Waste Not, Want Not!

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Reduce, reuse, recycle. We have all heard those words, and we know what they mean, but are they really important? YES!

Every household, every business, every school…everyone creates waste. In this day and age, it is really hard to avoid that. However, there are things we can do to minimize our waste and dispose of it responsibly. I’ll even let you in on a little secret, however first I need to explain where our waste is currently going.  

 Here at River Bend Nature Center, we have a winter educational program that brings us into the elementary schools throughout Rice County. We discuss the importance of managing our waste and practicing the “3R’s” both in school and at home.  This program serves as a good reminder, not only to the students, but to us Environmental Educators as well.  It’s easy to forget how big of an impact we can make. Rice County is not the only county with a landfill, nor is it the only county that produces waste. This information is important to all of us, no matter where we live.  

whats in the landfill

The average landfill has many unnecessary materials. How many of these need to be in the landfill?

 

The landfill that serves the entire Rice County is located in Dundas, at the Solid Waste Facility.  All of the garbage we put at the edge of our cub, or into our dumpsters, ends up at the Rice County landfill.  Our landfill is a way to safely dispose of our waste, and when landfills follow regulations, the environmental impact is minimized. However, it is definitely not the perfect solution. We are still disrupting habitats of animals, and using valuable land for our garbage. So what is the ideal solution?

The 3R’s: REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE!

Recycling is the easiest of the 3R’s, especially in Minnesota. Rather than putting waste in the garbage can, we put our recyclable waste into a recycling bin, and someone else does all of the work.  Our recycling is single sort, which means all we have to do is put it in one bin, similar to our garbage cans. A truck will come and pick up those recyclables, and the facility they are taken to will sort them into the different categories: Plastics, Metal, Glass, and Paper. At the recycling center each of those materials are shredded, melted or broken apart. Then they are sold off to companies that make new items from the broken down materials. The profits from selling the materials helps to cover costs of the recycling center.  Are you questioning if something is recyclable? Check the bottom, and specifically look for a recycling triangle; recycling triangles with any number (1-7) are recyclable, as well as anything made of metal, glass, paper, paperboard, and cardboard. If you still have questions, visit the Rice County recycling page: http://www.co.rice.mn.us/node/2218

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Make sure you know what materials are recyclable!

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The numbers in each triangle explain what kind of plastic it is made up of. In rice county, all plastics are recyclable.

Reusing is the second easiest of the 3R’s.  Reusing involves a little bit of creativity. Rather than sending waste to the landfill, you can create something new from it. In the classrooms we visit, we take toilet paper tubes and make bird feeders. We spread vegetable shortening on the tube, roll it in bird seed, stick a popsicle stick through the base, tie a string on it, and call it a bird feeder. This is a very quick and simple reuse project. The list of possibilities goes on and on and on.  bird feeder.png

Reusing is the second easiest of the 3R’s.  Reusing involves a little bit of creativity. Rather than sending waste to the landfill, you can create something new from it. In the classrooms we visit, we take toilet paper tubes and make bird feeders. We spread vegetable shortening on the tube, roll it in bird seed, stick a popsicle stick through the base, tie a string on it, and call it a bird feeder. This is a very quick and simple reuse project. The list of possibilities goes on and on and on.

Reducing is the most difficult of the 3R’s. It takes thought, time, and planning ahead. This is also the hardest to conceptualize because it is not tangible; it is a thought process.  The main idea with reducing is just that: to reduce, or to lessen, your waste. For example, when you go to a fast food restaurant and order a meal for a child, you get a plastic toy. I remember being so excited when I got those toys because it was new and shiney. But the excitement never lasted, and when I was finished with a toy, or even more often they broke, where did they end up? The landfill. My father often encouraged me to not take those toys, even though they were awesome, because they were just food for the landfill. Another way to think about reducing waste is thinking about a picnic. Packing paper plates, plastic utensils, and paper napkins is very convenient because there are no dishes involved; we can just throw them away and forget about them. But where do they end up? The landfill.  Rather than using those disposable materials, we can use cloth napkins, metal utensils, and plates that we can wash and put back in the cupboard. In that case the only waste we create is food waste which leads us to…
compost

Composting is the bonus word for waste education. 14% of what goes into the landfill is food scraps, which can all decompose and be returned to the soil as nutrients.  However, in the landfill, engineers have discovered that decomposition creates excess gas (methane) which can create explosions and cause serious problems to the landfill.  Because landfills are packed so tightly, there is no air or space for decomposers to break the food down. Compost is broken down by worms living in the soil; they slowly eat things we throw into compost bins, and then they defecate the nutrients, returning them to the soil to be absorbed by plant life.  Rather than throwing food into the garbage and sending it to the landfill, we can put it in our compost bins, and then use that soil in our gardens to help our plants flourish.

Finally, my secret for you: the landfill in Rice County, the landfill that all of our garbage goes to, is going to reach full capacity in 20 years.  In 20 years, we are not going to have any place for our garbage to go. Up until this past year, it was estimated to last about 5 more years. Luckily, the engineers have come up with a solution to extend the life of the landfill, but I am sure we all still plan on having waste in 20 years. And at that point where will we put our garbage? Just about all of our land is currently being used for homes, schools, parks, and farms.  

Here is my challenge for us all: let’s start thinking about what to do with our waste now. Why wait until we have no more room for garbage to create a solution? Let’s focus on what we are doing with our waste now, so we can extend the life of our landfills even longer. This earth is our home, and we need to take care of it.  

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For more information:

Rice county solid waste facility:  http://www.co.rice.mn.us/node/920

Rice county recycling: http://www.co.rice.mn.us/node/2218

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