Pollution Prevention Week 2015, which celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Pollution Prevention (P2) Act, was held September 21-27, 2015. The P2 Act was implemented in 1990 in an effort to address the significant impact that pollution has on our environment. It is inordinately easier to prevent a problem from happening than to fix an already existing problem, and below we’ve compiled a list of some practical steps we can all take to reduce pollution as well as our individual and collective environmental footprints.
The average American generates over four pounds of trash every day and about 1.5 tons of solid waste per year, 75% of which is recyclable. The EPA estimates that we only recycle 30% of it, even though over 87% of Americans have access to a curbside recycling program. In a single year, Americans throw out about 28 billion bottles and jars as well as about 36 billion aluminum cans, the scrap value of which is estimated to be an astonishing $600 million. Glass containers and cans can go from the recycling bin to a store shelf in just 30-60 days, and 20 recycled cans can be made with the energy needed to produce one new can. Recycling takes little effort yet yields significant impact. Here are some ways to recycle:
Participate in an office recycling program for paper, toner cartridges, and kitchen waste
Recycle all plastics, glass, metals, and paper with a single stream recycling program
Recycle used motor oil, eyeglasses, cell phones, electronics, mattresses, and other household waste at appropriate disposal sites
Donate used clothing, furniture, household items, and books to charitable organizations
Start a compost pile for kitchen waste, or better yet…
Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by cutting food waste
In the United States, food waste is the largest single source of waste, with 30-40% of the food supply wasted, equaling more than 20 pounds of food per person per month. According to a Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report, about a third of the food produced for human consumption worldwide — about 1.3 billion metric tons — is wasted, accounting for the equivalent of about 3.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. To put it into perspective, that’s about twice the amount of carbon emitted from America’s transportation sector and close to twice the annual emissions of the entire country of India. And all that wasted food equates to a lot of wasted water, as raising and growing food requires an exorbitant amount of water. To produce one pound of beef takes about 1,800 gallons of water, and to produce a pound of rice takes about 400 gallons. In fact, the amount of food we waste also wastes about 250 cubic kilometers worth of ground and surface water — an amount about three and a half times the volume of Lake Mead when full.
Reducing the amount of food we throw away starts at the individual level. Plan meals for the week and make a shopping list — and stick to it. Be sure to eat any leftovers for lunch the next day, which will also save money (and calories!) when compared with eating out. Donate any unused food to food banks and shelters. Request “doggie bags” from restaurants, freeze fresh foods before they spoil, and use aging fruits in smoothies and baking. These are all simple yet effective ways to greatly reduce the amount of food we waste.
Reduce usage and carbon footprint
In one year, Americans fill landfills with trash equivalent to the weight of 88 million cars and produce enough trash to circle the earth 24 times. We have the highest per capita water usage in the world, and we use 26% of the world’s energy. In addition, we produce a significant amount of hazardous waste, which is any liquid, solid, or gas that may cause significant threats to human health or the environment if improperly managed. Sources of hazardous waste include industry, research, medical, household, chemical producers, agriculture, and mining, as well as many others. Hazardous waste is often disposed of in landfills or injection wells, where the toxic substances can leak into surrounding groundwater. Groundwater is a major source of drinking water and, once it is contaminated, it is extremely difficult, costly, and sometimes even impossible to remove pollutants. Recycling and waste minimization is the best — and easiest — way to deal with hazardous waste. Changing our daily habits is a simple way to reduce our usage and environmental impact, and to lessen the amount of pollution we produce.
Use reusable grocery and shopping bags
Install programmable thermostats to automatically turn down the heat or air conditioning at night
Replace incandescent lights with fluorescents or LEDs
Install water-efficient toilets, faucets, and shower heads
Fix all household leaks
Plant drought-resistant grass and plants to reduce water needs
Only run washing machines and dishwashers when they are full
Power down and unplug electronics when not in use
Print double-sided on recycled paper, and implement a “think before you print” mindset
Dispose of all household hazardous waste including batteries, cleaning fluids, paint thinners, pesticides, and mercury items at a dedicated collection site
Purchase non-toxic products with minimal packaging
Use little to no fertilizer or pesticides, especially near rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds
Buy locally, including from farmers, businesses, and manufacturers, as it reduces fuel needs and transportation emissions and supports the local economy
Carpool, bike, walk, or take public transportation to work when possible
Protect our water supply — careful what you flush!
Speaking of water contamination, there is another source of potential water pollutant that is in every American’s home: the toilet. It seems like the perfect place to dispose of all things unsightly. Unfortunately, after the whoosh and the swirl, the item doesn’t simply disappear. In fact, it travels a complex path. What we flush down our toilets travels through sewer pipes to wastewater treatment plants, where it is treated and piped back into our lakes and streams. Therefore, we need to be mindful of protecting not only our pipes and sewer systems, but also our environment. Private septic systems are also at risk for clogging, failing, and for leaching toxins back into the water supply. The only items that should ever be flushed down a toilet are human excretions and plain old toilet paper. To show some concrete reasons why the toilet shouldn’t be considered a garbage disposal, we’ve made a list of commonly flushed items that wreak havoc on wastewater systems and our ecosystem.
Not only do they cause instant clogging, but they also are loaded with toxic coagulating chemicals that simply shouldn’t be in our water supply.
Feminine products are akin to diapers and contain chemicals as well as non-biodegradable parts, and they are responsible for the majority of household clogs. All of these items should go in the trash – including the applicators.
They are non-biodegradable and a biohazard and should be thrown in the trash.
Automotive Fluids, Paint, Solvents, Sealants, and Thinners
All of these items contain toxic chemicals that contaminate water. Please dispose of them in an appropriate manner, not down the toilet.
While flushing seems like a great idea for unused meds – after all, we don’t want them getting into the wrong hands – it is actually extremely dangerous. Flushed meds negatively impact ecosystems by seriously disrupting reproductive cycles of fish, and flushed antibiotics encourage the evolution of drug-resistant microbes. Water treatment facilities do not filter meds, and they are entering our water supply at an alarming rate. Medications should be disposed of safely in the garbage or through an approved take-back site. Please check www.takebackyourmeds.org for more info.
Cigarettes are loaded with toxic chemicals that end up in our water supply when the butts are flushed. Don’t flush, or better yet, don’t smoke!
Most cat litter is made from clay and sand, which should absolutely never be flushed down any toilet, and cat feces contains toxins and parasites that shouldn’t be in our water supply.
Give the goldfish, mouse, or gerbil a good old-fashioned burial. Decomposing animals cause blockages and release toxins into our water supply.
Other items of note: wipes (even if they say flushable!), cooking fats, paper towels, cotton balls, hair, cosmetics, cleaning supplies, food, and chewing gum. When in doubt, throw it out!
There are myriad ways to improve our environment by reducing the pollution we produce, and the above ideas are a small sampling of how we can be greener in our daily lives. P2 Week is the ideal time to take a look at our daily habits and patterns and to see what steps we can take to lessen our environmental impact. If every person made even a small effort to be more eco-conscious, the total impact would be staggering. Whether it is protecting our water supply, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or using fewer toxic products, let’s all implement a few small changes this week to protect our environment and reduce pollution. Happy P2 Week!
June 5 is World Environment Day 2015, and this year’s theme is “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care.” We typically think in general terms about recycling, water usage, and climate change, and in turn wonder how one person can possibly make a difference. Below you will find some environmental facts over which the individual has some control. Simply being aware of our environmental footprint will help us all become more mindful of our own daily habits, which will cumulatively make a significant impact on the health of our world, now and in the future.
TRASH. Each person throws away approximately four pounds of garbage every day, and 14 billion pounds of trash is dumped into the ocean every year. 84% of all household waste can be recycled.
PLASTIC. Most families throw away about 88 pounds of plastic every year, and plastic takes about 500 years to biodegrade. Only 1 in 7 plastic bottles is recycled.
WATER. If all U.S. households installed water-saving features, water use would decrease by 30%, saving an estimated 5.4 billion gallons per day. This would result in dollar-volume savings of $11.3 million per day or more than $4 billion per year.
PAPER. Every ton of paper recycled saves 7,000 gallons of water and 17 trees. Recycled paper requires 64% less energy than making paper from virgin wood pulp.
ALUMINUM. 5 billion aluminum cans are used each year. It takes 90% less energy to recycle aluminum cans than to make new ones.
OIL. There are an average of 27 oil spills every day somewhere in the waters of the worlds. One gallon of motor oil can contaminate up to 2 million gallons of water, and approximately 5 million tons of oil produced in the world each year ends up in the ocean.
LAWNS. Residential lawns and gardens are doused with 80 million pounds of chemical pesticides and 70 million tons of fertilizers annually. In addition, water sprinklers can consume 265 gallons of water in one hour, which exceeds estimates of the average U.S. household’s daily use.
As Americans, it is easy to find ways to conserve. Think about this: the U.S. holds 5% of the world’s population but uses 25% of its natural resources. America has less than 4% of its forests left and uses 500,000 gallons of oil every minute. Taking into account all uses of water, including drinking, sanitation, and food production, each human being requires about 12 gallons of water per day to live, yet the average American uses about 100 gallons per day. One person does make a difference. Becoming more mindful will help the environment now and for future generations, so let’s vow to do our own individual part to save our planet. Happy World Environment Day!
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