AUSTIN, Texas — The average person in the United States generates almost five pounds of trash every day, amounting to 268 million tons of trash a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
- Texas family practices zero-waste living
- Austin wants want to divert 90% of waste from landfills by 2040
- City Implementing Zero-Waste Block Leaders
The rising numbers are prompting communities across the country to work towards zero-waste goals.
Officials with the City of Austin want to divert 90 percent of waste from landfills and incinerators by 2040. One way staff is trying to hit that mark is through the help of Zero-Waste Block Leaders. They are people who pledge to promote green-minded practices and educate their neighbors about reusing, recycling, and composting. The volunteers get to pick their level of participation and choose how creative they want to be in engaging with their local communities.
Taylor Youngblood, who has been interested in sustainability since she was a child, has been a block leader in Mueller since 2014. The 35-year-old Texas native hands out the program’s flyers and door hangers, regularly posts on social media, and writes for the neighborhood’s newsletter. Last year, Youngblood started a blog called A little more green. She also collects the bulk items her neighbors want to donate and takes them to the recycle and reuse drop-off center at least once a month.
“I have a really strong passion about this. It's important to communicate to people. It’s important to be available, to make them feel like they're being heard, and that they're getting an answer and that their opinion and their question is being respected. So that is really important to me,” Youngblood said.
Youngblood is also be the go-to person in the neighborhood who gets questions about what items can be recycled. Every city recycles differently. In Austin, styrofoam, plastic bags, and plastic films must be separated and taken to the drop-off center for processing. For more information about how items are sorted click here.
“People stop me on the street, you know, ‘Hey, I had some bacon for breakfast. What do I do with my bacon drippings? I love those, and the 10 o’ clock, ‘Can I recycle my ice cream carton?’” Youngblood said.
Youngblood, her husband, and two-year-old son also try to live on as little waste as possible. She considers recycling as a last resort. She encourages composting, refusing items they do not need, as well as reusing products by swapping out disposable ones for reusable alternatives.
The Youngbloods also carry reusable cloth bags to the grocery store and buy food in bulk. For instance, they bring tin containers to put coffee beans and tea leaves in at Anderson’s Coffee Company, and they fill up Mason jars with dog biscuits at Tomlinson’s Feed. The idea is to not purchase items with packaging.
Youngblood said her young son is already participating in habits aimed at reducing single use. “Once we had him, we wanted to make a better world for him to be in, do what we could to change some things, affect systems. We didn’t really intend to get him involved or teach him this early. He has just shown interest,” Youngblood said.
Youngblood understands the zero waste movement can be intimidating for others to try at first. Her advice is to start by making small changes, which can go a long way to limit waste in landfills.
“Make more sustainable choices, small ones, just every day, a small little change, every day. It’ll build into a habit, and it’ll build into another habit, and then you’ll be on your way to starting a zero waste lifestyle,” Youngblood said.