Sunday, June 5th, 2022 is World Environment Day – a day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action to protect our environment. In participation, ICL is highlighting ways each of us can take action to better celebrate, protect and restore our planet.

Growing up in Boise, I always hated going to the landfill. I dreaded driving into the inviting foothills to watch the landscape change into an enormous plot of land covered in garbage, with far more beneath the surface. Seeing so much waste upset me as a kid, and inspired personal action as I got older. 

Ada County Landfill. Photo courtesy Ada County.

When the pandemic hit, virtual school and canceled activities gave me more free time. So, like millions of other people across the world, I found a COVID hobby. I dove head first into books, podcasts and documentaries on how to be an environmental ambassador and put our planet at the forefront of all of my decisions. This effort introduced me to the zero waste movement, and so began my own zero waste journey.

What is the zero waste movement? 

While having zero waste may sound like a daunting task, it doesn’t necessarily actually mean producing zero waste. In the zero waste movement, people change their habits and lifestyle in an effort to reduce the amount of waste they produce to the smallest amount possible. While producing zero waste may seem unrealistic to some, people all over the world are showing that it is possible. And even if you can’t get down to producing zero waste, any and all waste reduction helps our environment. 

The motivation behind the movement

The average American sends 4.4 pounds of trash to the landfill every single day. In the United States, our landfills are the second largest producer of methane – a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Chemicals from landfill waste can also leach into our soil and groundwater, contaminating these precious resources that humans rely on and disrupting numerous ecosystem processes. 

Trash also puts immense pressure on our economy, burdening consumers to engage in a vicious cycle of buying products that will inevitably break shortly after purchase and require replacement. This pattern also draws from natural resource stocks without ever regenerating them – the definition of unsustainable. 

Garbage also negatively affects society as a whole, introducing harmful air pollution that impacts human health and development. Moreover, the U.S. has a damaging history of siting landfills in areas that disproportionately impact communities of color – a long-standing environmental justice issue.

Despite often being overlooked, the impacts of trash are far reaching. You may not think about your trash after it gets picked up from the curb, but the impacts of trash surround us – in our water, air, and on our lands. The zero waste movement is a great way to start considering your personal habits and waste output, then reduce your ecological footprint.  

How to begin your zero waste journey

If you’re ready to cut down your own waste production, begin by taking a look in your trash bin. What types of items end up in the trash on a daily basis? Once you identify which personal habits generate the most garbage, whether they be from the kitchen, bathroom, or elsewhere, you can swap out single-use products for more sustainable items. For example, instead of grabbing a Ziploc bag to store your leftovers, consider reusable options like a silicone bag or Mason jar. Instead of covering dishes with plastic wrap, try natural beeswax wraps which last years, can be composted once worn out, and have fun patterns! When you wash your face or remove your makeup, switch out those thin, single-use rounds that come in a plastic bag for reusable organic cotton rounds that can be tossed in the washing machine with your next load of laundry. It’s often these types of everyday items that accumulate a lot of waste and can be swapped out for reusable versions, helping our environment and saving you money over time.

Next, look into purchasing reusable products with earthwise materials to replace those that were filling up your garbage bin. Items made from or with bamboo, wood, glass, metal, silicone, plant fibers, and natural cloth are good places to start. The upfront cost of some swaps can be intimidating, but remember, you’ll most likely only have to buy it once – saving you money in the long term. If you’re looking to quickly swap out multiple unsustainable products at once, Package Free Shop is a one-stop-shop for dozens of zero waste items. Be sure to consider what will happen to the product after it is no longer usable to you. For more help with your consumption and “discarding” decisions, check out the 5 R’s of Sustainability. Essentially, think before you take and think before you toss. If you’re ready to go one step further, learn more about other ways to reduce your waste and help the environment! Books such as 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste by Kathryn Kellogg and Simply Sustainable by Lily Cameron were two that helped me live more sustainably. While everyone can join the zero waste movement in the capacity that works for them, every action – big or small – makes a difference!

Items to help you live more sustainably. Photo courtesy Trash Is For Tossers.

Better together: From personal to collective action

While personal actions can have a big impact, unfortunately we can’t solve all the world’s environmental problems with simple fixes like saying no to plastic straws. But collectively, we can have a big impact. As consumers, we can influence markets with our purchasing power by “voting with our dollars,” and showing that we value sustainability as a society. Choosing to support businesses and companies that prioritize the planet will encourage the continuation of eco-friendly actions and practices. 

It is also essential that we speak up about the issues preventing global environmental stewardship from taking place. Reaching out to decision makers about the importance of addressing the global waste crisis will enable actions to be implemented on a scale necessary to create widespread, lasting change. Coupling personal sustainability with smart consumer choices and governmental action will allow us to achieve far more than one could do alone. Together, we can do more to protect our planet, starting right here in Idaho.

Keeping Idaho’s air, water and lands clean is an integral part of ensuring that Idaho stays safe for the people and wildlife who call it home. Reducing your waste is one way to help make that happen. Sign up for our climate campaign updates to be the first to know when action is needed to protect Idaho’s environment.