American households generate about 250 million tons of trash a year, an average of 4.4 pounds per person each day, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Much of this waste ends up in landfills, where it leads to a host of environmental problems.
What can you do to help? Start by finding ways to reduce waste in your own home. It's not only good for the environment, but it might save you money as well. The following are some practical steps to take.
Reduce. The best way to start reducing waste is to avoid collecting things you don't need. Ask yourself if you have the time for all of the newspapers, catalogs and magazines you subscribe to. Check out books from the local library instead of purchasing them. If you take a good look around your home and at your buying habits, you can probably find numerous things you can easily do without.
Reuse. Reusing items instead of throwing them away will substantially reduce your household waste. Old towels and clothing make great rags for cleaning. Wash and reuse glass and plastic jars, milk jugs and other containers. Look for other creative ways to make use of things that otherwise would end up in the trash.
Maintain and repair. Purchase quality furniture, clothing and appliances that will stand the test of time. Maintaining appliances and equipment according to manufacturer's guidelines will help extend their life. Repair equipment and mend clothing, shoes, handbags and other household items whenever possible.
Minimize packaging. Buy items with little or no packaging, or with refillable containers. Purchase goods in bulk or in concentrated form — such as concentrated laundry detergent.
Recycle. Give old clothing and other household items in good condition to a local charitable organization. Recycle other items — such as newspapers or magazines — you can't find a use for. If your community doesn't have a recycling program, consider starting one.
Buy recycled. Close the loop by looking for products with recycled content, including glass, paper, metal and plastic. You can also find furniture, tools and building materials made from recycled products. Labels should indicate whether recycled content is pre-consumer or post-consumer. Pre-consumer is waste from a manufacturing process, whereas post-consumer waste is collected from recycling programs.
Conserve energy. Energy is a precious resource that shouldn't be wasted. Little things can make a big difference. Turn off lights and electronics when they're not in use and adjust the thermostat at night or when you are not at home. Consider installing solar water heaters or geothermal heat pumps that use renewable energy from the sun and earth.
See Reduce, Reuse, Recycle from the EPA for more tips on how you can reduce waste at home, at work and in your community.