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In Connecticut, every person generates approximately 4.2 pounds of trash a day! That translates to about three quarters of a ton each year, per person. That means over 5 billion pounds of waste are made each year just in Connecticut!
Waste prevention or source reduction refers to the practice of decreasing the amount of garbage generated. Consuming and throwing away less garbage is one way we can manage solid waste. Source reduction is a way to actually prevent the making of trash in the first place!
There are different ways a consumer can make less trash.
One way is to purchase durable, long lasting goods and products. Seeking products that have little packaging decreases the amount of trash made. Buying fewer items, avoiding single-use items or avoiding buying things we don’t need are all ways to reduce our trash.
Using less hazardous items for cleaning, lawn care and other purposes is another component of source reduction.
An old New England saying is apropos to managing our solid waste today:
- Use it up
- Wear it out
- Make it do
- Or do without
We’re not going to suggest we do without our favorite items. But we do encourage everyone to use a product more than once, since it extends the life of the product and helps reduce waste (and saves you money). Reusing items by repairing them, donating them to charitable organizations and other community groups, or even selling articles is preferable to single use products. Otherwise, it can end up in the trash and add to the volume! Some of the ways you can reuse items rather than throw them away are as follows:
Use “found” items for arts and crafts projects (we do this for our make-and-take craft projects at our education centers)
- Use coffee mugs and real glass instead of plastic or styrofoam
- Refill bottles, especially water and sports bottles
- Donate clothing, equipment, furniture and other items to charitable organizations
- Use empty plastic containers for leftovers
Recycling materials refers to using items again after they are reprocessed. Items that can be recycled include glass food and beverage containers, aluminum and steel cans, newspaper, corrugated cardboard, magazines, plastics #1 & #2, white paper for businesses, grass clippings, leaves, nickel cadmium and lead-acid batteries and used motor oil.
Connecticut’s Mandatory Recycling Act went into effect on Jan. 1, 1991, and applies to every business, household and institution, including government agencies. Recyclables are collected, sorted and processed. After baling the materials, they are sent to facilities that process them into new products. Buying products made from recycling materials will help to “close the loop” of recycling!
Recycling has many benefits. The more we recycle the less garbage ends up in the landfills and resource recovery or trash to energy plants. Less energy is used to process the materials, valuable resources are saved and therefore, costs are decreased. Recycling also prevents emissions of many greenhouse gases and water pollutants.
Another form of recycling is composting. A compost pile is comprised of leaves, grass clippings and other organic matter such as fruits and vegetables. Eventually, this pile decomposes into humus or compost. This may be used to provide nutrients to the soil, reduce the need for fertilizers, protect the soil from erosion and keep organic wastes from having to be landfilled or incinerated.
Source reduction and recycling are important parts of managing our solid waste, but even with our best efforts we’ll still need means of getting rid of trash. CRRA recovers the energy in our trash by burning it to generate electricity, and since our fourth trash-to-energy plant came on-line in 1992 we have saved over 32 million barrels of oil. In addition, the WTE process reduces the volume of material destined for landfills by 90 percent. So recovering the energy in our trash accomplishes a number of goals:
- It reduces our dependence on imported oil.
- It provides a virtually endless supply of fuel for power generation.
- It dramatically extends the life of our landfills.
A fifth "R" word that is associated with the solid waste management process includes "rethink." To rethink refers to the steps associated with educating the public about recycling. Reducing the volume of trash generated is the first step and thinking about what items may be reused is the second step in the proper management of waste. The third step entails recycling as much as we can. Lastly, items that are “truly trash” may be incinerated at a trash-to-energy plant or landfilled.