Towards "less" (zero) waste
Last week the Washington Post had two articles, one in the science section ("Weekly trash can be drastically reduced") and in the food section ("How to break your plastic, foil and paper addiction") about what we might call people adopting extreme zero waste behaviors--only throwing out ounces of waste each week, making their own cosmetics, etc.
Reading it made me feel inadequate and I do a lot, probably a lot more than the average DC resident:
-- recycle hugely and correctly (non-recyclables are disposed of in recycle bins by a significant number of households, which led China to stop buying US waste products, which has roiled the market)
-- separately recycle batteries (AU, My Organic Market, Library of Congress), textiles (thrift stores, those containers here and there), water filters (My Organic Market), plastic (grocery stores), pharmaceuticals (Walgreens), and wine corks (My Organic Market, Whole Foods)
-- take reusable building materials to Community Forklift and donate reusable stuff to the thrift store up the street
-- compost yard waste and kitchen waste (+ hair, nail clippings, napkins, sponges, q tips, etc.)
-- don't collect clippings when mowing the grass (with an electric mower)
to the point where we only "throw out" a few gallons of waste/week on average -- and that's by volume not weight, mostly nonrecyclable wrappers and stuff, or items that are soiled.
Being that I shop mostly by bicycle I am not likely to bring lots of containers to the store although we buy some stuff in bulk (especially spices, but that's more about freshness and cost savings).
While those people featured in the articles kick my butt in terms of hard core practices concerning zero waste, likely they consume way more energy because they drive, and live in suburban settings.
Making better choices is all about constraints.
Be that as it may I think the articles could turn off more people than they attract, because both featured zealots, rather than ordinary people doing a bunch of relatively simple things to reduce their waste production.
The thing about the concept of "zero waste" is that we aren't making it clear that this is a "stretch goal," that we don't necessarily expect people to get to that point, but we can do a lot to reduce the waste stream.
Just a few steps make a huge difference:
(1) recycling and not indiscriminately tossing recyclables into the trash
(2) taking the effort to divert (by donating) reusable stuff
(3) composting yard waste
(4) composting food waste.
That can be up to 90% of a household's typical waste stream.
With things like plastic you need to build into your routine bringing it with you when you go shop, dropping off textiles at a bin or thrift store because you'll be traveling by one, etc.
Shouldn't there be articles about that, rather than the zealots?
Also see "More on zero waste practice (and DC)" and "Reformulating building regulations to promote sustainability."
Separately there are different kinds of opportunities with multiunit housing and people who "dump" at the Fort Totten Transfer Station and certain types of businesses like restaurants.
And while I understand everyone wants curbside pick up of kitchen waste, like how Montgomery County encourages households to compost on-site, DC should be doing that in the outer city along with yard waste diversion ("A way for DC to begin adding yard waste collection as a separate element of waste collection and reduction programming").
I've touted Salt Lake City's community days where different neighborhoods put out bulk trash on different days and people can "pick first." They ended the practice because in many neighborhoods items were tossed on the curb in chaotic ways.
-- press release
Separately, the City of Boston has released recommendations on moving towards "zero waste".