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In Case You Missed It: Away Is Not a Place

“Just throw it away.”

I’m sure that’s a common thing you’ve heard or even said, and it’s usually in reference to what we think of as being ‘trash’. It’s an interesting sentence since a quick Google search shows that Away isn’t actually a place.

So where is your trash going?

When I think about ‘away’, I’m reminded of when I was younger and would tell my older brother to “Go away!” At that moment, I didn’t really care where he went, I just wanted him away from me. I fear we have the same attitude toward the waste we generate.

We often don’t care where discarded waste ends up, we just want it away from our house, office, or the world around us.  But too often, in that state of not caring, the discarded material ends up in the wrong place – on the ground as litter, or in the recycling container as contamination. 

Here at the University of Kentucky, the Waste Management and Recycling team is very conscious using the phrase “Place in the landfill container” instead of “Just throw it away“. Although the waste discarded in both of these instances ends up in the same container, the two sentences are very different. The landfill container tells you exactly where Away is. 

But, it’s easier to think of where our waste goes as Away. There are far less strings attached. It’s almost a magic trick – throw it away and it magically disappears. If we don’t know where it goes, its not our problem anymore and we don’t see the wasteful path we create. 

It takes more energy to figure out whether something is recyclable or if it should be placed in a landfill container, so oftentimes we take the easy path: just throw it away.

I’m not going to tell you that recycling isn’t confusing – it absolutely can be. Thankfully, we have a really cool article that sorts out some of those questions, check it out!

That’s the key to our waste issues. We have to have the initiative and energy to find the answers; to figure out where our waste needs to go in order to for it to be handled responsibly. 

If we’re going to move toward a more sustainable future, we have to care about where our waste is going and recognize that Away isn’t a place. The best and arguably the most difficult solution to our waste crisis is to generate less. Are there more sustainable swaps you can implement in your life to create less waste?

Here are few resources to help you along your waste reduction journey:

  • Zero Waste Lifestyle Tips – Read these articles to find out how UK Recycling intern Olivia Tussey implements zero waste practices in her daily shopping and personal care and when cleaning.
  • Analyze Your Waste – Use our handy waste audit worksheet to figure out how much waste you create and areas you can start to work on. 
  • Reuse Resource Map – Be creative with items you no longer want. Can you donate items to community members? Can the items be fixed? Check out this map for local stores that accept donations and for repair shops!
  • What to Recycle? – Take the time to learn what is recyclable – and not just in the general recycling containers. Are there other items (batteries, lightbulbs, electronics, etc.) you can recycle? 

A sustainable life is possible, but it takes us, together, making small choices to make a much bigger impact.

Originally published July 1st, 2021

Katherine Johnson

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