It bothers me how much waste we produce, mostly as a result of our convenience and the amount of consumption. All the things we throw away end up in landfills or are burned, either way destroying our Lebensraum (living space). What really upsets me is the amount of trash that does not even find its way into the trashcan but is just dropped somewhere. In particular, it seems socially acceptable to throw cigarette butts just about anywhere.
In Germany, general waste is expensive and limited to a special sized bin. However, instead of pushing for waste reduction, the problem is rather moved to a very popular recycling system. But, in my opinion, this just moves the problem instead of solving it, because those mountains of plastic have to be dealt with somewhat other than just shipping it to China or elsewhere, or worse just getting “lost” on the way (e.g. Great Pacific Garbage Patch)….
Everything we throw away is produced at some point. The production uses resources and often generates (harmful) byproducts. Therefore, reducing our waste means on one hand to reduce our consumption, and on the other hand to consume more consciously, always keeping in mind how things are produced and how they will eventually be disposed of.
I am not a saint myself. I have a baby and am not using exclusively cloth diapers, and I put out a trash bin every other week. But I am trying to improve. A big inspiration is Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home. She has an almost waste fee home, following the simple rule of “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (strictly in this order)”. She keeps a small home, only buys her food items on farmer’s markets and in bulk, bringing her own containers. Everything else she tries to buy second hand. Her website has a wealth of information and tips how to reduce waste in all areas of living.
There are many easy steps to reduce waste (see Bea’s site or her book for many useful tips!) which can make already a big impact. Bringing our own bags to the store, and avoiding packaged and/or processed foods as much as possible are the most obvious steps. Buying less in general and trying to reuse what we already own are others. A good idea is also to just look into our waste bin and recycling container and maybe there are items which could be easily eliminated. A good check for me is always to think about how an item is produced and how it eventually will be disposed before I consider purchasing it.
However, our society is so much based on and geared towards consumption, that avoiding waste can be quite tricky. One thing that I find really difficult here in Germany is to avoid packaging. I cannot buy rice, grains, pasta, spices, cleaning supplies etc. in bulk but need to buy it packaged. Meat and cheese I buy at the counter, but I cannot bring my own containers because of hygienic regulations. Bea has now released an App to collect information about bulk stores. I hope it will at some point include (and inspire!) Germany as well.