The California Integrated Waste Management Board has launched an effort to create a "Zero Waste California." The campaign asks all Californians to engage in activities to create more sustainable homes, offices and communities, by utilizing products that can be reused, recycled or repaired. If we all work together on this effort, we can significantly reduce the waste that goes into our landfills.
How can you contribute to the effort to make zero waste? Here are some tips for reducing waste at home and work.
- Buy items in bulk or as refills in order to reduce packaging waste. Plan what you will need before you shop to ensure you buy only what you will use, so that no items are wasted. Purchase items that are durable and long-lasting, so they can be utilized over and over.
- Clean using washable rags and eat using cloth napkins to reduce the waste of paper towels and napkins.
- When it comes time for spring-cleaning, donate unwanted or outgrown items to local charities, churches or community centers. Or, check Freecycle, an online network of which Waste Management is a partner where members give away and get items for free in their own communities - rather than filling up our landfills with gently used items, find someone else who could put it to good use!
- Look for opportunities to operate your home more efficiently - for example, turn off lights when you are not using them to extend the life of light bulbs, so used ones are thrown out less often.
- Cut down on junk mail by contacting the companies or catalogues that send you the pieces and asking them to remove your home from their list. Visit the Direct Marketing Association's Web site to request that your name be removed from mailing lists. If you receive catalogues you no longer read or repeated solicitations from the same company, contact them directly to request removal from their marketing lists - and instead, check out their goods online.
- Pay your bills online - it saves the paper utilized in generating a hard copy bill, as well as stamps!
- Donate recent and gently used magazines or books that you no longer want to local medical facilities, retirement communities or schools. Contact the facilities to see what they might be able to use.
- Pack kids' lunches in re-useable containers that will keep items cool and also cut down on trash. If items within their lunch boxes are recyclable, such as juice containers, water bottles or yogurt cups, make sure they go in the recycle bins at school - or if their school does not have a recycling program, bring them home.
- Ask your grocery store if they have a plastic bag recycling program. Or better yet, use a sturdy cloth shopping bag or request paper bags at the store, which can be recycled along with your newspapers and other paper goods.
- Request that your dry cleaner not wrap your clothing in plastic, or see if he or she will accept the bags back to recycle. Take any extra hangers you receive from the cleaners that would otherwise be thrown out back to them - see if the dry cleaner can reuse them.
- Wrap birthday and holiday gifts with recyclable paper or re-use materials from around the house, such as the comics pages from the newspaper or paper from a previous gift. Minimize the use of bows or other decorative items, which cannot always be re-used and instead end up in the trash.
- Use similar materials - brown paper shopping bags, department store bags, old posters or sturdy wrapping paper - to cover your children's schoolbooks.
- Create fun craft projects for your children utilizing items that might otherwise be thrown out - for example, use broken or mismatched buttons to make mosaics or picture frames, turn scraps of fabric, yarn or beads into jewelry or hair decorations and decorate empty, clean containers like oatmeal tubs, lunch meat containers, pasta sauce jars or cookie tubs to store crayons, toys or collectibles.
- When packing items for shipping, minimize the use of Polystyrene foam "popcorn," which cannot be recycled and often creates litter when thrown away. Utilize a padded mailer or newspaper, both of which can be used multiple times. If you receive items with popcorn, contact your local shipping center to see if they will re-use it - or, if it needs to be thrown away, put it in a plastic bag and tie the ends so it will not blow away.
- Utilize re-chargeable batteries around the house. Remember, batteries cannot be thrown into the trash, so be sure to properly dispose of them at a household hazardous waste center.
- Utilize recycled paper for printing and copying, and recycle the paper you would otherwise throw out.
- If you need to print out large documents, print on both sides.
- Buy refillable toner and printer cartridges.
- Use refillable pens and pencils.
- Support companies that sell recyclable office goods or minimize the packaging of their products.
- When possible, correspond by phone or e-mail and keep your files electronic, rather than as hard copies. If you have an electronic organizer or PDA, store contact information or important messages here rather than printing it out.
- When faxing, use a stick-on address label instead of a cover sheet and program your fax machine to eliminate the production of confirmation sheets.
- If possible, utilize software to route faxes to your computer, rather than as printouts.
- If you subscribe to magazines or newspapers at the office, utilize a routing slip so that multiple people can read the same copy of each publication. Or, consider buying an online subscription to the publication in order to read the content on the Web.
- Bring leftovers from home for lunch, in re-useable containers. Avoid the excess packaging and waste created by fast-food or take-out, and eat healthier, too!
- Get your coffee or water in a mug or travel container, rather than a paper or Polystyrene foam cup. If you drink water from a plastic water bottle, refill it and continue to use it in order to extend its life. Be sure to recycle it when you are done.
- If your office does not have a recycling program for items such as cans, plastic bottles, glass containers or paper, speak to your colleagues about starting one. Contact the solid waste company who services your office to discuss recycling options. If it is Waste Management of Orange County, we can be reached at (714) 558-7761 or (949) 642-1191.
- Install regulated or motion-activated towel dispensers in the restrooms so that paper towels are not wasted.
- If your office is going through a remodel or has surplus furniture or supplies, look for opportunities to donate re-useable items to local charities, community groups or to employees for use at home. Work with the construction company and your solid waste provider to recycle or re-use the materials from the re-model.