How to reduce the 4 million tons of trash generated each day

WASHINGTON — Here’s a stat that stinks: Around the world, people throw away about 4 million tons of trash each day — or roughly 2.6 pounds of trash per person.

And in the U.S., the majority of that garbage goes straight to the country’s 2,000 landfills, where it can sit for years (450 years for a disposable diaper and 1 million years for a glass bottle). 

In her new book, “This Book Stinks: Gross Garbage, Rotten Rubbish and the Science of Trash,” Sarah Wassner Flynn breaks down the dirty details surrounding trash and the best ways to minimize it.

Click through the gallery below for her tips on cleaning up the planet, one piece of garbage at a time.

Make recycling part of the routine Sarah Wassner Flynn says the biggest and easiest way to reduce the amount of waste in the world is to recycle. Fifty years ago, few people knew about recycling. Now, it’s a common practice that many households, businesses and cities adapt. “Hopefully, every child [today] understands what recycling is,” Wassner Flynn said. Recycling bins are common in school cafeterias and fast-casual restaurants, and lessons on converting waste into reusable materials are part of many classrooms’ curricula. But Wassner Flynn wants to see recycling become an even bigger part of the daily routine — “like brushing your teeth or like flushing the toilet,” she said. “And I think the more that kids and families are aware of the impact that recycling has just coming from your house, the bigger difference we can make.” (Thinkstock)
Make recycling part of the routine Her book, “This Book Stinks: Gross Garbage, Rotten Rubbish and the Science of Trash,” goes through a list of recyclable items and shows young readers all of the things — from fashion to houses to toys — that can be made from recycled materials. “Even though they’re these tiny little people on the planet and one of millions and millions of people, the little impact [children] can make can really turn into a big difference, starting with recycling.” This photo shows shoes made from using recycled newspapers designed by Taiwanese fashion designer Colin Lin. Lin’s environmentally friendly footwear company produces shoes and tote bags for green-minded consumers around the world.  (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Educate yourself on e-waste In recent years, e-waste — or electronic waste — has become a big deal, both figuratively and literally. Wassner Flynn says the average person produces 66 pounds of e-waste each year and the total is only expected to increase.  “We’re talking about appliances like washing machines, dryers, ovens as people renovate their homes, getting rid of those old appliances, and then of course, so many smartphones and computers are tossed every day, to the tune of 50 million tons around the world,” said Wassner Flynn, who added that together, the U.S. and China produce about one-third of the world’s e-waste. “It’s kind of something that people don’t really think about because it’s not the stinky trash image that you conjure up when you’re thinking about trash.”  (AP Photo/Gautam Singh)
Educate yourself on e-waste There is a way to curb this rising concern, however. Wassner Flynn says designated recycling centers take in electronic waste and some retail outlets, such as Target and Best Buy, house recycling bins for cellphones and other small electronic devices. Upcycling or repurposing electronics is another way to get rid of tech materials. “So donating to a place that can take the parts or to somebody who likes to tinker around, you know, fool with old computers and phones, that’s a great way to discard responsibly versus just throwing it in the trash,” Wassner Flynn said. (Associated Press/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Combat food waste with composting “Food waste is a huge concern,” Wassner Flynn said. “The average American family throws away about $1,500 worth of food every year.”  There are ways to cut down on food waste in the kitchen, such as taking smaller portions, cooking with sour milk and mixing brown bananas in smoothies, but for scraps that can’t be salvaged, Wassner Flynn says to throw them in a compost pile, not a landfill. While food only makes up about 14 percent of the 2 million tons of trash that end up in U.S. landfills each year, 96 percent of the food that gets thrown out could be composted. But only 3 percent of Americans compost their trash.  (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Combat food waste with composting “Some families might think [composting] is too much of an effort or it’s just a little too complicated,” Wassner Flynn said. But it doesn’t have to be. Most home and garden stores sell composting bins at a low price point, and Wassner Flynn’s book offers tips on how to build a simple backyard composting bin at home. “You can even use worms to compost — just getting your kids involved and getting these crazy little creepy crawlers to break down your food and create soil that you can then use in your garden. It’s a really cool, tangible effect that kids can see what’s happening and going from trash to soil in their garden. I mean, nothing can be cooler than that,” Wassner Flynn said.   (Associated Press/Dawn Villella)
Organize, mobilize, cleanup  The final bit of advice Wassner Flynn offers is to get active and clean up your community. Locate a road, park or pond that needs some extra attention and send out a save-the-date to neighbors and friends. Supply trash bags, gloves and snacks, and get to work. A few hours of cleaning up a small space can make a big difference. “We just want to empower our kids to get out there and protect the planet. Earth Day is coming up, and there’s no better time to do it,” Wassner Flynn said.   (Thinkstock)

Correction: A previous version said, “The average American family throws away about $1,500 worth of food every day.” This has been changed to “year.” 

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