Reduce first, then reuse, recycle

About 4.5 pounds. That’s the amount of trash the average American generates every day according to the EPA. And it adds up quickly. Based on that metric, in Santa Cruz County we collectively toss an estimated 224,376 tons of waste each year. Fortunately, not all of it end up in landfills.

​Americans recycle or compost more than a third of their trash. Santa Cruz residents drop more than 7,000 tons of recycling at Grey Bears three recycling centers each year, and another 3,000 tons of household items – including electronics – that are refurbished and resold in the Grey Bears thrift stores. That reduces A LOT of carbon emissions.

Food is one of the biggest ways Grey Bears conserves essential resources. Each year Americans toss out 36% of the food farmers grow each year. Grey Bears rescues and distributes more than a million pounds of groceries rescued from local markets and bakeries, and distributes another 2 million pounds of fresh produce sourced from Food Banks, growers and distributors annually.

Home composting helps keep food scraps out of landfills where they release methane, a potent contributor to climate change. Read our interview with Grey Bears vermi-composting volunteer, Marla King, who can help you start your own composting operation.

Although reusing and recycling are essential activities to help curb climate change, reducing should always be the number-one priority. Here are a few ideas to reduce:

  • Buy well-made products, borrow the items that you rarely use, or shop at Grey Bears Thrift Store for clothing, housewares, electronics, tools, games, puzzles, bikes, medical supplies, etc. And bring e-waste including computers, printers, copiers, TVs, monitors, cables, mobile phones, tablets, etc. to Grey Bears for refurbishing and/or optimal processing.
  • Before you purchase anything, ask: “Is this something I need?” Or is there another item I can use or repurpose for the same task. Instead of using wrapping paper for gifts, try using newspaper (no longer recyclable) or pages torn from catalogs, or even an old road atlas.
  • Try to limit plastic and single-use items out of your daily routine. So many of our everyday products are designed to have a short useful life.
  • Invest in a reusable metal razor with a replaceable, recyclable head. (Back in 1990, the EPA estimated Americans tossed two billion disposable razors. And our population has grown by about 75 million people since then.)
  • Buy hair-care products and soaps in economy sizes and decant them to smaller, reusable containers when needed. (The same goes for laundry detergent and cleaning products. Also, look for options sold in concentrate.)
  • In the kitchen, ditch plastic wrap, small plastic bags, and aluminum foil when possible. Instead, opt for reusable food containers, Mason jars, washable fabric pouches, and reusable food wraps.
  • Stock up on washable towels and cloth napkins instead of paper towels and napkins.
  • Drink tap water instead of bottled (purchase a water filter if needed). If you love fizzy water, invest in a seltzer maker with reusable bottles.
  • Save plastic grocery bags or other plastic packaging to reuse for another purpose, like lining small garbage pails or picking up after your dog.
  • Avoid dishwasher tablets or other products, like sponges, that come individually wrapped.
  • Carry reusable, BPA-free water bottles and reusable coffee mugs.
  • Get stainless steel or other reusable straws for your smoothies and iced coffee.
  • Keep a set of reusable cutlery where you work for use during lunch breaks.
  • And of course, always have a few lightweight reusable bags in your car for groceries.
  • If you’re more of a tea fan, start brewing with loose-leaf tea instead of tea bags, many of which contain plastic and most of which end up in landfills.
  • When you’re ordering takeout, ask the restaurant to leave out any disposable utensils, plates, stacks of napkins, and packages of condiments you won’t need.