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Preventing waste increase can start with small steps

Each day, around the world, humans produce 3.5 million tons of garbage, according to the Washington Post. This number will continue to increase as populations and economies grow.

According to the same article, each American throws away their own body weight in trash every month, which adds up to 1,500 pounds of trash a year, according to National Geographic.

A September 2018 study by The World Bank, an international financial institution that offers loans to countries around the globe, reported that “without urgent action, global waste will increase by 70 percent on current levels by 2050.”  The study also said that high income countries make up only 16 percent of the global population but produce one third of the world’s waste.

By 2050, the amount of plastic in the ocean will outweigh the fish, according to a report released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Jan. 2016, which also reported that how plastic packaging is handled is inefficient and harmful. As of the 2016 report, 26 percent of all plastic waste volume comes from plastic packaging. 95 percent of plastic packaging’s monetary value is lost after its first use, and only 14 percent of all plastic packaging is recycled. Of that 14 percent, most are turned into single use non-recyclable products.

“As pointed out in this report, plastic production has increased from 15 million tonnes in the sixties to 311 million tonnes in 2014 and is expected to triple by 2050, when it would account for 20 percent of global annual oil consumption,” Antoine Frérot, the CEO of Veolia, a French water, waste, and energy management system, said in the WEF report.

The Guardian reported in 2014 that research found over 5 trillion plastic particles were floating in the ocean, coming out to almost 269,000 tons. This has a large impact on the food chain, not to mention the ocean environments.

Besides plastic waste, food waste and textile waste are also large issues.

According to an article by The Washington Post, San Francisco is one of the nation’s leading cities in waste reduction, reusing and redistributing over 80 percent of what would otherwise go to landfills. This amount is more than two and a half times the national average, and the city’s move towards waste reduction has reportedly decreased the city’s waste to half of what it once was. The city’s system has residents sort the items they’re disposing of into three types: what goes into recycling, compost, and the landfill. Then, the Washington Post said, the deep sorting is left to the city’s contractor, Recology.

The City of Oakland passed a resolution in 2006 committing to moving toward a zero waste strategic plan that is scheduled to be in effect by 2020.

Other cities around the world have worked to reduce waste, but waste management policy and holding manufacturers accountable for the waste they produce would have a large impact so the responsibility does not rest solely on the consumers, Julia Reisser, a researcher from the University of Western Australia, said in the Guardian article.

“I’m optimistic but we need to get policy makers to understand the problem,” Reisser said in the article. “Some are doing that—Germany has changed the policy so that manufacturers are responsible for the waste they produce. If we put more responsibility on to the producer then that would be part of the solution.”

The zero-waste method is not just for cities, it is and can become a lifestyle.

National Geographic featured a few people who lived a zero-waste lifestyle. It is a full lifestyle change—some could fit the waste they produced in a year into an 8 ounce mason jar. It also is a full online community, with people sharing their tips for a zero waste lifestyle through blogs and social media.

One of the people featured was zero waste blogger Kathryn Kellogg, who said this lifestyle has saved her and her husband around $5,000 a year. She said that zero waste starts with just trying to reduce your waste, it doesn’t have to jump to having a years worth of trash fit into an 8 ounce jar.

“Just do the best you can and buy less,” Kellogg said in the article.

Other people mentioned who share their experiences reducing their waste and moving towards zero waste living were Lauren Singer, Rachel Felous and Shawn Williamson.

This can seem like a hard gap to bridge; it is easier to start small. Some simple decisions that can start your waste-reduction journey are techniques that were widely used before commercial cleaners, plastics and disposable products existed.

Things like using rags or cutting up old clothes to reuse instead of paper towels, and cleaning with vinegar and water or other natural cleaners that can be made and stored in reusable containers like glass jars are two low cost and low waste options. Other small decisions that have an impact are using metal or reusable eating utensils (think of all the single use chopsticks from takeout), using cloth bags instead of plastic bags, and buying sustainable, ethically made and sourced or secondhand clothes.

Buying secondhand clothing focuses on reducing textile waste, which you can also do by buying from “slow fashion” ethical brands that are transparent about their fabric sourcing and how their pieces are made. This is a great way to work on slowly building a wardrobe that is long lasting and versatile; the higher prices on some of the well known ethical brands, while daunting, are also a great way to double check if you really want the piece of clothing, if you will wear it, if it will work with what you already have, and force you to nail down what kind of clothing you really prefer. Additionally, saving up for it will ensure more considerate clothing buying habits since you have to think about it for longer and be more deliberate with your money and purchases.

There are also many resources that Mills offers to all students and faculty that make moving toward an environmentally-conscious lifestyle easier, such as:

Mills’ Carpool Network: The network is available for all students and you can enroll through your portal. This can help reduce the number of cars travelling to and from campus.

Zip Cars: Mills has a recent partnership with the car-sharing service, Zip Cars, which all students over 18 can become a member of for $15. Then you can reserve a car for certain time slots and Zip Car covers the gas and insurance. Using Zipcars has been reported to help reduce carbon emissions per campus. Read our other article about the Zip Car program at Mills.

Metal straws: The Tea Shop recently started moving away from plastic straws to easily recyclable paper straws. Straws can be a helpful alternative for some people with disabilities and there are metal straws for sale at nearby stores such as Target.

Sorting bins: In almost all the buildings there are bins for trash, compost, and recycling. Mills composts all the paper towels in every dorm and in most of the bathrooms on campus, so being mindful of what items go where helps them be appropriately processed. Joanne Wong, Mills’ sustainability coordinator, has sent out a video that can help determine what bin items should go to.

Clipper Cards: Mills provides a Clipper card for AC Transit. Riding the bus is a great way to save gas and Wong also has sent out a video about how to take advantage of the local transit system.

Toilet handles and rainwater collection: In the Natural Sciences Building (NSB), the Graduate School for Business Building (GSB) and a few other places on-campus the toilets have the option to use less water depending on what is needed. If there is a green handle, you can press down for more water or pull up for less water. Additionally, in NSB, some of the toilet water comes from a rainwater collection tank in the middle of the courtyard and is reused.

Support local farmers markets: We have previously written about local farmers markets, what they offer, and how to get there from Mills. Please check out our website for more information.

Reuse Depot: The Reuse Depot is currently in the Mary Morse residential hall, and has sections for clothing, textbooks, and other supplies that are helpful for students. You can also donate your old items so they will be re-used. More information about their schedule is available on their Facebook page as the Mills Re-Use Depot

For more information or if you’re interested in getting involved with sustainability on campus, the Mills EarthCORPS club can be contacted at