Simple, actionable ways to reduce waste at home and on-the-go that help the planet by lowering the amount of garbage sent to landfills, and save you money at the same time.
Products IN, garbage OUT.
Imagine the typical home in the United States. Each week bags full of groceries and household goods come in the front door and each week large bags of trash go out the back.
I’ve heard from many of you who want to prioritize reducing waste in your home. You want to stop this cycle of stuff cluttering up your home and eventually heading for the landfill. We know it’s terrible for the planet and frankly, too much stuff makes us feel out of control and unhappy.
The good news is, there are lots of ways to reduce your garbage output, without drastically changing your lifestyle. All it takes is a bit of preparation and a mindful outlook toward what you bring in the front door in the first place.
Benefits of Reducing Waste
FACT: The average American produces 4.4 pounds of trash per day. That’s over 1500 pounds per year – a crazy amount!
So you can imagine how the environmental benefits of creating less waste are huge. When you create less waste you are lowering the amount of stuff sent to landfills or the incinerator, which in turn reduces greenhouse gasses and creates less pollution.
FACT: 9 million tons of plastic waste end up in the ocean every year. And 40% of that plastic is single-use. What a waste!
Read up on a few more statistics on the plastic waste crisis and you’ll want to reduce your plastic use immediately. The less plastic you buy, the less will end up in our oceans, waterways and in landfills.
FACT: For every one garbage can of waste you put out on the curb, 70 garbage cans of waste were made upstream in factories to create the stuff in that garbage you put out on the curb. (Source: Story of Stuff)
The amount of energy and materials required to create the products we use is something we don’t often think about. Using fewer products and less packaging can lead to lower pollution around the world.
FACT: Making a conscious effort to reduce waste can save you money.
For starters, buying from the bulk bins is usually cheaper than buying packaged products because you aren’t paying for the packaging and brand marketing. And when you buy only what you need – whether it’s food, clothing or other household goods, you aren’t wasting money on things that aren’t bringing value to your life.
One additional thought – depending on where you live, you might be able to switch to a smaller garbage can or even go down to one garbage pickup a month, which can lower your utility bill. Another win for a low waste lifestyle!
Is Zero Waste the Goal?
Zero waste is a popular term these days. You’ll find it splashed all over internet and popping up in books like Zero Waste Home or Zero Waste Kitchen. I even have some blog posts on the topic: Zero Waste Alternatives to Plastic Wrap and Zero Waste Swaps in the Bathroom.
Aiming for zero waste is a great aspirational goal but almost all of us (especially those of us with kids), will still have some garbage going out. Personally, I view zero waste as more of a guiding philosophy but not the specific end goal.
Zero waste is a shift in mindset to being a more eco-conscious consumer. This mindset helps us evaluate what we buy and bring into our homes in terms of its effect on the planet.
The real goal is to reduce the waste you kick to the curb each week and know that everything you do makes a difference!
How to Reduce Waste at Home
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Whether you are well on your way to a green & healthy lifestyle or are just beginning to make changes to live more naturally, there are many simple changes you can make to reduce the number of bags of garbage you carry out the back door to the garbage each week.
Read through these tips for reducing waste and see how many you can start implementing right away. Keep track of your garbage output and see how low you can go! Then leave a comment with your zero waste wins and what has worked for you so we can all learn from each other!
1. Buy Reusable, Not Disposable
Invest in durable, reusable products instead of wasteful disposables.
- Microfiber cloths or cotton cloths instead of paper towels and disposable wipes. (Here are some of my favorite reusable kitchen products and alternatives to plastic wrap.)
- A glass straw or stainless steel straw instead of single-use plastic straw.
- Reusable lunch containers and snack bags instead of plastic baggies.
- Rechargeable batteries instead of traditional.
- Reusable tableware and utensils instead of the throw-away type.
- Choose biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic. (Find lots more zero waste bathroom essentials here!)
2. Buy Products with Less Packaging
Reduce the amount of packaging waste you throw out by simply not bringing it home in the first place.
- Avoid food sold in big plastic clam-shells. There is usually an alternative way to buy the same product with less packaging.
- Look for concentrated versions of cleaning products that come in smaller bottles that can be refilled.
- Forget all those mini packages of snacks you see at the store. Buy a big box or bag and send it to school in reusable snack bags.
- Make DIY cleaning products and homemade beauty products instead of buying new.
- Purchase meat wrapped in butcher paper instead of packed on non-recyclable styrofoam trays.
- Buy package free soap
3. Refill It!!
Fill up an old container instead of buying a new one.
- Buy food from the bulk bins by bringing jars or bags from home to fill with nuts, beans, flour, granola & more.
- Pay a deposit on a glass milk jug and bring it back to be refilled when you are finished.
- Purchase cleaning products that are refillable like Grove Collaborative or ATTITUDE.
- Look for refillable beauty products like shampoo, lotion or liquid soap at your local co-op or health food store.
- Refill printer cartridges instead of buying new.
Use something you already have instead of buying something new for the job.
- Old t-shirts and towels become absorbent rags.
- Plastic yogurt tubs are great for holding crayons, paintbrushes, nails etc…
- Keep shoe boxes for storing old papers or favorite mementos.
- Egg cartons are perfect for separating craft supplies.
- Buy gently used clothing from thrift stores or consignment shops.
- Shop your basement or storage locker before buying something new
5. Be Selective
Don’t take it if you don’t need it!
- Think twice before you buy (Here’s a whole post about How to Buy Less because that’s a whole different subject!)
- Take a pass on freebies that you really won’t use.
- Don’t buy it just because it’s cheap!
6. Compost Food Waste
Turn food scraps into valuable dirt for your garden!
- Start small with a kitchen compost bucket.
- Find an outdoor space for a compost bin or tumbler.
- Let worms do the work if are up for trying vermiculture.
7. Recycle Everything You Can
Go beyond curbside recycling and commit to recycling as much as you can.
- Office supply stores often take printer cartridges and old cell phones.
- Turn in old sports shoes for recycling at participating stores or Soles4Soles.
- Fundraising programs like Terracycle take used drink pouches, yogurt cups and snack packages and turn them into useful household products.
- Bring dry cleaning bags & hangers back to the dry cleaner.
- Donate old pillows and blankets to the Humane Society.
- Donate used clothing to Goodwill or similar thrift stores.
- Research how to recycle anything at Earth911.com.
8. Be Prepared
Keep reusable items in strategic places to keep you from wasting even more.
- Take a glass straw with you everywhere you go!
- Carry a compact shopping bag in your purse or briefcase.
- Keep reusable grocery bags in your car (no excuse for forgetting them at home!)
- Store reusable utensils and a cloth napkin at your desk or in your car.
- Keep empty food storage containers with you for when the take-out bug strikes.
What have you done to reduce waste at home? I’d love to hear your wins in the comments!