Closeup of hands separating plastic bottles

It's no secret that we have a trash problem — and we're running out of places to put it.

After trash is collected from households, haulers transport waste to a transfer station or landfill but you'd be surprised how far it travels. The transfer stations sort trash from recyclables and other materials before sending them to an allocated destination — a recycling center or landfill. Once separated, recyclables are sent to centers to be prepared for reuse. Ridding of trash is complex — it's either sent to landfills that are layered allowing it to decompose naturally, sent to an incineration or waste-to-energy plant, which can be used to generate electricity, turning trash into a resource. 

However, all trash doesn't make it into the garbage — it pollutes places like lakes, rivers, oceans and the streets we walk, affecting the environment we live in. The solution isn't easy but the resolution starts at home, educating others and being mindful of what we consume. Here are some ways we can affect change by swapping sustainable items to reduce waste. 

Reusable bottles 

Reducing plastic usage has become more important than ever. Swap that plastic bottle for a reusable bottle at any of your local stores. According to the Container Recycling Institute, Americans bought more than 70 billion plastic water bottles of one gallon or less in 2018, and three out of four of them ended up in a landfill or an incinerator. I would recommend a stainless steel bottle because most of them keep your liquids hot and cold all day, and who doesn't want that? 

Reusable straws 

Straws are designed to be used once and discarded after keeping your mouth from touching the container. In the beginning of 2019, full-service restaurants in California were banned from automatically giving customers plastic straws to reduce waste. As reported by EcoCycle, about 500 million disposable straws are used by Americans every day. In 2017, straws were also ranked seventh as the most common piece of trash collected on global beaches by cleanup groups associated with the Ocean Conservancy. If you're able, ditch the straws and invest in reusable straws. 

Say goodbye to plastic bags 

A world without plastic bags seems unimaginable — we use them every day at grocery and retail stores and for throwing out waste. According to research by Ronald Geyer, Jenna R. Jambeck and Kara Lavender Law, approximately 6,300 metric tons of plastic waste was generated in 2015 — around 9 percent was recycled, 12 percent was incinerated and 79 percent was accrued in landfills or the environment. If production were to continue at the reported production data, humankind will have produced double its number by 2050.

Swap the plastic bags for compostable reusable bags or trash bags, which are made of natural plant starch and not do produce any toxic material. The most difficult process is remembering to bring those bags when making a trip to the store.

Reduce food waste

As stated in the United States Environmental Protection Agency's 2019-2020 Federal Interagency Strategy on reducing food waste, 30 percent to 40 percent of food goes uneaten through loss or waste. Before tossing out food, ask yourself if it needs to be thrown out. If food goes bad, compost it so it transforms organic waste into nutrient-rich soil. 

Reduce packaging

Packaging is all around us — boxes and plastic wraps in grocery stores, retail stores, takeout containers and e-commerce packaging from online shopping. So what can we do if this choice is not in our hands? There is no right or wrong answer because it starts with the business, but you can shop from the right businesses that do follow green packaging practices. And also, buy your most usable items in bulk. Another suggestion is to thrift for clothes in any area.