How Earth Works

Earth 911 -- Thinking Globally

Jay Directo/Stinger/AFP/Getty Images A Greenpeace activist shows electronic waste during a press conference in Manila.

If you look at the "Think Globally" section on the left side of the Earth 911 home page, you'll find a list of topics that will get you thinking about how you and your habits affect the globe. Listed under this section are a number of key environmental issues you can examine.

For example, you'll find recycling listed here. An ever-increasing trend, currently the United States recycles over 32 percent of its waste, and the amount of waste that is recycled has doubled just within the past 15 years [source: EPA]. San Francisco boasts a citywide recycling rate of 69 percent [source: San Franciso Office of the Mayor]. Earth 911 provides information on what items are recyclable, and some of them may surprise you, like that old audio equipment or those cans of paint. The Web site's recycling section provides information on how to recycle, why to recycle and what to recycle. Other recycling topics include the following:

  • Curbside recycling is one of the best ways to encourage citizens to recycle. A study in Kansas City, Mo. showed that residents are more likely to recycle if given access to bins and increased curbside pickups [source: Recycling Today]. Earth 911 also maintains a partner site called Recycle Curbside.
  • E-waste (or electronic waste) is a relatively new term used to describe the old computers and cell phones that sit around collecting dust. Electronics account for 40 percent of the lead found in landfills nationwide [source: Eligon]. Earth 911 provides ideas for reuse as well as a list of manufacturers who will take back your e-waste.
  • Hazardous household waste (HHW) is any leftover household product that contains potentially hazardous ingredients. Paint, motor oils, batteries and pesticides are a few examples of HHW [source: EPA]. Earth 911 shows users how to properly dispose of such products.

Product stewardship is the practice of considering the entire lifecycle of a product. As the term implies, it means becoming a steward, or representative, for a product, and taking responsibility for its effect on the environment. Manufacturers are urged to take into account the environmental impact of their products -- from design to production to use to recycle -- and begin taking steps toward making their products eco-friendly and sustainable [source: Product Stewardship Institute].

For consumers, product stewardship is about making responsible decisions with their shopping dollar. Earth 911's product stewardship section lists examples of products manufactured by companies that display good product stewardship. For example, you might remember that in the 1970s and 1980s, McDonald's packaged its fast-food in Styrofoam containers. Styrofoam clogs up landfills and does not biodegrade. In 1990, McDonald's made the decision to switch from the plastic foam packaging to more earth-friendly paper packaging [source: Holusha]. This action is an example of product stewardship. Product stewardship also comes into play when you shop green.

Green shopping is ensuring the materials and goods you purchase have a low (or lower) environmental impact. Some consider this philosophy controversial; critics complain that the focus is on consumption rather than reduction [source: Williams]. Earth 911 supports green shopping in conjunction with other actions. Its green shopping section provides information about eco-friendly shopping, pointing out the many ways consumer dollars can make a positive environmental impact. The site recommends buying in bulk, in recyclable/reusable containers and choosing long-lasting items (for example, a "real" camera instead of a disposable).

Another way to reduce your household's contribution to landfills is through composting. The food scraps and yard trimmings we throw away each year contribute to 24 percent of the United States' solid waste stream [source: EPA]. Instead of sending it to a landfill, we can use that waste in the garden. The Earth 911 Web site provides information on mulching, tools for composting and common myths about composting.

The "Think Globally" section of Earth 911 also houses a directory of environmental topics, which provides information on everything from climate change to water conservation. All of these topics tie into the concepts of recycling and product stewardship, which is even more proof of how our daily choices affect the environment on a global level.

Now that you know how to act globally, let's learn how Earth 911 promotes acting locally.