The holidays are a time for enjoyment and celebration. As we aspire to be more mindful and aware of the foods we put in our bodies during this time, why not also consider making thoughtful choices that will positively impact the environment around us?
Most of us are unaware of how the waste we generate on a daily basis directly impacts our health globally and personally. Let’s explore how waste affects the environment around us, and more importantly, how we can endeavor to be kinder to the planet both this holiday season and throughout the year.
Trash, where does it all go?
The holiday season naturally brings various festive celebrations focused on food and gift exchange. Given the large gathering of individuals, disposable plates, cups, napkins, and flatware are often used. Typically, we chuck these items in the trashcan after use without much thought. The high numbers of gift exchange also generates significant amounts of trash, much of which cannot be recycled. Have you ever thought about where our trash goes after pickup? Did you know in most cases it is either buried or burned to ash in landfills?
How much trash do we produce?
In 2013, the most recent estimate from the EPA, Americans produced 254 million tons of trash. During the holiday season, which is typically considered from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, American households generate 25% more trash, which translates to about 1 million more tons of trash. Can you visualize that? The empire state building weighs 365,000 tons, so we are talking about ~6 empire state buildings worth of extra trash generated during this time. I find this alarming, yet also see opportunity. With simple, small changes in the choices we make, we can drastically reduce this number.
Why does it matter how much trash is produced?
While presently landfills are not at a scarcity, the world population continues to grow at a rapid pace. In conjunction with the destruction of natural resources, lack of space for landfills will likely become a challenge for future generations. This however is not the only concern. Did you know that landfill waste causes pollution of air, ground water, and soil? While the health implications may not seem obvious at first, this directly impacts the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil that nourishes the food we consume on a daily basis. The truth is that ultimately our individual and collective health will be affected on some level.
Recent studies found that foul odor from landfills caused respiratory problems and irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat, often the first organs exposed to environmental toxins. Hydrogen sulfide is one of the toxic gases released from landfill wastes known to cause such symptoms. Other studies have found an association between landfill gas with headaches, nausea, and difficulty breathing.
What can I do to reduce trash?
If we all challenge ourselves to take one small step to reduce the waste we produce, the collective impact will be quite significant. The key is to explore where in our own lives we can make different choices. Below are some suggestions to serve as a catalyst for your own ideas.
Since much of the time during the holiday season is spent outside the home consider these possibilities as a few simple ways to be environmentally friendly this holiday season:
Forego the plastic straw while dining at restaurants.
Carry a reusable bag in your purse or keep it in the car to use for all your holiday shopping from groceries to gifts.
Use a ceramic or stainless steel reusable mug at your favorite tea or coffee establishment.
Recycle the glass bottle or aluminum can versus tossing in the conveniently located trash can (this may require an extra step, such as taking it home to recycle or bringing to a drop off center).
Are there more ways to reduce trash?
Already doing the above and wondering if there are other steps you could take? Consider the following:
Use compostable dining and flatware this holiday season. Merely switching to compostable dinner and flatware then throwing it in the trash is not the solution. After use, either compost yourself or give to a local compostable service, which will reduce the amount of waste going to landfills.
Choose recyclable gift-wrap this holiday season. Most shiny, laminated wrapping paper cannot be recycled. Also consider finding more sustainable ways to gift-wrap, such as using newspaper, paper bags, or fabric.
Compost food waste. The food waste that ends up in landfills when buried produces methane gas and is difficult to burn. Giving food waste back to nature to decompose results in highly nutrient rich soil, which can then be used to grow foods that nourish our bodies.
While it may not initially seem that the waste we generate has much direct impact on our lives or to our health, hopefully one can start to see the subtle yet substantial ways it actually does. Will you consider making different choices in honor of the environment this holiday season?
With a heart full of hope, I am fondly reminded of Margaret Mead’s quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Interested in learning more ways in which the environment can impact your health? Please contact the office at 813-644-9384 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to schedule an appointment. Reshma Patel, M.D. is Board certified in both Internal Medicine and Integrative Medicine practicing in the Tampa Bay area in Florida. She is passionate about using nutrition and lifestyle choices to help heal the body as well as increasing environmental consciousness.
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