January-February 1995 Volume 2, Number 1
What would you do if we told you that your whole family could easily lose 60 pounds? Incredibly, you won't have to eat less or exercise more. You may not even have to buy anything different from what you already buy and use everyday. (And no salesperson will call!)
How can we make this incredible offer, you ask? Because we're talking about creating less garbage. Amazing as it seems, the typical family can easily reduce their trash output by about 60 pounds a year. On a national basis, such a packaging diet translates to about 600 million pounds, or 300 thousand tons, of stuff that doesn't get created, transported or landfilled.
Even more amazing is that it won't be hard to do: Out of all of the products you buy and shop for, you only need to think about 5 items: juice, coffee, breakfast cereal, laundry detergent and pasta.
ANNUAL WEIGHT SAVINGS PER AMERICAN FAMILY (in Lb.) Pkging. Amt. Recycled or Net Category/Product Used from Rec. Material Discards ---------------- ------ ---------------- -------- % Lb. Juice -- 46 Fl oz Glass Bottle 72.0 35 25.2 46.8 Juice Concentrate in Boxes (9.64 Fl oz) 1.6 1 0.0 1.6 Difference 70.4 25.2 45.2 Breakfast Cereal Paperboard Box (15 oz) 12.8 35 4.5 8.3 Flexible Plastic Bag (13 oz) 1.4 0 0 1.4 Difference 11.4 4.5 6.9 Liquid Laundry Detergent Bottle (64 oz) 6.7 25 1.7 5.0 Concentrate (100 oz) and refills (90 oz) bottles 2.7 48 1.3 1.4 Difference 4.0 0.4 3.6 Coffee -- 13 oz Steel Can 8.0 48 3.8 4.2 Foil "Brick Pack" .9 0 0 0.9 Difference 7.1 3.8 3.3 Pasta ( 1 Lb.) Paperboard Box 2.0 0 0 2.0 Flexible Plastic Film 0.3 0 0 0.3 Difference 1.7 0 1.7 TOTAL SAVINGS 60.7 lb.Here's what we did: First, we weighed the packages and used industry data to figure out how much the typical American family would use in a year. Then, we gave credit for either recylable or recycled content. What's left is net discards, or the material that ends up in landfills each year.
The savings are in the packaging....
In the cases of pasta, coffee and cereal, all of the savings are related to the source reduction features of flexible vs. rigid packaging. The far lighter flexible packaging saves significant amounts of materials from being used and thus landfilled..
This is true even when the rigid containers are recycled at higher rates than their flexible counterparts. For example, steel cans are recycled at a rate of 48% and paperboard cereal boxes contain 35% post-consumer recycled content. Their flexible counterparts are neither recycled nor contain recycled content..
...and sometimes in the products themselves.
Both the more efficient juice and laundry detergent packages are source reduced, given their flexible packaging. But at least as important is the fact that they are also concentrated. You're not paying for the water that you can add to the juice yourself, or for the water traditionally added to liquid detergents to make you think you're getting more for your money..
By the way, this last point is confusing to many people, who think that the smaller bottles of concentrate cost more than the regular sizes. Quite the contrary! You actually get more washes per dollar, and sometimes per bottle, than with the standard larger sizes. (Good things really do come in small packages.).
Each of our families can significantly reduce waste simply by making smarter packaging choices. Go ahead and buy your favorite brands -- just choose them in flexible packages, concentrated form and larger sizes. Happy New Year and think thin, especially when it comes to packaging..
"...reducing and reusing the waste from your yard and home makes a positive difference in the protection of our environment..."
-- Carol M. Browner, EPA Administrator, 12/14/94 Press Release
"Clearly, waste avoidance and material reuse should come to the top of the agenda."
-- Earth Politics, Ernst Ulrich von Weizsacker, President, The Wuppertal Institute, p.160
"What we should be doing is trying to prevent creating waste in the first place. If we can't prevent it, then we'll try to think how can we re-use them [packages] and then in the end worry about how we can d ispose of them most efficiently."
-- Liani Stupples, Friends of the Earth, Reuters, November 11, 1994
We recently reviewed U.S. census data to see if this trend is continuing. The answer, unfortunately, is yes. Between 1980 and 1990, the number of Americans grew by 9.8%, to about 250 million people. The number of households grew even faster, by 14.3%.
Demographically Speaking in the USA... (Numbers in millions) 1980 1990 % Increase ---- ---- ---------- Population 226.5 248.7 9.8 Households 80.5 92.0 14.3 1-Person Households 18.2 22.4 23.2 Households with 2+ workers 32.1 38.3 19.5
Why the faster household growth? Mainly because we are slowly becoming a nation of small households. In fact, 1 person households grew by a whopping 23.2% during the last 10 years, almost 2.5 times total household growth. Single person households now make up almost a quarter of all households.
Another contributor to trash growth is the "busy family" syndrome. Families with at least two working people grew by almost 20%, and now account for slightly more than 40% of all families. The logical consequence of this trend is the growth of high-convenience, pre-prepared foods, such as TV dinners; and pre-packaged individual portions of everything from oatmeal to apple sauce. The result, of course, is packaging waste.
What can we do about the situation? For one thing, try to have more meals together as a family. Also, plan menus ahead of time and then prepare a shopping list to meet the menu plan. And, as always, try to buy in bulk; use concentrates and refillables; and try to minimize the number of duplicated products in the house -- do all four of you need to have six different shampoos and twelve types of conditioner?
Do compactors help or hinder the waste reduction process? I know
the (compacted) waste takes less space, but doesn't compacting also
mean that it takes longer to break down?
-- Darlene Hughes, Tipton, IA
Good question, Darlene. First of all, compacting makes a great deal of difference, since landfill capacity gets stretched a little longer. Keep in mind, though, that when we compact stuff, we're beating nature to the punch. Once items are buried, the weight of what's piled on above tends to cause compaction anyway.How can I reduce bulk and third class mailings? Also, can I recycle catalogs and other high-gloss mailings with my newspapers? -- Jeff Dunevitz, Miami Beach, FL
That brings us to your next point. Does compaction slow the breakdown of materials? Not really, for two very different reasons. The first has to do with the fact that landfills are self-compacting over time, as just mentioned. The second reason is that things break down very slowly in landfillls, regardless of compaction. That's because modern sanitary landfills are designed to minimize light, air and high humidity. All three are necessary if biodegradation is to occur rapidly.
There are a few things you can do to reduce unwanted mail. First, call the mailer's toll free (1-800) order number and ask to be taken off the list. Also, call the Direct Marketing Association in New York (212-768-7277) and request their address-removal kit.Instead of using pressure-sensitive adhesive labels, why don't you just print addresses right on The ULS Report? You'll use less stuff and will also keep the adhesive from gumming up the recycling process.
By the way, don't expect much help from the Post Office. It's obligated to deliver mail it's been paid to deliver. And keep in mind that from the Post Office's perspective, third class mail is a significant revenue source.
Regarding catalogs and other glossy papers: They can be recycled in a growing number of communities, but should be stored and put out separately from newspapers. Mixing the two grades of paper reduces the ability to successfully recycle either one.
This is a great idea! (We wish we could find who sent it to us. Please call or write so we can send you a ULS T-shirt.) We will be converting to this process as soon as our subscription list is large enough for efficient address printing. Right now, we're still a little too small for direct addressing, but should be ready to switch over around mid-year.
All this, of course, is news to no one. Imagine my surprise, then, when I tried to quantify the gigantic waste bulge of late December -- and couldn't!
For awhile I was stunned, but when I recovered my senses I could rationalize my failure. First, there were no Garbage Project records from just after Christmas: My student garbage sorters, like almost everyone else, enjoy a holiday respite. Second, the city-level figures I could get were December composites which combined pre- and post-Christmas quantities together. Third, while yard debris may be as much as one-third of household wastes throughout much of the year, in December they are virtually non-existent until a bedraggled tree adorns the garbage can; and what tree is equal to a summer's grass clippings or a fall's raked leaves? No wonder, then, that Christmas is not visible in overall figures.
For the next several days, however, I was haunted by the remains of a Fourth of July picnic we had excavated in the Midwest. In my mind's eye, I could still see the sorting table spread with charred hot dogs, half-eaten buns, soggy potato chips, and Christmas cards.
Yes, Christmas cards. I think all of the sorters could hear Rod Serling welcoming us to The Twilight Zone. We went back through the sample several times to recheck the dates on newspapers and sales receipts. No mistake: the hot dogs and Christmas cards had been thrown out together in July, sometime in the early 70's.
Not much time went by before I mentioned this odd discovery in a talk. Afterwards, three members of the audience told me that the Christmas-in-July wastes weren't really so surprising; they had all come across similar items during the preceding few weeks -- in July, 1988. When I asked veteran garbage sorters, they quickly agreed that Christmas items pepper our refuse throughout the year.
From what I know now about what we do and don't throw away, I believe that we should be labelled: Pack ratus americanus. The real reason that the holiday waste tsunami doesn't overburden our collection system is that we horde much of in the sentiment of the season. But in the bright sunshine of July, those sentiments fade and the keepsakes are relegated to the trash.
If we pay more attention to these Christmas discard moments as they occur throughout 1995, perhaps we will accumulate far fewer Christmas gewgaws to toss out in 1996.
Dr. William L. Rathje is Professor of Archaeology at The University of Arizona and Director of The Garbage Project. The Project studies contemporary cultures by digging up their landfills and examining the resulting debris.
On the other hand, we were disappointed at how much packaging the refill kit used. The large, bulky package contained almost s much paperboard as three of the regular cartridges. However, the refills contained none of the metal and foil containers that are needed to ship the original cartridges .
Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs)
Many readers, especially on the Internet, chided us for downplaying the value of CFLs versus regular incandescent bulbs. Many pointed out that while the former may contain five times the level of toxic metals, they last eight to ten times longer. So the effect on the environment as actually less. Point well taken.
Readers also noted that CFLs are most valuable in applications where lights are left on for long periods of time. That's because frequent on/off cycles reduce bulb life, minimizing any advantages that CFLs might have over standard bulbs.
By the way, incandescent bulb manufacturers are fighting back. One of them is working on a bulb that reflects infra-red light back at the filament, thus reducing the amount of heat energy needed for the bulb to produce a given wattage.
This seems to be a major area of interest for readers. How good are they? What's the best way to make them last longer? Should they be used in high-power or low-power applications? When will they be designed to put out equivalent voltage to alkalines? Yikes! We are working on providing you with answers to these questions, and then some. Next issue, we'll do an entire piece on this subject.
The ULS Report is a bi-monthly publication of Partners for Environmental Progress. Address e-mail correspondence to ULS@cygnus-group.com. Snail mail address: P.O. Box 130116 Ann Arbor MI 48113 Phone: 313-668-1690 Fax: 313-930-0506 Editor: Robert Lilienfeld Technical Advisor: Dr. William Rathje Editorial Advisor: Tony Kingsbury
Feel free to reduce, reuse and recycle this newsletter and its contents. (But please give appropriate credit when referencing our material.) Copyright 1994, Partners for Environmental Progress.
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