Where does it all go?

Once I started thinking about plastic, I couldn’t help but think about other forms of waste.

Food waste

Holy heck, we waste a lot of food. I was/am guilty of it too. In the grocery store, it’s so easy to grab those inspirational buys—“heck yes, I’m gonna make a 3 course Thai dinner after working 10 hours on Monday”, “why yes, I need a half acre of veggies for the green smoothies I’ll wake up early to make before work, starting tomorrow!”. The key for me was to meal plan, check cupboards for food I already have (and make meals with those foods), and stick to a solid grocery list. Keep an eye on produce in the fridge, and make a point to use it. Think of all the energy that goes into making it and the money you spent on it—how sad it would be for it to rot!

Note: My vice is shoving wilting veggies into the freezer for a future soup. Sure, it sometimes happens, but more often than not it doesn’t, and I find it a year later with freezer burn. So, try to avoid this trap by reducing then using food while it's fresh.

Compost bin with produce scraps

The power of composting

I used to think composting was just something that gardeners do because they want rich soil for their gardens. And then at some point, after moving to Berkeley I saw it as some sort of hippie special interest. I didn’t quite get the point, and as an apartment dweller I didn’t think it was feasible for me to compost. I don’t have a yard or any place for a composting bin outside.

Then, I realized that food sent to landfill doesn’t have a great shot at decomposing. Landfill items squish all the food down to the point that food can’t break down. And most food waste is in plastic trash bags, creating a big, takes-forever-to-decompose shell that prevents the organic waste from decomposing. Decomposing waste in landfills produces methane gas, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change *. How sad, right? When composted, food waste doesn't produce methane.

I have a little metal compost pail (you can see it in my illustration above) that I keep in the kitchen window sill. When it becomes full, I take it outside to my apartment building's compost bin where it gets picked up each week. Did you know that some places (like Berkeley, CA) require landlords to provide a compost bin? I didn't know this until I looked it up.

*Note: Most methane emissions come from cattle. In a recent report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the consensus of thousands of scientists is a recommendation to eat more plant based meals to reduce emissions, cut agricultural land use, and improve food security. The livestock sector is one of the largest producers of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Ecology Center Recycling


Cell phone models

Electronics waste

Obsolete electronics are filling landfills and dumping toxic chemicals into the soil and waterways. The cultural pressure to have the latest and greatest technology is pushing more Americans to waste money on products they don't need, only to have them become forgotten or unusable in a year. Electronics are designed without sustainability in mind, so once one part fails, the whole system is junked. There's been some work done on modular components and educating the public on how to repair their own purchases. I hope to see more improvements in that direction! For now, I hope to reduce my purchases, buy used when possible, and do more research before making purchases (to avoid impulse buys and ensure it's a sound product).

Fashion waste

Fast fashion and the prevalence of synthetic materials, dyes, chemicals, are just a few of the issues with the fashion industry. Trend marketing urges people to have certain styles, only for them to become unfashionable in the next season. I've been trimming down my closet, donating clothes that I rarely wear. I also started buying exclusively used clothing this year. Clothes with 100% natural fibers are ideal but hard to find. It does make for a fun treasure hunt! I'd guess 90% of the used clothes I find are synthetic or a synthetic/natural blend, so if it's something I really need I still buy it. It's good to give it another life!

Latest Posts

Stories about Waste

Read More

13 Insights from the Recycling Update 2020

The latest on recycling and composting, with a focus on California.
Hope Armstrong
Read More

8 Favorite Sustainability Books

My favorite books on sustainability plus a list of books I want to read next.
Hope Armstrong

Latest Posts

Friendly tips for a more sustainable, healthful life

Get in Touch

Stumped on a zero waste quandary? I wanna hear about it!