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6 Simple Tips to Reduce Waste So Every Day Is Earth Day

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6 Simple Tips to Reduce Waste So Every Day Is Earth Day
Shopping at farmers markets can help minimize your waste.

Earth Day 2018 is focused on the all-important theme of reducing plastic litter and pollution. Of course, we shouldn't just reduce our plastic footprint, we should try to reduce waste in all shapes, sizes and forms. It's said that the average American generates a staggering 4 pounds of trash every day—but you don't have to be part of that statistic.

Here are six entirely manageable tips and tricks to help you cut waste.


1. BYO (Bring Your Own)

We all know we should bring our own bag to the grocery store, but what about bringing your own straw or takeaway container to restaurants? I now make it a habit of toting a "Zero-Waste Kit" with me everywhere so I don't make trash when I'm on the go. As you can see below, it contains essentials like canvas bags, utensils, beverage holders and cloth napkins. Reusable items are staples for a trash-free lifestyle.

From left to right. Large canvas bag; a 'tall' size mason jar with sipping lid; water bottle; cloth napkin; glass container with lid; utensils; metal straw; smaller canvas bags for loose items and/or produce.

2. The "Three Rs" of the environment isn't just a rule, it's a tier

The hierarchy of the eco-refrain "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" is key. For instance, switching to a reusable water bottle will help you stop buying single-use plastic ones. Almost all drink bottles are made from virgin, petroleum-based plastic, not recycled material. The vast majority end up in landfills, oceans or other bodies of water, where they never actually degrade, but break down into tinier and tinier pieces, potentially causing harm to the natural environment and wildlife.

However, recycling that disposable bottle isn't the best answer either. Recycling itself is an energy-intensive process and has emissions associated with it, too. And, in case you haven't heard, China is no longer accepting the world's recyclables, leaving recycling centers with ever-growing mountains of trash. Simply, we have to find ways to buy less and use less.

I'd like to add two more Rs to the list:

  • Refuse. This R is probably more crucial than "Reduce." For instance, you don't need that paper or plastic bag at check-out; tell your servers "no straw"; refuse to buy things that come in wasteful packaging.
  • Repair. When your clothing gets a tear or your electronics aren't working, try fixing it instead of buying new. As the saying goes, if it ain't broke…

3. DIY

If I had to recommend one "must-have" tool for the home, it would be a high-speed blender. I use it to whip up smoothies, nut milks, soups, sauces, dips and flours. Sure, homemade food is often healthier and cheaper, but it also means I don't have to buy these individual items from the store, cutting down on unnecessary packaging.

Many everyday products and cosmetics can be made at home. Check out prominent zero-waste influencer Lauren Singer's "Trash is For Tossers" blog and YouTube channel. Singer—who can remarkably fit four years of trash into a single mason jar—teaches you how to make your own toothpaste, lotion, deodorant and more. (Actually, follow some of these other amazing zero-wasters such as Anne-Marie Bonneau, Celia Ristow and Jonathan Levy, who give great ideas and advice on litter-free living.)

Is there something you consume a lot of that you can make at home instead? I love kombucha, so instead of paying $4 a bottle at the store, I make my own. I also grow simple foods such as leafy greens and herbs. I know, I know, you don't always have the time or effort to DIY. But if anything, it's a big money saver.

Some easy-to-grow greens and herbs, homemade kombucha in the back.

4. Look for multipurpose, long-lasting, giant-sized items

Buy in bulk for things you always need, such as non-perishable foods, laundry detergent, olive oil, toilet paper, etc. Also, the best products have multiple uses, like castile soap. Just a few drops can go a long way in making soap, shampoo, all-purpose cleaner and even fruit wash. I like to buy the biggest version, which lasts for months. And check out this awesome list for 30+ uses for apple cider vinegar.

5. Think local

Is there a farmers market near you? Or a CSA program you can join? Not only are you supporting community farmers, the food travels fewer miles and often comes without, or in much less, packaging. For instance, the onions and potatoes from my weekly CSA box never come in the unnecessary netting you often find at the supermarket.

6. Catalogue your waste footprint

The most important step, really, is to take an honest look at what you throw away. Have you been tossing out a lot of food lately? Try making stock from veggie scraps or start a compost. Does your car guzzle a lot of gasoline? Consider taking public transport if it's available, or investing in an electric bike for shorter distances. Do you go through a lot of clothing? Try second-hand or raid someone else's closet. The point is, there's almost always a more environmentally friendly option.

Keep in mind that cutting your waste might not happen overnight, but it's important to make the effort. The planet will thank you for it.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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