Each year, Americans create more than 210 million tons of trash — and Vermonters themselves contribute more than 380,000 tons to this total.

Ben Franklin is recognized as a Founding Father of our nation, but he’s not so nearly well known as a Founding Father of proper solid waste management. Disgusted by the garbage piling up in the avenues and alleys of Philadelphia, Franklin created America’s first street cleaning system, way back in 1757.

Times have certainly changed. We no longer throw garbage into the streets, but instead send it to landfills, incinerators, and recycling centers. Could we still do better? The answer is a resounding yes! The best way to take care of our trash is to not produce it in the first place, which saves resources and reduces concerns about waste disposal. As Ben Franklin said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Consider these one dozen ways to produce less trash and dispose of it properly.

  1. Before you buy something — anything — ask yourself: Do I need it? Are the resources that went into it renewable or non-renewable? How many hours will I have to work to pay for it? Could I borrow this item from a friend or rent it rather than purchase it? Is this an impulse buy or is this something I truly need?
  2. Buy high-quality, durable goods which will outlast similar goods that are less expensive but poorly made. Not only does this save natural resources, you can save money by purchasing reusable goods that last longer than disposable items.
  3. Avoid buying products with excessive packaging and items not easily recycled. Give preference to products with no packaging, little packaging, and packaging with recycled content.
  4. Cook from scratch and buy in bulk. In addition to being cheaper and healthier, it's also better for the environment. For example, compare a large bag of rice that contains 100 servings and costs $8 against a laminated box of prepared rice that contains 3 servings and costs $2.19. You would need 33 laminated and dyed boxes to equal one bag of plain rice. In addition to a cost savings of more than $64, those 100 servings of prepared rice may well contain 62,000 milligrams more sodium than the plain rice.
  5. Shop with reusable bags. Forget the paper versus plastic conundrum. Instead, buy a cloth bag once and use it for years.
  6. Compost food and yard scraps. By buying or building a compost bin, piling the right mix of organic materials inside it, keeping those materials moist, and turning them over periodically to expose them to fresh air, you can have compost that is ready to use in a matter of months.
  7. Always buy paper and other products with a high post-consumer recycled content. Recycling only works when you buy recycled. You can also save a tremendous amount of paper in the home and office by making double-sided copies.
  8. When you head off to the cafeteria or coffee shop, remember your personal mug. All those papercups and little plastic domes add up.
  9. Reuse your containers. Rinsed out glass and plastic containers make great storage containers for food and hardware.
  10. Refill and reuse your propane tanks. If you must discard a tank, empty it completely and bring it to a scrap metal dealer.
  11. Never burn your trash. Backyard burning only transforms solid waste into an air pollution problem. Depending upon what gets burned, the human health and environmental risks associated with such pollution are considerable. It's also against the law.
  12. You get on average 34 pounds of junk mail each year. You didn’t ask for it, but you can ask to make some of it go away. Ways to do this include writing to the Direct Marketing Association and telling it to stop its members from sending you unsolicited mail. The address is:
  • Direct Marketing Association
    Mail Preference Service
    P.O. Box 9008
    Farmingdale, NY 11735

    You can also direct the three major credit bureaus not to sell your demographic data to direct marketers and list brokers. The addresses are:

    Equifax Options
    Equifax Marketing Decision
    P.O. Box 740123
    Atlanta, GA 30374-0123

    Trans Union
    555 West Adams Street, 8th Floor
    Chicago, IL 60661

    Experian Inc.
    505 City Parkway West
    Orange, CA 92868

    Notify the major mailing list companies to take your name off the lists they sell to direct marketers. The addresses are:

    R.L. Polk & Co.
    List Compilation and Development
    6400 Monroe Blvd.
    Taylor, MI 48180-1814

    Donnelly Marketing Inc.
    Data Base Operations
    1235 N. Avenue
    Nevada, IA 50201