Trash, Trash, Everywhere

Sometimes when I think about the amount of trash generated every day, I am overwhelmed at the losing battle to recycle and reduce garbage. I remember when I was younger, maybe junior high, maybe even high school hearing that if something wasn’t done, we would run out of landfill space. That frightened me even then. If still frightens me. Of course, new landfills could be created but where would they be? My region of the country has very little open space left, and I hope that that space will continue to be used for parks, farming, and general preservation of green space.
I try not to think about mounds of garbage but every once in a while, the reality of how much trash is created every day hits me. This weekend, Steve and I participated in a charity walk. Charity walks are great. Free food and drinks are everywhere. We started off the day with a bagel. Each one was individually wrapped in its own paper bag. That’s not so bad. Paper bags take from 1-5 months to biodegrade. During the walk, we were treated with fruit. Fruit waste is the good kind of trash, so I was ok with that. Of course, along with the fruit was bottled water. It takes 450 years for a plastic bottle of water to biodegrade. 450 years. Just thinking about that is staggering.

At the end of the race is when the real freebie food was accessible. There were hot dogs (wrapped in aluminum foil), pretzels (individually wrapped in plastic), cookies (individually wrapped in plastic) and more and more plastic bottles of iced tea and water. We also got snack bags filled with candy bars, single serving Rice Krispie treats, Twizzlers, and potato chips. Each item was individually wrapped and all the items were put into a plastic bag. Plastic bags are estimated to take anywhere from 500-1000 years to biodegrade. 500 years if the bag is exposed to sunlight.

We made out great in the food and snacks department at this walk, but the landfills did not. In just a couple of hours, this event generated enough trash that will take more than 1,000,000 years to all break down.

Even in our daily lives, we generate more trash than we even realize. I strive to always use reusable containers. We never wrap lunches or food in bags or foil at our house. Knowing that I make a concerted effort every day to reduce my trash generation, let’s examine what trash I do generate. Yesterday for breakfast, I had some instant oatmeal. That oatmeal comes in a paper package, which is trash. Later, I had a snack pack of crackers (a leftover goodie from the walk), which was wrapped in plastic – trash. At lunch, I used a napkin – trash. I used the bathroom several times yesterday and dried my hands with paper towels – trash. For dinner, I made some tofu and fresh green beans. The tofu package – trash and the green beans were packaged in a plastic bag – trash. After dinner, I had another goodie from the walk – a package of Twizzlers wrapped in plastic – trash. That was just me – an environmentally conscious individual.

I’m not here to judge how people live, but I am appealing to all of you. Think about the trash you generate and what you can reduce. Use a reusable container for your sandwich instead of a plastic bag. Use reusable tote bags for all purchases. They aren’t just for grocery stores. Take one to the mall or Home Depot. Avoid purchasing individually wrapped items. Buy a reusable water bottle. Steve and I each have a Nalgene bottle. If you’re worried about BPA, buy a stainless steel water bottle (Costco has a set of 3 available right now). We always fill a bottle before we go anywhere. Even if we don’t drink it, we’ll have it in case we get thirsty. We won’t be tempted to just run into WaWa and buy some water. If everyone makes one small change in reducing their trash generation, a big change will take place.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by lennonzgal on April 26, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    Instead of packaged oatmeal, try buying your own from the bulk foods section – I get a ton of steel cut oats myself, and here’s what I do:

    I make a ton of the oats (if you haven’t made them before, you bring 4 cups of water to a boil, and add the oats. I tend to stir them every 5 minutes, each time gradually reducing the heat on the stove until the oats have cooked about 30 minutes and are no longer soupy), and stick them in the fridge.

    A few mornings a week, I grab 1/2 cup of the already-made oats, and I add 1 tbsp of almond butter with 1/8 cup of my homemade granola, and a generous squeeze (< 1 tbsp) of honey. In the summer, I'll add a handful of fresh blueberries (which, hopefully will come from my garden this year). Deliciousness. Imagine the oatmeal bags and the boxes they come in that you'll save from ending up in a landfill.


    • I eat a lof of the slow-cooking oatmeal too, but I’ve never tried making a big ‘ol pot in advance. My initial thought is that it would get soggy after a day or 2, but I will try it. Thanks for the tip.

      Just an FYI to all of who don’t already this about slow-cooking oatmeal. Besides being more environmentally friendly, steel-cut oats are better for you. They are higher in fiber and way less in sugar than the individual oatmeal packets. Just add your own flavor adders. Personally, I love the dark brown sugar on mine.


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