Zero waste is the goal for those hoping to leave a smaller carbon footprint. How can 68% of the earth’s population that lives in urban areas reduce their waste? Here are seven tips for an eco-friendlier, waste-free apartment.
The First Step
You will realize the amount of trash created in your apartment once you start to pay attention. Make a list either on your phone or a re-writable board. Jot down what you are throwing away; after a week of tracking, you will find that many of the items you are tossing do not have to be food for landfills.
One of your first investments to create an eco-friendly apartment should be a set of reusable bags. For about 99 cents each, you can buy lightweight, washable bags that are made from recycled polyester at Ikea. Put all of them into one and keep it at the door, when you grab your keys, you will see the bag and poof, and no more grocery bags tossed in the bin. Use the bags for all your errand–not just the grocery store. Because they are washable, you do not have to worry about cross-contamination.
Where Does It Go?
If you live in an apartment building that has a trash chute, be mindful of the items you send down. Generally, there is only a chute with a large bin at the bottom that is picked up and emptied in a landfill. Solid, non-re-cyclable materials are the types of articles that should be in a landfill. At present, there are enough landfills to accommodate the trash our country produces at the current rate for another 20+ years.
As John Cox, a neighbor to the Frey Farm Landfill says, “Nobody wants a landfill. Everyone needs one.” According to David Biderman, executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), “Landfills are essential parts of our national infrastructure. It’s essential that they operate properly to protect health and the environment.”
Separate Your Waste
Many apartment complexes, whether you live in a trendy neighborhood like Chicago’s Wicker Park or New York City’s West Village, have large dumpsters in a back corner that you walk your garbage to, and others have trash valet services. This process involves someone rolling a large cart down may be warned or fined for putting your trash out on a wrong day. When you sign your lease, it is wise to ask about waste removal. Many trash valet companies will ask you to separate landfill trash from recyclable waste, and you may be required to use a specific colored trash bag for each type of waste. Regardless of how your trash gets moved to a dumpster, remember to separate items into recyclable or landfill containers.
Herbs and Green Plants
One of the easiest and most fun ways to cut down on waste is to plant an herb garden. You will enjoy the benefits of fresh herbs, the convenience of having herbs and vegetables right on your windowsill or counter, and, most of all; there will be no excess plastic to dispose of. Try some of the tips from A Piece of Rainbow to grow vegetables from the scraps you would usually toss. For easy to follow directions and a list of basic supplies check out the DIY Network.
Not only do houseplants add to your visual décor, but they are immensely beneficial to your health. NASA did a study on the effects of houseplants in small spaces and found that many plants remove chemicals from the air. Carbon dioxide, benzene, and formaldehyde a just a few of the harmful toxins trapped by plants. Your grandmother’s ivy had a serious job to do.
Compost Your Wet Trash
The process of composting helps keep food out of landfills. This is a good idea because decaying food creates methane gas, which contributes to the greenhouse effect. If composting sounds difficult or at the very least like something only done on farms, check out this entertaining and informational video on Grist.tv. In an apartment, a countertop composter is an easy product to use.
Cleaning Tools and Green Cleaning Products
Cleaning may not be anyone’s favorite chore. One way to help create a more healthful cleaning day is to use compostable tools. When a compostable scrub brush reaches the end of its usefulness, toss it in your compost bin. It will decompose along with last week’s banana peels. Plastic brushes are not any better, but they take thousands of years to decompose.
Use washable rags–possibly made from old tee-shirts–instead of rolls of paper toweling to wipe up spills. Green cleaning supplies are significantly safer to use and pose no risk to the environment when rinsed down the drain.
The process of creating an eco-friendly, waste-free apartment only takes a little thought and planning and will help you achieve a healthier environment for you and your family.