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Reduce, reuse and recycle – the three Rs of sustainable living sum up the philosophy that all of us should embrace if we plan to leave this planet a better place for our children.
Now, change can’t happen overnight. But reducing trash at home is something you can start easily, and start it today.
Even if you just stop to think about it for a moment, you’ll get a whole new perspective on how much difference it makes. Less trash translates to less clutter in your household. And more money in your wallet.
None of these 11 baby steps won’t make much difference on its own. But if half of us were to take them, it would be a significant move toward restoring the planet to its original state – a green, fertile, and beautiful place.
11 Easy Ways to Reduce Waste
1. Use Reusable (and Dump the Disposable – for Good)
How many sanitary napkins, tampons, paper towels or disposable diapers do you use on a monthly basis? I bet it’s impossible to count. We just don’t think in numbers when it comes to trash.
Not all of those items can be replaced easily with reusable, eco friendly products. But you can try switching one thing at a time. For example, why not turn to reusable cloth napkins or a menstrual cup instead of single-use period pads? It will only take a couple of weeks to adapt, and then you’ll start regretting that you didn’t switch earlier.
Moms can also switch to cloth diapers. Not only are they more gentle on your baby’s delicate parts, but they will also be a significant contribution to a zero waste lifestyle.
2. Switch to Glass Instead of Plastic
And what about all those plastic bottles that most people buy without giving them a single thought? When at home, install a glass bottle that you can use over and over. It’s eco friendly, and the water is so much more yummy. Unlike plastic, glass isn’t a breeding ground for germs!
Get a reusable water bottle instead of buying another plastic bottle every time you go for a run. Granted, reusable bottles are often made of plastic too. But you’ll be using a single bottle for years.
Same goes for coffee lovers. Did you know that paper cups are not entirely made of paper? If they were, the coffee would soak through within seconds. To prevent that, the manufacturers coat them with our greatest nemesis – plastic. In turn, plastic makes these items non-recyclable.
To address this problem, you should turn to travel coffee mugs. Fill them up at home and you’ll even end up saving some money.
3. Order Less, Cook More
Cooking is one of those old-school activities that most of us tend to neglect. And it’s no wonder that we have no time or energy to whip up a dinner after a long day at work.
Still, it will make a huge difference even if you cook just three or four times a week. That way, you will eliminate the disposable plastic containers and utensils that usually come with takeout.
If cooking is not an option at all, restaurants are still a more environmentally friendly way to eat without cooking. When choosing a restaurant, you can always opt for a place that doesn’t throw away food but instead donates it to charities. On the other hand, there are restaurants that compost food leftovers instead of just dumping them into the trash.
No matter your personal preferences, chances are you’ll still have to resort to takeout meals from time to time. But there are always ways to reduce waste while still getting those spring rolls your family likes so much. Buy a reusable food kit and have the restaurant pack the food in it.
4. Start Canning Food
Tin cans are one of those rare items that are fully and infinitely recyclable. Still, the process of recycling consumes extra energy, so it’s always a better idea to start canning your own food. Not only will you better preserve the quality of your handpicked veggies, but you will be more self-reliant. No more sudden visits to the grocery store!
The best part is, you can preserve pretty much anything – from veggies to fruits to meat. Homemade canned food means saving money and reducing waste since mason jars are reusable.
5. Stop Using Plastic Bags and Straws
They don’t look threatening. They aren’t even bulky or expensive. That is exactly why plastic bags are surely one of the greatest evils that have befallen our planet. These humble items are virtually everywhere around us – in the soil, in oceans, in the food we eat. Scientists even found microplastics in the air we breathe!
Just take a look at the number of plastic bags produced worldwide every second. Every person on the planet uses about 700 single-use plastic bags per year. To make matters worse, we are recycling less than one percent of all these bags. Plus, the commercial interest for recycling plastics oscillates with the prices of oil. That means we can’t even hope to start recycling more.
So the only viable way is to reduce the usage. That’s why you should always use cloth reusable bags.
The same goes for straws. You can start using straws made of paper, metal or even bamboo. Personally, I can totally live without straws!
6. Shop at Farmers Markets
When you buy fruit and vegetables in big supermarkets, they will usually arrive in containers as well as plastic wraps and packaging. Very convenient for transport, but not so convenient for the planet!
Your local farmer’s market is a way better solution. Not only will you get fresh, homegrown products with far less pesticides, but you’ll also support local farmers. And you’ll teach your kids that a carrot can be nutritious and tasty even if it doesn’t look like the one they saw in a commercial.
7. Grow Your Own Food
Speaking of homegrown food, why not start a small kitchen garden in your backyard? Instead of spending money on every tomato you’ll ever need, you’d have fresh produce at hand whenever you need it.
Even if you live in an apartment, growing some food at home is still possible. You’ll just need a sunlit window, pots and some soil. No reason to despair if your apartment is small – a few small pots will be enough for some parsley, sage, oregano, chives.
8. DIY Cleaning Products
You can make your own toothpaste, and it only takes some baking soda, coconut oil and a drop or two of essential oils. It’s even relatively easy to DIY your own soap, shampoo, face cream, lotions and moisturizers. More importantly, when you start DIY-ing your skincare, you’ll realize that you don’t need as many beauty products in the first place.
Apart from being affordable, homemade products will help you reduce waste since they don’t come in single-use plastic containers.
The same goes for dryer sheets. Nowadays, there are awesome alternatives such as wool dryer balls, which are reusable, effective, and even compostable. What more can you ask of an item whose only purpose is to make your laundry soft?
9. How About Learning to Sew?
You don’t need to become a prolific or highly skilled sewer unless you plan on sewing historical costumes for a living. But the basic mending and repair, that’s something everyone can do. And you don’t even need a sewing machine. A needle and a few different types and colors of thread will suffice.
Since I learned some basic sewing a few years ago, I stopped throwing away old clothes. Why dump a perfectly good pair of socks just because of a tiny hole that I can mend in five minutes? Same goes for a pair of jeans. If there’s a hole on the knee, sew or embroider a cool patch. Voila – good as new, and even better!
If you bring your sewing skills to the next level, you can even start upcycling clothes. It’s a wonderful way to breathe new life into your clothes, no matter how old they are.
10. When You Have to Buy, Buy Second-Hand…
The past century has unleashed a beast that is very hard to control: consumerism. It has infiltrated all of our lives. If you don’t believe it, just take a look at your wardrobe.
How many things have you bought over the past few years only to wear them once and forget about them? That’s an enormous amount of textile (and, you guessed it, plastic). Most of it was made in sweatshops, by underpaid and exploited workforce somewhere in Bangladesh. Not to mention the harm that fast fashion causes to the environment.
So how do we fight this?
By buying used clothes, of course. Thrift stores are not 100% sustainable, but they do balance things out a bit. If nothing else, they sell clothes that are already there. The more people are willing to buy those clothes, the less demand there will be for new ones.
If you have kids, you should also make hand-me-downs a habit. Why buy new onesies for your little one when your cousin’s kid has outgrown hers after only a couple of months?
This is especially true with toys. Children tend to break them, but many just grow tired of perfectly good toys, which results in an even bigger pile of trash in the landfill.
11. … and Sell or Donate Things You Don’t Need Anymore
Consider buying a new TV? Instead of trying to escape from a Black Friday shopping frenzy with your life, why not visit one of those online places where people buy and sell used items?
I’ve seen hundreds of such groups on Facebook, but there are gazillions of specialized websites (eBay and Craigslist to name just two).
In Germany, people even bring pieces of furniture and electronic appliances out in the street. Anyone who needs them can just pick them up and walk away. The city will only collect the pieces that nobody wants. That’s how an aunt of mine got her first sewing machine 30 years ago. Need I say that she’s still using it?
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I make less trash?
You can’t turn your home into a zero waste household in a matter of days, but you can definitely try to make less trash. You can do that by carefully planning and organizing your meals and groceries.
Another step is to shift your perspective from disposables toward reusables. Take care about the packaging of your goods, and support brands that use recyclable materials.
How can we reduce food waste at home?
There’s much more to reducing food waste than just cooking. You need to carefully plan your grocery shopping. Always make weekly lists of the meals you plan and exact types and quantities of groceries they require. Make it a habit to check your fridge before you go shopping.
And of course, you don’t have to throw away that potato just because it’s a little bit sprouty. If you cut off those sprouts and soft spots, it’ll still be a perfectly good potato.
Storing food also requires some planning. You should have lists of what’s in your freezer or pantry. Sticky notes with dates will help you reduce the amount of waste as much as possible.
How can I reuse things at home?
There are countless ways to reuse even the most trivial items. For example, you can switch to cloth napkins and diapers, which you can wash and reuse for months or even years on end. Instead of bulk purchasing paper towels, start using regular kitchen cloths and towels that are made of cotton.
If you’re crafty and imaginative, you can start repurposing everyday items. Did you know that you can use cereal bags for wrapping up food portions? Or use an old plastic toothbrush for cleaning your shoes? Paint your old egg cartons and transform them into a boho wall hanging. The possibilities are endless!
What are the three methods of waste disposal?
There are more than three methods of waste disposal. Unfortunately, landfills are still the most prevalent method. In essence, they are areas where most of our waste ends up because we failed to deal with it in a sustainable way.
A much better waste management solution is recycling. It’s about converting one object into another – for example, office paper into toilet paper. The problem is, there are very few items that you can infinitely recycle. Unless they are steel, glass or aluminum, the quality of recycled items will reduce significantly.
The third and final method we are going to mention is incineration. Like its name suggests, it’s basically burning up of materials that aren’t recyclable. The heat generated in this process can then be converted into electricity. The only problem with this method is that it can seriously affect air quality.
So, whichever waste disposal method societies opt for, there is always some kind of trade-off. That’s why we as individuals should always focus on the first two Rs in the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle triad. That’s where the change begins!