Over the past few months here at the ASCP, we have been diligently working on waste diversion. This includes creating alternatives structurally by adding new bins through our compost pilot program, as well as taking the time to educate staff and students alike about how to properly dispose of waste. Continuing in that spirit, it is important for us to take a moment and talk about waste diversion from the consumer perspective. To begin it might be helpful to understand where we are as a state and why this issue is so important. According to the Department of Public Health and Environment for Colorado, not only has our diversion rate been dropping since 2012, but our waste output per capita has been increasing, as well. As Coloradans we produce an average of over 9 lbs. of waste per day and only roughly 2 lbs. gets diverted from the landfill (21%) (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 2016). Compare that with the average of 5lbs of per capita waste and a 30% diversion for the US as a whole (World Bank). That means we produce more waste and recycle less of it than most of the country. Although waste diversion may seem like an overbearing problem at times, it’s actually much easier to fix than we realize and most of the change starts with us.
What behavior changes can we make to decrease our impact?
Refuse. When you go to a store, bring your own bags and inform the cashier you don’t need a bag. When you go to a restaurant, tell the server you don’t need a straw or a plastic lid. Small changes like this avoid collecting unnecessary waste in the first place.
Reuse. Recently I’ve been using mason jars to get dry goods like beans and rice from the supermarket in their bulk section (Some stores even sell items like shampoo and conditioner in bulk). See what things you can re-purpose instead of disposing. Reusing packaging is especially effective, remember to bring reusable bags to the grocery store, and always keep a reusable mug/water bottle and reusable silverware on hand when you go out.
Recycle. Over 40% of our waste in Colorado can be composted and nearly another 40% can be recycled (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 2016). All yard waste and food can be composted as well as grease stained paper and cardboard (think pizza boxes). Recycle your plastic if it says it can be recycled but make sure to clean it out first so that it doesn’t contaminate a good batch of recycling.
Purchasing Power. Make changes to the way you shop. Try avoiding products with unnecessary plastic packaging and support businesses that make an effort to decrease their impact. Buying locally is usually the best way to accomplish both.
Use Your Voice. Talk to your friends and family about their habits and what changes they can make. Reach out to your representatives and let them know that waste diversion is important to you.
If you want to check out these statistics for yourself check out the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment Report, or the World Bank MSW Generation by Country. To find out who represents you locally visit Find My Legislator and start a conversation.