It's been said before that the most important of the three R's—reduce, reuse, and recycle—is the first. The best way to keep garbage out of landfills is not to make so much of it in the first place. It's a notion that's starting to take hold across America, where some communities and restaurants are going waste-free. According to the New York Times, the community of Nantucket has a stringent recycling and trash sorting program that has caused the percentage of residents' trash that is landfill-bound to drop to 8 percent, compared with 66 percent for the rest of Massachusetts. Their mentality is similar to that of many Europeans, who generate far less waste than Americans: After all, if your trash was only picked up a few times a month, you wouldn't want to make much of it either. Restaurants and corporations are getting in on the act, too, by composting their food waste, and Honda has jettisoned their dumpsters at eight plants—recycling has eliminated the need.
The Times' waste-free story was fortuitously timed to coincide with the first No Impact Week. You'll recall Colin Beavan, the New Yorker who tried to live with the smallest possible impact on the planet for a year, taking his wife and daughter down the rabbit hole with him, and emerging with a book deal. Beavan found that a waste-free lifestyle with a tinier footprint actually made him a happier person. He thinks it could make you happier, too. So with his non-profit, the No Impact Project, Beavan has designed a one-week program that encourages anyone to replicate his feat (or stunt), and decide how they feel: inconvenienced? satisfied? restricted? relaxed? Each day has a different focus, from food to transportation to energy. And this week—the Inaugural No Impact Week—Monday's focus was on eliminating trash. Another blog, EcoSalon, has accounced the beginning of "Trashless Tuesday" to encourage waste-free living at least one day a week (The day is a companion to "Meatless Monday," an initiative that goes back to World War I).
The point of Beavan's take-home experiment is that participants can decide which of the tasks are easy enough to maintain forever, but trash is a toughie when everything we buy comes double-wrapped. Here are some tips to minimize the amount of trash you make each week.