From household scraps to spent nuclear fuel, waste management is one of the best examples of a job that, if done right, goes unnoticed. This is great for many reasons, but it does mean that it can be hard to pay attention to how much waste we contribute – either directly or indirectly – to landfills on a daily basis. According to Tompkins County Recycling and Materials Management 2019 Annual Report, Tompkins County generated 17,158 tons of solid waste which ended in a landfill, an additional 15,493 tons that was recycled, and 2,181.8 tons of food waste that was composted. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, if that solid waste had been recycled instead of landfilled, we would have averted 50,445 metric tons of CO2e. Clearly, tackling how we manage waste plays an important role in our ability to reach carbon neutrality by 2030.
Based on data from Stanford University, most of the waste created in the United States – even after initial diversion by recycling or composting – could still be diverted! This is pretty troubling at first glance, but it actually offers an exciting opportunity: many of the challenges associated with waste management can be solved with tools we already have!
Waste reduction begins with consumption reduction. As individuals, we need to choose to reduce what we can when we can, and encourage local businesses and government offices to reduce the amount of waste they generate as well through better sourcing and by going paperless.
The next step in Reduce, Reuse, Recycle often gets overlooked: Reuse! Buy from a local thrift shop and donate to those thrift shops when possible, try to repair your clothes and possessions before throwing them out, and try to think of new purposes for defunct items. Reducing your waste often means getting creative with old stuff you have lying around already!
This might seem overwhelming, or like putting too much emphasis on individual action, but so many groups are already working toward and advocating for a waste-less future! We’ve compiled a little list of prominent players here to help you get plugged in:
Composting is simple and easy, and there are drop off locations in and around Ithaca. The first time you go to a location, you can pick up a free composting bin! Click here to see where and when you can start turning your food scraps into soil.
Don’t know your recycling day? Click here to find when you can recycle!
If you own a business and are looking to improve your waste management and overall sustainability, follow this link for instructions on how to become a ReBusiness!