When you throw something away, do you know where “away” is?

For Montclair, “away” is the Ironbound section of Newark, less than 10 miles away. Every day hundreds of diesel trucks deliver trash from Montclair, Essex County, and parts of New York City to the Covanta incinerator, which burns 2,800 tons a day. 

The Ironbound is one of the most polluted neighborhoods in America due to the many facilities spewing toxins into the air and water. Burning garbage emits greenhouse gases, contributes to the climate crisis and is more harmful than burning coal. Dirty energy is being greenwashed as renewable, taking government subsidies away from actual renewable energy, such as wind and solar.

Newark residents experience higher rates of cancer and asthma. It is no accident that this industrial wasteland is located in a poor, Black and brown community. To learn more about environmental justice work in Newark, I highly recommend the documentary film “The Sacrifice Zone.” 

So, what can we do? Reduce the amount of trash we generate. 

Food waste is the largest category of household trash. The average U.S. household wastes nearly one-third of the food it buys. In the United States, food waste is responsible for twice as many greenhouse emissions as flying. 

Tips to reduce food waste include: Make a weekly meal plan and buy ingredients only for those meals. As much as 55% of food purchases are unplanned, which leads to food spoilage and waste. Inventory your fridge and pantry before food shopping. Freeze or eat your leftovers. Find a local food swap group to share leftovers or produce before it goes bad.

Despite our best intentions, food does spoil, and food prep does generate scraps. Avoid throwing food into your trash and sending it to burn in Newark. Compost your food scraps. If you love the idea of composting but it’s more than you can handle, hire a service to pick up or drop off for free at Montclair Community Farms. If composting isn’t possible, a garbage disposal will keep your food waste out of the incinerator.

Whenever possible, avoid single-use disposable products and plastic packaging, and replace them with reusable products. A few ideas to reduce other types of kitchen waste: reusable cloths, not paper towels; “naked” produce, not wrapped in plastic; cotton net produce bags, not plastic produce bags; laundry powder, not a plastic jug of detergent. Refuse utensils in your takeout order.

Recycling paper, glass and cans for curbside recycling pickup is still an important component of managing household waste.  Keep it out of the trash. However, as we’ve all seen in the news, only 5% of plastic is actually recycled; the rest ends up landfilled, incinerated or washed up on foreign shores. The best action is to refuse that plastic container.

Montclair Climate Action is hosting an online event to share more ideas and information on managing waste and trash on Feb. 28 at 8 p.m.  Check the MCA website for details. Join us!