Considering the fact that the average person produces 4.5 pounds of waste per day according to the EPA, we would be remiss not to address the question of household waste in our exploration of what it takes to make a green home. Thanks to more widespread public and private recycling programs and increased consumer awareness, Americans are definitely learning to tighten their ‘waste-line,’ but we still produce a phenomenal amount of garbage on a daily basis. Before we can talk about reducing, re-using and re-cycling, Green Home 101 needs to talk trash.
Packaging is far and away the largest source of household waste. Between the plastic, glass, paper and metal that accompanies your products from the manufacturer to your doorstep, one third of these packaging materials end up in your garbage can. An additional quarter of your receptacle is filled with nondurable products, such as shoes, newspaper, etc. The remaining space is filled with an array of major items such as appliances, yard waste and food scraps.
Of the 4.5% trash that a person creates, about 34.2% of that is paper waste consisting of boxes, newspapers, etc. Whenever possible, use less. Heed the little tree memo at the end of more and more e-mails floating about these days; don’t print anything you don’t really need to print, and if you do, use print preview and print on scrap paper if you can. There are also ways to reduce junk mail. The good news is that paper can be recycled so whatever you do create in paper waste, put it in that blue bin.
About a quarter of the food that we consume and prepare gets tossed into the garbage, the equivalent of 96 billion pounds of leftovers, and only 2% of that is composted. Another interesting food factoid, the average American family of four throws about $600 worth of unspoiled food away per year. To reduce food waste you can buy more and buy less simultaneously. Buy more things in bulk to reduce packaging waste and avoid single-serving anything. Certain staples such as grains, sugar, flour, etc. are much cheaper when bought in bulk and can be kept in your own containers. This also reduces trips to the store. Buy less when it comes to perishables so you won’t have to throw away uneaten food. Also try getting a food composter for your kitchen. Contrary to popular belief, organic waste will not necessarily biodegrade in the landfill. Without oxygen to promote the process, rotting food and organic products produce methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
About 11.8% of daily waste is plastic, resulting largely from packaging. Sadly only 5.7% of plastic garbage is recycled. The best way to reduce this is to avoid it. Carry around your own re-usable water bottle and grocery totes, buy your fruits and vegetables loose or buy your meat from a butcher instead of the pre-packaged grocery versions. It is virtually impossible to avoid plastic unless you live in a bubble (which most likely would be made out of plastic), so just be aware and know what kind of plastic you’re buying and hopefully, recycling.
Despite a high recycling rate for aluminum cans, they are still a significant source of metal waste, as are old appliances. In addition to continuing the religious recycling of aluminum cans (or better yet, not buying them whenever possible), remember that metal recycling has been around since swords were first beaten into ploughshares. Processed metals and many alloys require less energy to recycle than to mine and process. This conserves our raw material resources for the future. Don’t throw away copper from hot water systems, copper pipes or old car radiators – take these objects to a scrap metal dealer. Electric cabling and wiring contains copper and aluminium, which can be recycled. The plastic coating found on some wiring can be removed by metal recyclers in a process called ‘granulation’. Using this process, the plastic is removed and the copper, aluminium and any steel present are separated magnetically for recycling. Most household steel scrap is in the form of human and pet food cans. Scrap metal dealers may take clean, de-labelled cans but may not be able to offer payment for them. Steel cans, including aerosol, are accepted in many curbside recycling programs.
If you don’t have a garden, then take good care of your potted plants and skip this. If you do, then consider composting, which can greatly reduce the amount of waste that goes to the landfill or gets incinerated. Building your own compost bin is remarkably simple and there are tons of resources on how to do it.
The majority of discarded glass comes from bottles and jars. Everyday Americans recycle over 13 million glass jars and bottles, but that’s only a quarter of what we discard. Since glass can be recycled forever, if you can’t use less then at least make sure to recycle religiously.
Electronic + Hazardous
Considering the fact that the average household owns over 24 different electronic products, it’s increasingly important to have a firm understanding of e-cycling. The EPA is a great resource for finding local organizations that will take and recycle your old cell phones, lap tops, and other devices. With all those electronics inevitably come batteries and other hazardous waste. To reduce electronic and hazardous waste, use rechargeable batteries whenever possible. If you live somewhere sunny, try a solar charger. If you have to throw away single-use batteries, Earth 911 can help you find a local facility where you can take them.
All Other “Waste”
With all other stuff, ask yourself “is this really waste”. Remember that you can always donate clothing, shoes and appliances and other goods to charity, or give your stuff away through the FreeCycle Network or Throwplace. One man’s trash could always be another man’s treasure.
About BOSCH “Bosch is committed to preserving the environment through innovative approaches to the products we manufacture, as well as the partnerships we form with key leaders in sustainable construction and design. Sustainability, responsibility and continuous improvement are the tenets of our company and are shared by our partners across the United States.
Bosch practices low-impact manufacturing processes while designing the most efficient machines on the market. In fact, we introduced a global integrated management system for environmental issues that makes certain we maintain our high standards for environmental responsibility wherever our operations take us.
Bosch regards innovation as something more than exceptional product quality, functionality and design. Not only our technical developments, but also our commitment to society has an effect on the world of tomorrow.” + Bosch Green Thinking Resource Center
HAILY ZAKI Lacking the skills or the patience to be a designer herself, Haily Zaki is a PR maven, freelance writer and secret agent in Los Angeles who contents herself by promoting, writing about, and surrounding herself with great design. Besides running Secret Agent PR and working with some of the best architecture and design brands in LA, Haily is a contributing writer for The Architect’s Newspaper,the Epoch Times, and any other publication that likes her stories. She’s also an organizer of de LaB (design east of La Brea) – part design lab, part social experiment for creative professionals who work, live or play on the Eastside of Los Angeles. She was first turned onto the idea of sustainable living when she worked with the Mapuche people in Southern Chile and hopes one day to move to the end of the earth to live in a green prefab pod writing torrid romance novels. For now, she focuses her energy on communicating through the media, training herself to be a good, green consumer, and not killing her tomato plants.