November 15, Zero Waste Day, falls on Sunday this year. Let’s make this a day of reflection and recommitment to conserve natural resources and reduce waste in our daily actions.
In the months immediately following Earth Day 1970, community recycling centers were organized in college towns like Arcata all over the U.S. For historical context, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and The Beatles’ “Let It Be” were the top two songs playing on radios at the time, a gallon of gas cost 36 cents, the voting age was lowered to 18 and the U.S. invaded Cambodia.
This year, several prominent articles in the national news have been critical of recycling. In the months ahead, you will be reading more. While these authors are not presenting a complete picture, they are raising important questions.
No one had heard of calculating the carbon footprint of our activities, nor product and packaging lifecycle analyses when early recycling centers were started.
Please consider what you read in the context of the Redwood Coast region. New methods for reducing waste are coming.
Nationally and locally, the recycling industry is in a healthy period of re-evaluating the environmental and economic benefits of mixed waste recycling collection and processing methods. It is likely that more effective regional materials management systems will emerge.
For example, recycling in Southern California may concentrate on different materials than the recycling services of the Pacific Northwest.
In the meantime, Zero Waste Humboldt is a new grassroots organization formed to concentrate on waste reduction solutions. The Zero Waste approach is comprehensive, including materials reuse, recycling, composting, and food digestion, with a priority emphasis on preventing waste upstream and integrating the locally-collected materials into our own regional economy.
A hallmark of Zero Waste is much greater rigor in the metrics of measurement and monitoring to establish accurate baseline data and fearless goal-setting.
At this point, here’s what we know:
In the absence of an equal commitment of public and private resources for waste prevention, recycling accommodates wastefulness.
The current over-emphasis on recycling is our greatest public education challenge for waste prevention. Humboldt County does not have a manufacturing infrastructure to support recycling.
Celebrate Sunday, Nov. 15, “Zero Waste Day,” by replacing all of the single-use products and packaging in your daily life with reusable, durable, refillable alternatives.
Asking the right questions is a good way to start. Instead of asking “is this plastic recyclable or compostable?” ask “what can I do differently to eliminate this single-use item and packaging from my regular purchases?” Initiate one habit at a time to prevent waste and stick with it.
One by one, try bringing your own shopping bags, beverage and food containers with you. When you place your order, make a point to tell the restaurant, delicatessen, fast food take-out, cafeteria and coffeehouse staff that you don’t want another plastic lid, you don’t want more plastic utensils, and that you “Go Strawless.”
If you are responsible for purchasing supplies and procurement policies at your workplace, make sure you negotiate with suppliers to provide you with products and packaging that are designed for durable reuse, recycling, or that they provide a return system for you.
Finally, make sure you buy products made locally and made with high recycled content, whenever possible.
To learn about Zero Waste Humboldt’s services, local zero waste models, the 2015-16 Zero Waste Solutions speaker series, and how to adopt a zero-waste lifestyle and business practices at zerowastehumboldt.org.
Margaret Gainer is president of Zero Waste Humboldt.