Step 1: Reduce
Make less waste in the first place! Buy things that last longer and have little or no packaging. Buy the big bag of chips and take your servings in reusable containers (Twelve - 1/2 ounce bags of chips make 9 times as much trash as one six - ounce bag and may cost twice as much as the bigger bag!) Buy rechargeable alkaline batteries for your toys, TV control, and boom box. They're less hazardous for the environment, make less trash, and their higher cost is offset by their longer life.
Step 2: Reuse
Give items a second, third or fourth life! Many items you normally throw away can be used again and some items are made to be used over and over. An old tire becomes a swing. A cool lunch box replaces bags that are thrown away. Toys, video games, books, and clothes you've outgrown can be sold at garage sales or given to charities.
Step 3: Recycle
You're already separating bottles, jars, cans, and paper products for recycling, and your community is collecting, processing, and selling them. But are you "closing the recycling loop" by looking for and buying items made from recycled materials? Most glass and metal containers are made with some recyclables but for paper or plastic products, look for the recycling symbol and the words "made with post-consumer recycled content" on their labels.
Step 4: Compost
Yard waste and food scraps (vegetables -- no meat please) are not garbage -- they're future soil. By composting these items in your backyard, you can make a rich humus that improves soil, making garden plants grow better. Composting duplicates natures natural decomposition process in your backyard.
Step 5: Burn trash to make energy
You can't do this, but your local power plant may want to give it a try. Each ton of solid waste has enough energy in it to equal 70 gallons of gasoline! Many coal-burning power plants are burning old junk mail, tires, and broken toys to make electricity. Is yours?
Step 6: Throw it away in a landfill
If you've tried steps one through five and still have some trash left over, than you'll probably have to put it in a landfill. Landfills are an improvement over the old dumps of the past. They're a place where trash can be buried in a safe manner with minimum risk to the environment.
Step 7: Burn without making energy
Incinerating or burning trash without making energy is the last thing we want to do with our trash. Burning trash at home harms human health and the environment and is illegal in many parts of Wisconsin. Some communities may operate big incinerators that burn trash under very strict environmental controls.
No single step can solve our waste disposal problems. Each option has side effects that must be considered when we're selecting the best solution to each solid waste problem.