Reducing my waste isn’t necessarily something that comes naturally to me. I tend to buy whatever I need, and then only when I’m unpackaging it or done using it do I worry about whether I’m looking at trash or something recyclable. I’m trying to change my habits, and here are some of my efforts:
Use a reusable water bottle! This is actually one way I’ve been reducing waste for YEARS. I’m always thirsty somewhere where getting a glass of water is inconvenient, so I always carry a water bottle! Personally, I love the sippy top of a Camelbak water bottle, but that’s purely a personal preference. The point is to carry a reusable water bottle with you wherever you go. Not only will you drink a lot more water – which will do wonders for your skin, health, and can even promote weight loss – but a reusable water bottle replaces, on average, somewhere between 365-1,460 disposable water bottles every year (that estimate assumes a person buys anywhere from 1 water bottle per day, which they then refill all day, and the upper range assumes a person buys all their drinking water for the day).
Use reusable shopping bags! Plastic shopping bags are a huge waste problem. They aren’t usually recyclable in your regular curbside recycling pickup, so they end up in landfills, where they still for 500 years or more (https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/1543-measuring-biodegradability). It can take some time to remember to grab your reusable bags when you run to the store, but once you get the hang of it, they’re great! They hold so much more than the plastic bags and they don’t tend to rip. Plus, if your local grocery store offers a scan-as-you-go program, you can scan and bag as you shop so that once you’ve finished your shopping you just head out the door…no more waiting in checkout lines!
Buy products with minimal packaging! Make intentional decisions at the store to buy products with less packaging. I have to balance my eco-efforts with my frugality, so I’m not talking about buying a product that’s twice as costly just because it has less packaging, but I’ll gladly pay an extra few cents if it reduces my impact to the landfill.
Very similar to the above tip, buy products with recyclable or biodegradable packaging! Now I literally had to ask a biologist if, given the choice, is moderately quick biodegradable packaging better than recycling plastic? My example was those plastic coated paper juice cartons. They biodegrade in as little as 5 years provided they’re not packed so tightly into a landfill that no air or water reaches them. Plastic juice bottles, on the other hand, will never biodegrade, but they are recyclable. So which is better? My biologist recommends opting for the paper cartons. Even though they are usually trash (check your area, though – they are recyclable in some places!), and may not receive optimal conditions to biodegrade in just 5 years, they still use only a tiny amount of the plastic needed to create a plastic juice bottle, and creating plastic is expensive, even when it’s recycled plastic.
- In short, whenever possible choose products in paper-based, recyclable packaging! These are cheap for recycling plants to turn into recycled paper pellets, and even if they do end up in a landfill, they will biodegrade.
- Either one is better than pure trash! Definitely don’t buy a non-recyclable plastic container, please! Check your containers for that little triangle that means the packaging is recyclable! And, if possible, choose packaging that will biodegrade.
Bring a travel cup with you when you plan to order a drink somewhere! Many people stop by their favorite coffee shop on the way to work and buy a drink. If you’re getting a disposable cup every time that’s 5 pieces of trash every week (or recycling if it’s plastic). You can reduce your waste, keep your drink hotter or colder longer, and some places offer a discount if you bring your own cup. Win, win, win!
Buy reusable K-cups, coffee filters, or use a french press!
- K-cups might be convenient, but that plastic is terrible for the landfills. Buy reusable k-cups that can be refilled with grounds. This saves a bunch of money, too!
- If you have a drip coffee pot, buy a reusable coffee filter to save on trash! Or, if you compost, you can compost your coffee filters.
- My ultimate favorite way to make coffee has to be a french press. If you’ve never tried coffee brewed this way, you’re missing out. It tastes amazing! The additional benefit is that there’s no waste other than the grounds, which decompose easily.
Compost your food and yard waste! This one is not for everyone, and I get that. But if you’re a gardener or you know a gardener, I encourage you to try it! I actually just bought myself a used composter on Facebook for a mere $50! It’s one of those really nice barrels that sits on a base so you can easily spin it to turn the compost (MSRP $250!). I’m like a kid in a candy store now…every scrap of leftover produce or yard waste gets dumped gleefully into my new composter. Just load it up, turn it every 7-10 days, and in a few months – tada! – beautiful earth to add to my gardens!
- I cannot stress this enough…you do NOT need to have a huge garden in order to make composting worth it. My whole plot of land is less than a ¼ acre…my vegetable garden is 4’ x 8’, but I have plenty of uses for composted earth. I add it to my vegetable garden or my flower beds, and if I somehow end up with extras, I know any number of people that would just love a bucket or two of composted earth.
- Worried you don’t have a good spot to “hide” the composter? I get it, they’re not beautiful. The footprint of the one I bought is super tiny, though. Remember how small my yard is? My composter is only 28” long, 22” across, and 25” high. It’s tucked alongside my house where you can’t even see it!
I have to admit, I’m much better at reusing than I am at reducing. Here’s a few of the ways I reuse things:
Ziploc bags! These babies are good for at least 3 or 4 uses before they even start looking worn, and still good for several more uses after that. Simply wash the used bags out with dish soap, leave them to dry, and they’re ready to be used again! If you like to label your Ziplocs, try writing your label on masking tape and sticking that to your bag, rather than writing directly on the bag. That way you can peel the label off when you’re washing the bag for the next use.
- Pro tip: buy a baby bottle drying rack and use this to dry your Ziploc bags! They dry much quicker when they stand open.
Empty Containers! Almost everything you buy comes in packaging of some sort. If the packaging is a nice glass or plastic jar, bottle, or other such container, it’s easily reused! Personally, I prefer to reuse only food containers to store food, just in case non-food containers aren’t made of food-grade plastic. Aside from that, anything goes in my house! Some ways we reuse containers:
- Yogurt containers make excellent garage or basement storage for small things – try lining the bottom of a shallow box or tote with yogurt containers and then filling those containers with small odds and ends. The tote or box will be easy to slide on and off a shelf, and the yogurt containers will keep everything inside organized!
- Yogurt containers also make great seed starting pots if you’re a gardener!
- Empty shampoo bottles (the kind with pump dispensers) make excellent soap or lotion dispensers. I make my own facial cleanser, and an old shampoo bottle is my favorite way to store it.
- Empty wipe canisters (think Lysol wipes) make good plastic shopping bag dispensers so long as you’re willing to take time to fold and roll them like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_cLIgnDr3M
- If, like me, you rarely seem to have time to roll your shopping bags, you can fold them in half, tie them into a loose knot, and store them in any container to make them easy to grab and reuse.
Plastic Shopping Bags! Whenever possible, I prefer to use my reusable shopping bags or just carry my items without a bag rather than bring home plastic shopping bags. Even so, I seem to end up with a surprising number of plastic shopping bags at home! So what to do with them…well, there’s a few things I do:
- Doggie bag – no surprise on this one – lots of people reuse their plastic shopping bags to collect their dog’s – erm – “presents” while on walks.
- Shower cap
- Trash bags for bathroom-size trash cans! You know how you go to empty the bathroom trash can and there’s inevitably a Q-tip or a cotton ball stuck to the bottom of the can by some mystery stickiness? Well no more! Use a plastic shopping bag as a trash bag for those tiny cans – but still try to keep those bags out of the landfill by dumping the trash into a larger bag and reusing the plastic bag as a trash bag until it gets really yucky.
- Car trash bags! This is actually one of my favorite uses for plastic shopping bags. Drape one of the handles over the shift lever of your car and never have to spend time cleaning trash off the floorboards again!
I grew up recycling in the country…meaning no curbside pickup. We would load up my Dad’s pickup truck once every week or two and drive it down to the local dump. There, we had to sort our recycling into the appropriate shipping containers and dumpsters – cardboard boxes had to be folded flat and stacked in a shipping container, plastic bottles went in one dumpster while glass went into another, and paper into a third – you get the idea. It was very hands-on, but it felt good! However, now I have curbside pickup and that’s amazingly convenient and easy.
There’s just a few things I do to make recycling as easy as possible:
- Buy another trash can for your kitchen. Label one for trash, and one for recycling!
- To take the above tip to the next level, buy a third trash can for plastic bags if your recycling pickup will not take them (many don’t). Plastic bags will sit in a landfill for 500 YEARS or more, so please PLEASE don’t throw them away. If your recycling pickup won’t take them, chances are there are bins at your local grocery store for recycling plastic bags (this includes food storage bags, too, not just plastic shopping bags!). So what I do is build up a big collection in my third trash can and then once a month or so I take them with me when I go to the grocery store and recycle them all!
- Make sure you’re recycling everything possible in your area by printing out a list of everything your recycling center will take (the list for my area is conveniently printed on top of my recycling bin, so I took a picture of it and printed it out to hang above my recycling bin for easy reference! If it’s not listed on your bin, you should be able to find a list somewhere on your recycling provider’s website.
Here’s the setup in my kitchen:
There are lots of other ways you can reduce, reuse, or recycle; these are just some ways that fit easily into my lifestyle! I hope some of these ideas inspire you, and I challenge you to try just one new idea this summer. After all, there’s no effort too big or too small!