We are to some extent what we throw out in that we are becoming increasingly buried and consumed by waste from our daily activities.
Landfilling is no longer as good an option as it once was because we are simply running out of landfill space. In addition, landfills tend to fail. Chemicals put in sanitary landfills leak and often find their way into the ground and into the groundwater. That, in turn, contaminates drinking water supplies.
And the idea of incineration is not as exciting as it once was. We know now that even the best incinerators may result in the discharge of metals into the environment, causing environmental and health risks to nearby residents.
So what can a homeowner do to be pro-environmental in how he or she lives? Recycling is of course a very good start. The more we recycle, the less ends up in our trash stream, the less we have to landfill or burn.
But in Oklahoma, they recognize that there is a better, more efficient way of eliminating what ends up in our landfills and our incinerators: use less stuff to begin with. And that notion has resulted in what has become an annual "let's use less stuff" week in Oklahoma. This event runs each April.
The program has been successful in advising Oklahomans of the importance of using only what is necessary. In this era of super size this and super size that, Americans need to understand that supersizing results in super waste.
The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality actively promotes its "use less stuff" program. The agency acknowledges that in the United States we have a strong consumer culture with an attitude that we can throw things away and always replace them with new and better things. According to the Department of Environmental Quality "most of our citizens have lost the connection of their shopping choices to the many eco-system services that are required for production and transportation before they make a purchase."
The EPA says that Americans throw out over four pounds of garbage each day. When one considers the resources that it takes to make the materials that are disposed, this amounts to a significant amount of wasted natural resources.
This is in addition to the fact that energy is required to haul waste to landfills and incinerators and energy is required to operate these waste facilities. By simply using less, we help protect our environment and we make this a safer and more healthy place to live.
People should develop more efficient purchasing habits which can become second nature. The goal of using less stuff is to support the notion of sustainability. Sustainability means purchasing just enough to support the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Oklahoma does not just give this use less stuff lip service. Its Department of Environmental Quality has a website devoted just to this issue; it produces newsletters and supplies support for this program on a daily basis. In Oklahoma, this is not just a one-week promotion, but rather it is urged as a means of lifestyle for every Oklahoman.
In their newsletters, the Department of Environmental Quality has an interesting segment called "the secret life of stuff" where it tracks how much energy is associated with mundane kinds of things that we all take for granted. For example in one newsletter, it traces the amount of energy involved in drinking coffee. In a well written detailed article, it states that if you drink two cups of coffee, you will consume 34 gallons of coffee a year made from 18 lbs. of beans. Columbia farms have 12 coffee trees growing to support a single person's habit. That means farmers will apply 11 pounds of fertilizer and a few ounces of pesticides. Columbia's rivers will swell with 43 pounds of coffee pulp. There is also the harmful effect from the cow manure necessary to produce the cream for coffee and run off of that manure into nearby surface streams.
Yes, the choices we make every single day have secret effects on our environment. The use less stuff campaign is a wonderful campaign that raises awareness and should be adopted across the United States.