5 Ways Your Family Can Reduce Waste in 2021

While recycling volumes are up since the pandemic began, unfortunately, so is the amount of trash.

We can’t end the pandemic, but we can empower ourselves to stem the tide of waste flowing into landfills.

While the pandemic may be saving us commuting time or dollars spent on dry cleaning, it may have increased the time you spend washing dishes and money spent on craft supplies. If you feel like you have more trash because you’re spending so much time at home, you’re not wrong. And you’re not alone.

Wake County Solid Waste facilities experienced a 200 percent increase in cardboard recycling in May 2020 compared to the year prior. Like other communities in the Triangle, the increase in cardboard is largely attributed to the rise of online ordering to avoid shopping in stores because of COVID.

While recycling volumes are up since the pandemic began, unfortunately, so is the amount of trash.

The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day have long been recognized by waste haulers as their busiest time of the year. But like so many things about 2020, the annual peak was even higher: Wake County Convenience Centers saw a 30 percent increase in garbage in November 2020 compared to one year earlier.

So, what can you do?

While solid waste experts in the Triangle don’t have a crystal ball to predict the end of this pandemic, they do have lessons from the past to offer us guidance for the uncertain future.

Orange, Chatham and Wake Counties, plus some of our larger universities, do periodic waste characterization studies. These deep dives—which involve gathering trash bound for the landfill and sorting it into as many as 40 different categories—offer us a collective “report card.” (See Wake County studies here and Chatham County studies here.)

Based on those findings, here are some tips to increase your family’s positive impact on the community we all call home.


5 Things To Know To Reduce Your Family’s Waste & Keep the Triangle’s Environment Healthy

1. Food rules.


“It’s the heaviest thing, by far, that we throw away,” a spokesperson for Wake County Government Recycling says.

Sending less food to landfills can help reduce the impact of climate change. Some ways to be more mindful of your food waste:

  • Shop with a list
  • Meal-plan
  • Freeze leftovers
  • Use recipe sites to help you use items before they go bad
  • Try composting
  • Use spent coffee grounds and banana peels to fertilize garden soil
  • Use over-ripe food in soups, sauces, smoothies, etc.


2. Donate appropriately.

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Pictured: How not to donate.

Without enough foresight, your good deed, unfortunately, can go bad.

Before you bring a big bag of clothes to the secondhand store, check thrift stores’ websites to find out what they can accept. Store needs—as well as donation drop-off days and hours—may have changed because of COVID.

Leaving clothes next to full containers or closed stores isn’t just rude, it also leaves clothes exposed to rain that can ruin them.


3. Skip the single-use plastics.

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Recyclers want your soda and shampoo bottles, but there are no markets in the Triangle for small, brittle and odd-shaped plastics like forks and straws.

Do your part to reduce the amount of these items in our landfills:

  • Support your favorite restaurants by ordering takeout, but get comfortable telling cashiers “I don’t need the straw” when they hand you a to-go drink.
  • If a restaurant offers the option to opt out from cutlery and condiments in online ordering, send them an email or compliment them on social media to let them know you appreciate it.
  • Choose reusables (bottles, lunch bags, shopping bags) when eating at home or having a picnic.


4. Borrow instead of buying.


After watching public libraries close temporarily, we’ll never take them for granted again. But books aren’t the only things we can share safely.

If you’re lucky enough to live near one of the board game cafes that have popped up in the Triangle region, check them out to try a new game.

Nextdoor or neighborhood listservs can also be good ways to borrow puzzles or tools.


5. Pause before you purge.

Wake County Recycling Guide

We can’t avoid producing waste, but we can all make smart choices about how we dispose of it to protect our families, the waste workers we rely on, and the air and water we share.

Communities—including Apex, Cary, Durham, and Wake Forest—offer apps where you can easily search for items to discern how to dispose of them and whether or not they are recyclable.

Don’t need more apps on your phone? The same technology is available on towns’ websites. Communities without searchable tools still usually have a list of the items that can be recycled and links to dispose of potentially hazardous items such as motor oil and propane tanks.

Ready to do your part and reduce waste?

Wake County Waste & Recycling Quick Links:

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