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What Are We Sending to the Landfill?

What Are We Sending to the Landfill?

by Sarah Amador-Rusnak

Every day in the United States, we produce enough trash to equal the weight of the Empire State Building. Each year, more than 15 million tons of waste is sent to landfills instead of recycling or compost centers.

This week, my family was amazed by the outcome of this easy, practically free activity. After a week, our trash bin was only half full. Our recycling container was filled twice and we made four trips to the compost bin.

Family Recycling Project

Turn your recycling container into the main bin. Centralize your recycling container by moving it to the front of your waste bin area. This makes it easier to place packaging into the recycling container.

Examine the contents of your trash bin. With so little going into the trash bin, it’s easy to examine what is being sent to the landfill. My family was surprised to find that some of what we were “throwing away” was recyclable. Aerosol cans from Febreze and whip cream are recyclable, as long as they are empty and without pressure. Clear plastic produce bags from Romaine lettuce, bread bags and plastic zipper bags are also recyclable, as long as clean. Simply place several in a clear plastic bag and knot the top. Consult the recycling guidelines again. You may be able to recycle more waste than you thought.

Compost: Composting can greatly reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills. According to Sonoma County Waste Management Agency, veggie scraps are the largestunrecycled portion of the residential waste stream, as approximately 35% of residential garbage is food waste. Our county produces 800 tons of it every week. All this food waste produces methane gas, a greenhouse gas linked to global warming. According to CalRecycle, 15 million tons of organic material is land filled each year.

My family already composts, but we moved our compost bin to the counter where we do the most chopping and dicing. Before we knew it, the bin was filled and ready to be dumped!

Compost bins are easy to get. The county provides bins for $6; we purchased ours at Home Depot for about $20. Cookie jars also work. Don’t have a way to compost your veggie scraps? For most residents of Sonoma County, that’s not a problem. You can put your scraps in your green yard waste bin. To keep critters like raccoons away, freeze your compost and put it the night before or the morning of trash pick-up. The county takes your compost to their compost center and uses it to rebuild soils, conserve water and protect topsoil from erosion. For those who live in rural West County, check with your garbage company to see what compost options you have.

Precycle: “Pre-think” your purchases. Could you have made different choices in the supermarket to reduce the amount of waste? Some of what was left in our trash bin was Styrofoam. Unfortunately, Styrofoam is not easily recyclable. There are only a few places in the state that recycle it. Instead of buying something packaged with Styrofoam, we are now looking for items that can be purchased in recyclable containers or choosing to buy in bulk.

Sometime in the near future, I hope we will see town trashcans divided in three sections: recycle, compost and landfill. Many places, such as the Marin Fairgrounds, already offer these bin clusters. No longer will the can be for “trash,” as if there is some mystical land called trash where all our waste is thrown away and magically disappears. California has a goal of 75% waste diversion rate by 2020. Let’s help our state get there!


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