October is Zero Waste Month! What does that Mean to Me?

We’re all familiar with the 3 R’s from grade school: Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic.

Now it’s time for each of us to commit to adding 4 “new” R’s: Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

Why should we care?

In 2020, the latest year we have data, our county threw away over 490,000,000 pounds (245,000+ tons) of items that could have been recycled or composted. That’s almost 500 pounds of waste per resident that could be eliminated from the incinerator. How does this data break down? Take a look at what we tossed into our garbage:

  • 98K tons food
  • 42K tons non-recyclable paper
  • 33K tons film plastic
  • 28K tons textile / carpet / mattresses
  • 18K tons rigid plastic
  • 15K tons wood waste (e.g., pallets)
  • 8K tons electronics
  • 4K tons shopping bags
  • 300 tons tires
  • 20 tons batteries

What’s the impact of tossing vs. the 4R’s?

Waste that goes into our county’s incinerator generates greenhouse gasses which negatively impacts climate change and the health of our residents. Burning of waste also produces some of the worst toxic air pollutants, including arsenic, fine particulates, nitrogen oxides, mercury and many more. In fact, the incinerator is the largest stationary emitter of greenhouse gas and other hazardous emissions in our county. By eliminating waste, we can change the climate impacts of our county’s from a net negative to a net positive.

How do the 4R’s relate to Zero Waste?

We’re tossing too many items that could be properly disposed of through Reduce, Reuse, or Recycle. Zero Waste is a strategy that encompasses these behaviors in addition to others, such as materials recovery, to eliminate as much waste as possible that goes to landfills or incinerators.

What can we do to make a difference?

Designating October as Zero Waste month gives us all an opportunity to think about the impact we can make now and for future generations. We may not ever get to zero waste, but every pound we eliminate from our garbage bag can make a world of difference. We can all start by applying the 4R’s right now:

Rethink each purchase decision. Do we really need this?

Reduce what gets tossed in the garbage. Are you buying only what you can use? If a food item something needs to be tossed, can it be composted?

Reuse what you have before you go out to buy something new. This may include repurposing or repairing. There are so many opportunities to get creative here.

Recycle before you toss. Even if it’s “just one person” or “just one aluminum can”, it all makes a big difference when multiplied by all one million residents.

What new habits can you start this October in your journey to Zero Waste?

For more Zero Waste resources:

Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection has recently moved to a new building in downtown Wheaton. You can bring your used batteries here for recycling.


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