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What’s the Problem with all this Stuff?
The source of the stuff

Stuff is everywhere. Some stuff is essential for life such as food, clothing and shelter. Some stuff simply makes life nicer.  Regardless, all “stuff” comes from raw materials supplied by nature, like minerals, fossil fuels, and plants. Everything purchased and consumed must first be extracted and manufactured.  When things are no longer needed, they are left for disposal.  This system, from extraction to disposal, is a linear system which is problematic in a world where resources are limited.

Problems with a linear disposal system

Linear systems have negative impacts on our natural environment. One-third of the resource base on Earth has been consumed within the past three decades!1 This linear process consumes raw materials, and leaves us with industrial, often hazardous, waste and consumer end-of-life waste. The result is a damaged environment.

Solving the problem

The solution in the 20th century was waste management. Zero Waste is the solution for the 21st century.

Zero waste

Zero waste challenges the typical waste disposal system currently at use in the United States. Zero waste provides us with a sustainable system which allows us to recover resources that would otherwise be consumed and discarded into a landfill or incinerator.

Why zero waste?

Some resources are non-renewable. Countless convenience items are made for disposal in the linear waste disposal system as we know it. Materials we consume are directed from their conception through a linear system. This system cannot continue on a finite planet. Sure, we divert some of the material when we recycle, but much of the waste is landfilled. Not to mention that when producing goods, for every 1 ton of waste disposed in Missouri landfills, 71 tons of wastes are created “upstream” through extraction, processing and transportation.

The zero waste system

Zero waste is a sustainable system. This doesn’t really mean “zero” waste, but rather any situation in which 10% or less of all waste is sent to landfills. Sound impossible? It’s not. Businesses like Epson, Honda, and Pillsbury have already achieved it at some of their sites and cities like Austin, Los Angeles, and Seattle have committed to reaching it too. Zero waste may seem difficult, but through a multifaceted approach that includes reducing, reusing, recycling, and composting, you can reach a waste diversion rate of 90% or more!

Zero waste and Saint Louis County

As of 2010, Saint Louis County has achieved a 55.5% waste diversion rate.  This means that of all the waste generated, 55.5% was diverted from landfill disposal.  Our goal was 50% and we are pleased to have met and exceeded that goal.

Zero waste means a waste diversion rate of 90% or greater.  In addition to maximizing reducing, reusing and recycling, achieving 90% diversion requires increased composting of organics such as food and soiled papers.  The Solid Waste Program is planning strategies to set the next Saint Louis County waste diversion goal, but in the short term, the current infrastructure for composting, though growing, is not on pace to manage the volumes necessary to achieve 90% diversion.  In the interim, the County is researching beneficial reuse and working to maximize our region’s existing recycling and composting potential.

Sources:
  1. Leonard, Annie. Story of Stuff. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. E-book.
  2. Goudie, Andrew and Viles, Heather. Landscapes and Geomorphology: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.

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Easy Ways to Reduce

Reducing waste is an easy way to positively impact the environment.

Reduce disposable waste

Think about disposable things you use that cannot be recycled. Seek alternatives to prevent (reduce) the need for each item.

Instead of using: Try:
Disposable plates and utensils Dishes and silverware
Styrofoam take-out Reusable containers
Plastic bottles Bottles made from metal or glass
Plastic grocery bags Cloth bags
Paper towels Cloth towels and rags
Sandwich bags Reusable bags or aluminum foil
Don’t make waste in the first place
  • When purchasing, less packaging is the best way to go. If you buy in bulk, you will also reduce packaging.
  • Take only what you need; this applies to items such as napkins, paper towels, and freebies you won’t use.
  • Sometimes our eyes are bigger than our stomachs. Be conscious of this when eating out or when grocery shopping.
Try “thanks, but no bag”

Retail cashiers are quick to place your new purchases into plastic bags. When you buy only one item or just a handful, there’s no need for a bag. Bring along reusable bags for longer shopping lists.

Be thrifty

A growing movement challenges consumers to find things they need from second-hand stores, reuse websites, garage sales and friends. The idea is to avoid buying new items (except food, toiletries, and medicine) for a one-year period.

Skip generations or upgrades

Each time a new electronic item is purchased, an old one usually needs to be discarded. Manufacturing electronics takes lots of natural resources and leaves us. If you can manage to upgrade or skip a “generation”, you may be surprised at the savings.

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Choose To Reuse!

Reuse means to use something again, either as originally intended or by getting creative and thinking of new uses. Most importantly, reuse is an alternative to throwing something away. The second “R” of the waste hierarchy (Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle) reuse expends fewer resources than recycling. Recycling recovers materials for remanufacturing into new products. Though energy and resource savings are significant through recycling, manufacturing with recycled feedstock doesn’t negate the need for energy, water and other resources that are not part of the simple act of reuse.

By reusing you: 
  • Keep items out of landfills
  • Reduce the demand for natural resources associated with making new products from virgin feed stock and/or recycled feedstock
  • Save money associated with disposal and purchase costs
  • Create jobs in the reuse industry
  • Help redistribute goods to those who can use them, at a lower cost than new
Reuse Tips 
  • Utilize reusable beverage bottles and cups, especially single-use plastic water bottles. Each year, Americans use enough water bottles to wrap around the earth 3 times. Carry your own spoon and fork. Plastic utensils cannot be recycled and do not easily break down in landfills. Bring your own and waste less.
  • Fix items that can be repaired versus buying new. You may be surprised by the money you’ll save.
  • Use rechargeable batteries. Capable of recharging up to a 1000 times, these batteries may cost less over the long run. Recycling of rechargeable batteries is widely available. 1-877-2-RECYCLE or visit http://www.call2recycle.org for more information
  • Make lunches waste free! Multi-use containers, tableware, a cloth napkin and a lunch box are all you need for a nutritious lunch and reduced waste...
  • Take clothes, appliances, shoes, handbags, belts and home goods to charities or consignment stores.
  • Take moving boxes to shipping stores and/or moving stores. Some dry cleaners will take wire hangers for reuse. Not all cleaners will accept hangers so please call ahead of time to check.
  • Many florists will take back vases.
  • Boxes and cardboard paper rolls can be used to make kids crafts.
  • Glass jars can be used for storage and as vases.

For fun recycled art crafts and tips please visit:

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Options for Reusable Items

Use the resources listed below to divert waste and conserve natural resources through reuse, upcycling, or repurposing. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Adopt A Classroom
From computers and graphing calculators to band instruments and headphones, teachers need school supplies.

Craigslist
This is a well-known website where you can post practically any item imaginable to sell or donate. Simply post a quick description of your item(s), with your location and a reasonable price, and you may quickly receive a response from interested buyers.

Freecycle
Offer, take, or request goods through this website. It’s also fun to browse and find stuff you can use! Users must register prior to viewing or posting messages.

Gigoit
Gigoit is also an online resource for folks to donate or receive items that are unwanted. Users can quickly search or donate based on their zip code.

Goodwill
Your tax-deductible donation to Goodwill helps local communities. They accept household items, clothing, accessories, furniture, working games and electronics, and more. Visit their website for a complete list of acceptable items and locations.

Habitat for Humanity ReStore
Habitat for Humanity St. Louis creates comprehensive programs for families willing to work toward building and owning their own home and giving back to the community in a meaningful way. You can donate acceptable new and reusable building supplies and materials to Habitat for Humanity. Donations can be dropped off at the ReStore (in St. Louis City) Tuesday through Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

NeighborGoods
Share goods and resources with neighbors and friends. The best part of this website is that you can borrow items you need as well!

ReSource St. Louis
After a demolition occurs, there is an opportunity to recover and reuse construction materials. ReSource St. Louis is a web-based construction and demolition materials exchange, where materials can be offered or requested.

Salvation Army
The Salvation Army accepts appliances, automobiles, furniture, clothing, and household goods. See the Donation Value Guide for a detailed list of accepted items and the corresponding value.

Savers
Savers is a global thrift retailer where you can find things from gently used clothing, accessories, to household goods.

The Upcycle Exchange
Miscellaneous items such as common household items, crafty goods, and sewing supplies are sought after at the Upcycle Exchange. Visit their website and see their wish list for a detailed request list. Support local and independent artists, designers, and crafters with your donation in exchange for coupons for handmade creations!

Please contact us with suggestions for additional outlets not included above.