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Looking for a New Year’s resolution? Consider going green and reducing waste

Columbus Dispatch - 12/25/17

The average person ditches about 5 pounds of trash every day.

And all those to-go coffee cups, straws, exhumed leftovers, paper napkins and shrink wrap scraps don’t disappear.

They are merely rearranged into the peaks of manmade landfills or floating oceanic vortexes.

Around the holidays, Ohioans toss 25 percent more trash and 33 percent more food, according to the state’s Environmental Protection Agency.

“People are getting together, they’re making bigger meals, they’re purchasing gifts and baking and putting up more decorations,” said Hanna Greer-Browne, a spokeswoman for the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO). “That additional celebration can lead to additional trash.”

Officials and residents say the season of plenty — with New Year’s resolutions on the horizon — is a good time to adopt lifestyle habits that help reduce waste. And according to Google trends, more Americans showed interest in zero waste in 2017 than in the previous decade.

In central Ohio, a majority of what ends up in the landfill could have been recycled, composted or otherwise redirected, SWACO officials said.

“You can value sustainability and then forget how to put those values into practice. You’ve got to look at yourself, first, and be like, ’Well, how am I living? And how could I live in a way that has a lower impact?” said Alex Slaymaker, outreach coordinator for SWACO. “Have that moment of self-reflection.”

While most of us don’t think trashing leftovers is as environmentally toxic as tossing a battery straight into the garbage bin, environmental experts say it actually is.

Food makes up about a fifth of the nation’s waste stream, according to the EPA. And it’s the most destructive type of household waste as its decomposition helps U.S. landfills generate 20 percent of the country’s methane emissions.

“This is not just about our planet’s survival. This is about our survival as a species,” said Dianne Kadonaga, 54, of North Linden, who has successfully reduced her weekly household waste to half of a small trash can. “To me, it’s not really a choice. We need to do things in a big way or it won’t matter at all.”

In pursuit of zero-waste

A “zero-waste” lifestyle is about redirecting as much garbage as possible by recycling, composting, repurposing or reusing, according to the U.S. EPA.

It’s often a mix-and-match process that takes years to develop and tailor to a household’s resources and desire to reduce.

Luckily, there are a wide range of waste-reducing tweaks people can try on for size.

On shopping trips, Slaymaker brings along tote bags, cardboard egg cartons and glass containers for bulk items — and a reusable mug for the coffee stop.

For those who know their way around a sewing machine, Slaymaker suggests turning old T-shirts into produce bags and giving them to friends and family members as holiday gifts.

Kadonaga said she has cut down plastic use by making her own bread and yogurt, and by growing fruits and vegetable in her backyard garden, where she uses a push mower and lets native plants grow wild.

Inside the house, Kadonaga and her partner Stephen Lovejoy, 65, make their own detergent and toothpaste. To conserve energy use, they shy away from using heating and air conditioning and opt for a countertop pressure cooker over their electric stove when cooking.

“This has evolved over a long period, over years. We didn’t intend for it,” she said. “It’s baby steps: just start with one thing. Then it becomes like eating or sleeping. If you implement one thing, it becomes routine ... until you have space to take on something else new.”

Wasting less also means saving more.

The average family of four could save about $1,600 annually on tossed leftovers, according to Brian Roe, an agricultural, environmental and development economics professor at Ohio State University.

“That’s a nice chunk of change,” Roe said. “We all cringe a bit if we bought that nice fish for a high price and we don’t end up eating it.”

In central Ohio, as is true across the country, some things are inevitably destined for the landfill. Plastic clothing tags, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, produce stickers, receipts, Band-Aids, wristbands and plastic straws have nowhere else to go but the garbage can, Slaymaker said.

And while 96 percent of single-family households in Franklin Countyhave access to curbside recycling and yard-waste pickup, according to SWACO, there’s nowhere to bring Styrofoam and limited spots to drop off plastic grocery bags and ketchup, yogurt, syrup, take-out and medicine containers.

Slaymaker, who works with residents and businesses to reduce their impact, said it’s more than OK to start small and work from there.

“It’s a lot to look at those people who just reuse everything,” she said. “You also can’t live with a bunch of guilt, and you can’t live your life just to reduce waste. It’s kind of this balance.”