One of the best quotes I have heard is “Waste is the Earth’s enemy”. Not sure where I heard it, but it cannot be more true. We can reduce waste at home without making major changes to how we live and help to reduce our carbon footprint.
There are lots of buzz phrases about zero-waste living, which is great that there has been an increased awareness around reduced consumerism. However, zero waste is a lofty goal and is quite unrealistic (at least in my household it is!). But over the years I have worked really hard to reduce waste at home as much as possible.
10 ways to reduce waste at home
Reduce food waste by meal planning and utilizing leftovers
First, it is helpful to take inventory of what you often throw out and why. Did you purchase too much? Had grand plans to make it, but ambitions are too high? Did not find the time to cook?
Start with being more realistic with yourself and purchasing less. Even if you do have a goal to eat more at home and cook more (which is great and better for the environment), start slow. Maybe start with making a point to cook one additional meal at home? Or bring leftovers/lunch to work 3x/week.
How can you use fewer fresh ingredients in the beginning? Can you opt for frozen veggies until you get the hang of utilizing all your vegetables? Can you start by purchasing pre-chopped/sliced vegetables?
Try freezing large portions. Many foods can be frozen like meats, which can be super helpful to reduce waste. Right after shopping, you can freeze portions of meats, some of your vegetables, breads, etc. Some whole meals can also be frozen like soups, chilis, and casseroles.
If intense meal planning isn’t up your alley, try something with less planning like having ‘theme nights. This has worked for many clients. Instead of planning exactly what you are going to make have a rough idea of the kind of meals when you go to the grocery store, such as pasta night, taco night, noodle night, pizza night, etc. That way you get the base of what you need and will have some system going into the grocery store.
Refill cleaning/beauty products
In Charlottesville Virginia, we have two of the most amazing refill stores. Dogwood Refillery and Refill Renew. This is where you take your empty (or not-so-empty) bottles and bring them to the store to refill. They have everything from laundry detergent, shampoo, hand soap, bathroom cleaner, floor cleaner, vinegar (!!), lotion, etc.
Swap single plastic use products
Take inventory of single plastic use in your home and think about what you can replace it with
Unfortunately single plastic use products are everywhere. Try some of these single-plastic use swaps to cut down on plastic waste
- Reusable food storage containers instead of Ziplock bags
- Real silverware instead of plastic
- Purchase snacks in bulk/large containers and put into reusable containers instead of single-use ones like nuts, chips, yogurt, etc
- Bar soap instead of body wash
- Brew pots of coffee instead of Keurig cups
- Metal straws instead of plastic straws
Composting is not difficult to do at home. You can even do it in an apartment. Composting is when you take organic material like food scraps, backyard material like leaves, and certain paper products and turn it into a nutrient-rich amendment.
This article from the EPA does a good job of overviewing what can and cannot be composted and how to do it at home. There are certain compostable PLA plastics that can only be composted in professional composting facilities.
If you do not want to compost at home, do a quick google search of compositing facilities in your town/city and see if they offer home services.
Many farmer’s markets will also have compost bins set up where you can bring weekly your composting materials.
New things require more manufacturing and more materials to be made. Often you can find some great used products, clothes, furniture, and appliances that not only will save you money, but helps reduce the amount of what will eventually get tossed and what needs to be created from scratch.
One of my favorite ways to shop for used clothes is a company called Thred up. I do not enjoy clothes shopping, so this is a great way to purchase used clothing online.
Switch to a reusable water bottle, or coffee cup and carry out bags
It is estimated that each year about 60 million plastic water bottles end up in landfill each year. This is totally preventable! There are more and more water fountains in public that can be used, and many shops will happily put water in your bottle for you. The same goes for coffee and tea! Keep a coffee mug handy in your office or car for any time you want to make a caffeine stop!
Not only are many cities implementing a plastic bag tax, but these little plastic bags are often so unnecessary! Keep a stash of reusable bags in the car.
Shop bulk/loose produce
There are many vegetables and other foods that unnecessarily come in plastic bags and packaging. Instead, purchase loose produce that does not come in plastic bags.
Some grocery stores now also offer bulk shopping for things like beans, rice, nuts, etc.. Bring your own bag from home and fill it up! Don’t forget about the farmer’s markets. This is the best place to shop for loose produce.
Try a menstrual cup, period underwear, and reusable menstrual pads
This one is for the ladies. You may only use these products one week a month, but they add up! I switched to a menstrual cup about 3 years ago and will never look back! It takes some time to get used to and need to figure out what size, but just like anything you get accustomed to it. They also make period underwear and reusable menstrual pads. They are not as gross as you think – just pre-wash them in the sink.
If you are not ready to try these reusable options consider tampons without the applicators. Those plastic tubes are so wasteful!
Skip paper towels and paper napkins and use reusable ones instead
Sure most paper towels are compostable/biodegradable but they are still unnecessary There are so many cute cloth napkin options that will add some fun to your dinner! As far as paper towels, they make compostable paper towels, but we just buy in bulk microfiber towels or some type of cloth towel to use instead. We keep a small hamper under our sink and wash them weekly.
Say no to freebies and other cheap goods
Freebies can create SO much trash! Often times we do not even use any of the freebies we get and they just sit in a bag in our office somewhere. Next time, just say no! The less people take unnecessarily, the less that will ultimately be produced and needed.
Waste reduction at home is a process, not perfection! As with any goal, start small, and don’t get discouraged if you have a week where you are back to your old habits.
Think about where you find yourself using single-use products the most and what you can easily incorporate into your lifestyle. It gets easier and the more aware you are about waste, the more your subconscious will be looking for alternatives.