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Ask yourself this question: when was the last time you went a full day without throwing away a wrapper, a container or other piece of packaging? My guess is you can’t. I don’t think I can. We have the highest solid waste per capita in the world (see here for list). We live in an age of disposable razors, paper coffee cups and Swiffer sweepers. I call it single-serving America. It is easy for us to forget about how much garbage we produce because once a week the truck comes along, sweeps up that trash and whisks it away to a landfill out of sight and smell.
Why should we care? Packaging, especially plastics, is high in energy cost and carbon emissions. One alarming statistic I referred to in an earlier blog is that the energy usage associated with a bottle of water is equivalent to filling that bottle one-quarter full of oil (see source). According to MakeMeSustainable’s calculations, cutting your bottled water intake by one bottle per day represents an annual carbon emissions decrease of nearly 150 lbs, and cash savings of about $550. Similarly, using one less plastic bag per day (the average American uses 3) decreases your carbon emissions by about 130 lbs and results in annual cost savings of up to $36 (see here for more).
Plastic bags and water bottles, however, are just the tip of the iceberg. Look in your kitchen and see how much of your food is packaged and re-packaged. Granola bars and cereal are wrapped in plastic and boxed. Vegetables often come pre-packaged in plastic and even single-serving plastic packets. Have kids? Think about single-serving yogurts, lunch foods and snacks.
So what’s the solution? Pass on the plastic. Embrace reusable containers, tupperware and farmers’ markets. If you’re going to buy yogurt, try the larger family size, which produces half the container waste that 4-6 single-serve containers would. Reducing one container per day can save up to 300 lbs of carbon a year (see MakeMeSustainable). Buy cereals, grains and pasta in bulk and bring your own container. As for the newspaper you read every morning, determine whether it’s really worth it or if you can go paperless and read online. According to Backpacker magazine’s September 2007 issue, New York Times home delivery is responsible for approximately 300 lbs of carbon.
Around the house drop the Swiffer in favor of a broom and mop. I can’t quite advocate for using a straight edge razor for fear of health issues. Just remember, just pass on the plastic…move away from a single-serving lifestyle.
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