and aluminum cans are usually recyclable, but looking up your local guidelines may help you find more to recycle.
Find out if stores near you offer store drop-off for recycling plastic bags
Use this guide for the U.S. and Canada to find out how to recycle whatever items you want to get rid of (including batteries, old cell phones, and more)
Utilize garment collection services at stores like H&M (global), The North Face (Germany, Canada, U.S.), American Eagle Outfitters (Canada and U.S.), and Levi Strauss (U.S.) for clothing and textiles unfit to be donated to charitable organizations
You’ve probably heard the old “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” line, but “Rethink” is a key addition. A great goal is to rethink your shopping habits, one step at a time. So if you’ve already committed to not using disposable plastic bags, that’s awesome! Next, try to avoid buying items that come in individually wrapped packaging, like a box of cookies or crackers that has 20-30 smaller packages of individually wrapped servings. When possible, skip the individually-wrapped snacks and portion out the servings yourself in reusable bags or containers. An even better option is to find a grocery store with bulk bins – you can buy as much or as little of an item as you want, and bring your own container if the store allows it.
Seas the Day! Please use this information as you wish to spread the ocean conservation message. Each month, we feature a new conservation theme with ways to help so come back regularly for more ocean-helping ideas and tips!