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Sustainability Tip: Four tips to help reduce your plastic consumption

By William Schmick
Sustainability Tip

What does it mean to throw something “away?” Where, exactly, does it go? In the sense of our trash, nothing really goes “away;” rather “out of sight, out of mind.”

Throwing something away in a trash can will typically mean that waste will end up in the landfill. The landfill – different than a dump – is an engineered waste management system designed to reduce the impact of our trash on the environment. Its design ensures that our trash, and any related residue, does not get into our groundwater or soils. That means that what goes in the landfill stays in the landfill.

One of the easiest ways to reduce plastic consumption and landfill accumulation is to build an arsenal of reusable products: metal straws, Tupperware, portable silverware, water bottles and more.

Contrary to popular belief, trash does not break down in that environment. When the landfill is full, it is capped and sealed to stay put – it never goes away. Because of that, landfills are not infinite, and eventually the space will run out and we’ll have to find another way to manage our waste.

But what about recycling? Recycling can be a great solution to help close the loop between what we consume and the landfill, but its viability depends on the material you’re talking about. Some materials, like aluminum cans and glass bottles, can be infinitely recycled, as long as they find their way into the bin (and are accepted in your area). Many plastics, however, can really only be downcycled, eventually losing value and ending up in the landfill. Recycling works well for some materials, but the truth is that not everything can be recycled, and wishful recycling can lead to greater contamination.

In order to truly manage our waste, we need to confront the reality of throwing stuff away. It’s important to pay attention to what goes in which bin, and where that bin goes after it leaves our sight. More importantly, and perhaps even easier, is focusing on reducing our waste, as it takes a lot of the worry away and will always be the more sustainable choice.

Here are four tips to help you reduce waste:

Instead of buying, try to borrow, reuse or rent. If you do need to buy, try to buy used. And when you’ve finished with something, see if someone else may have a use for it too. The Salvation Army in Avon and the Thrifty Stores in Eagle and Edwards can help you, as can the more informal option: the Facebook group Eagle County Classifieds. A good rule of thumb when purchasing anything is to think ahead, being mindful of what you can do with it when you are done.

Avoid using plastic whenever possible. Find reusable alternatives and say no to single-use plastics when ordering take out. Bring a refillable water bottle and a bag with you when you leave the house. Create a collection of durables like metal straws, utensils and Tupperware.

Reduce your food waste and compost the scraps. This is the truest form of a closed-loop waste system in our community. Eat or give away all the food you can, and what’s left can be turned into a fresh, healthy soil amendment. Vail Honeywagon has commercial and residential compost options, and EverGreen Zero Waste has commercial pickup options.

Come see “The Story of Plastic” as part of the Sustainable Film Series. Learn more about the detriment of plastics in our environment. This film will be shown on January 13 at 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at the Riverwalk Theater in Edwards.

Sustainable Film Series Schedule

All films will show at the Riverwalk Theater at 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. In-person scheduling is subject to change to comply with public health orders.

  • “Wilder Than Wild,” Dec. 9
  • “The Story of Plastic,” Jan. 13
  • “The Need to GROW,” Feb. 10
  • “The Hottest August,” March 10
  • “2040,” April 14

William Schmick is a Sustainability Intern with Walking Mountains Science Center.


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