Many of us have set routines to navigate through our days, whether we recognize them or not. However, few realize the amount of waste created throughout those routines. In the shower, no one really stops to think about what we do with the plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles when they’re empty or how much water is wasted waiting for the shower to get warm. What about the single-use k-cups for a Keurig coffee maker or the plastic water bottle taken to class or work? What about the amount of food thrown away after dinner? The point is that, there are many ways to reduce waste through the daily routines that we have.
These little decisions in everyday life are not the driving force of this accumulation of waste. In reality, this accumulation is a product of a capitalist economic structure that requires this level of waste production from those participating in it, just so they can survive. One of the major issues within capitalism is the drive to expand, or globalization. This forces companies to have their products made in other countries where the labor and production process is cheaper. This results in exploitation of labor and depletion of resources in that country. Also, due to the number of miles these products have to travel, there is also energy waste created in travel. The cheaper labor fosters the “throw away culture” that the United Stated currently has and makes it more affordable, in some cases, to buy a new product than to fix a current one. Also, this depletion of resources in the countries that US companies outsource to forces them to rely on the production businesses to essentially run their economies. This gives the powerful countries a lot of economic control over the weaker countries who are losing resources. Most of the countries where this production is a key to their economic prosperity are underdeveloped and, with their economic authority given to other countries, will most likely never become fully developed or will take a very large amount of time to be able to be fully developed.
Even though the products of a capitalist economy and perpetuation of that structure contribute to the amount of waste produced, there are steps that people can take in their every day lives that can reduce waste produced by the individual. Buying coffee from a coffee shop in the morning is a typical practice for most Americans, however this creates an enormous amount of waste around the world. Starbucks uses over four billion paper cups each year and most end up in landfills due to the combination of paper and plastic. Starbucks released a statement on the ability to recycle their plastic and paper cups:
“Recycling seems like a simple, straightforward initiative but it’s actually quite challenging. Our customers’ ability to recycle our cups, whether at home, at work, in public spaces or in our stores, is dependent upon multiple factors, including local government policies and access to recycling markets such as paper mills and plastic processors.
Some communities readily recycle our paper and plastic cups, but with operations in 75 countries, Starbucks faces a patchwork of recycling infrastructure and market conditions. Additionally, in many of our stores landlords control the waste collection and decide whether or not they want to provide recycling. These challenges require recycling programs be customized to each store and market and may limit our ability to offer recycling in some stores.”
Coffee companies are addressing the inability to recycle their cups, but one could eliminate that waste by taking a reusable cup to a coffee shop. In Starbucks now, they sell reusable cups specific for their brand. Although Starbucks is only one example, I believe replacing single use cups with re-usable ones, and using that strategy for other food or single-use items, can be applied in many other facets of life.
In the work place and school, a lot of paper waste is created. Buying recycled paper products and keeping recycle bins in convenient places around the office or school are techniques that could reduce this waste. Also buying energy efficient technology would curb energy waste. The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) is a “tool created to help institutional purchasers in the public and private sectors evaluate, compare, and select desktop computers, notebooks, and monitors based on their environmental attributes”. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPEAT certified products “must meet environmental performance criteria that address: materials selection, design for product longevity, reuse and recycling, energy conservation, end-of-life management and corporate performance”.
For college students, this can be an even bigger challenge due to the lack of access to stores and transportation. However, there are a multitude of ways to reduce waste in a college setting. From packaging-free shampoo bars and sustainable dental floss, to bringing your own cups to parties instead of using plastic cups, “Trash is For Tossers” provides many guides, tips, and tricks to reducing waste in one’s life.
Unfortunately, the lifestyle that reduces waste is not the most accessible one. The “zero waste” lifestyle is a privileged lifestyle. Not every person has accessibility to the resources that help this life choice or the money to be able to attain those resources like reusable produce bags or washable straws. Also, some don’t have the privilege of an education that teaches them about this lifestyle or the hazards of waste produces by other lifestyles.
Working toward reducing waste is a noble effort and an honorable goal. However, it is still a difficult process to adopt due to the wasteful culture we live in. There are many ways to reduce waste in multiple life settings, but it is important to remember that one does not have to, and is usually not able to, switch these habits completely in a short amount of time. Attempting to reduce and being conscious of waste production is important and is becoming necessary to sustain our planet but be patient with the process. Everyone wants a chance to save the world, and through waste reduction efforts, you can get that opportunity. Remember, every day, that you can take steps to save the world.