Zero Waste Tip #14: Keep Yourself Motivated

14. Keep yourself motivated on your zero waste journey with an in-depth study on your recycling and trash facilities.

Forewarning, though – this late night research paper might just rock your world.

If you’re lacking in motivation to keep up your zero waste goals, just block off a few hours one evening, pour yourself a strong cup of coffee, and begin to research what *actually* happens to your trash and recycling when that magical green truck whisks it away from your driveway.

About 2-3 years into my zero waste journey, it dawned on me that all of my motivation for why I was working So. So. Hard. to reduce my waste stemmed from external factors: A TED talk here that challenged me to avoid single-use plastics. A documentary there about the horrors of the environmental damage from over-trashing our planet. A guilt-inducing pin on Pinterest with that checklist of everything I needed to banish from my kitchen cabinets.

These were the initial factors that piqued my interest and gave me the capacity to actually care about the zero waste movement; however, it wasn’t until very recently that I took the next step and allowed the zero waste movement to sink deep beneath the surface of my skin and really touch my heart.

It started out with a preliminary search for details on my city’s trash collection. Here’s what I discovered:

First off, I want to highlight how incredible my city is. The City of Fayetteville (in Northwest Arkansas) has established a city-wide initiative to reduce waste by increasing awareness of recycling and composting, and they have created a Master Plan with specific action points to help them “achieve a goal of 40% waste diversion by 2027.” In an effort to remain transparent, the city has also published quarterly reports that reflect the amount of trash collected (by tons), along with an estimate of carbon dioxide produced by that trash, recycling collection details, and the cubic yards of compost created.

This. Is. Amazing.

This gives me hope that drastic changes for the betterment of the planet ARE possible. It just takes one city at a time. One small business at a time. One individual at a time.

If you live in a city that doesn’t keep detailed records of trash and recycling collections, you might need to dig a little further to find answers. Here are a few suggestions for where to start:

  • Look at your bills to determine the name of the company who collects your trash and recycling.
  • Once you find their contact information, call or email to ask: Where is my local landfill? Is there a record of where recycling is sold? What percentage of collected recycling is actually sold? What programs are offered for recycling or composting within my city?

Once you’ve found some answers, jot them down on a piece of paper and sit down to reflect on the following:

1. My trash is part of the problem. Perhaps this is an obvious point, but our trash doesn’t just disappear and become part of a mystical global trash problem when it’s picked up from our houses each week. Most likely it’s heading to the local landfill – mine is exactly 17 minutes from my house.

What blows out of the local landfill or the trash trucks during their weekly treks around the city is part of the trash I see on the side of the road when I’m driving to the grocery store. It’s part of what enters our city’s drainage systems, streams, rivers, and eventually the oceans. Side note: the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has an interesting article here about how plastic ends up in the ocean.

2. Recycling is good, but it should never be my end goal. I don’t know where I got the idea, but somehow I had always been under the impression that my recycled paper just made new paper, my recycled glass jars ended up as new glass jars, my recycled water bottles ended up as new water bottles. Unfortunately, while this can happen occasionally, it’s not the norm.

Instead, I discovered that my paper is made into tissues and paper towels, which most likely will not be recycled a second time. My glass jars are mixed with plastic to make fiberglass insulation, which definitely cannot be recycled. My plastics bottles and containers are used to create plastic pellets for a variety of uses, but are unlikely to be recycled again. In essence, my recycling only postpones their landfill burial.

3. Our support of small businesses, city-wide programs, and educational initiatives is critical for the success of the zero waste movement. Yes, the actions of individuals are important, but the waves of change are going to ride on businesses and legislation that take a stand for reducing waste. So make it a point to discover who is already doing it, and then go all-out to support them.

  • Buy products from companies that offer zero-waste packaging.
  • Buy food from restaurants with compostable utensils and carry-out containers.
  • Share posts on Instagram or Facebook when your city initiates a new zero waste/recycling/compost program.
  • Write a quick email to encourage a company when you hear about the zero waste steps they’re taking. Let them know you see and approve.

Thanks for reading this post! If you have other ways to stay motivated on your zero waste journeys, please leave a comment below – I’d love to hear from you!

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