Last time, we talked about circularity, which is one way you can reduce your personal or family impact on the environment. But there are many products we use on a daily or weekly basis that can’t be cycled back into the production chain so easily. The next best thing is to lower the waste produced in our households. How can we do that? Easy. We commit to reducing the amount of trash or refuse we produce. We reuse more of the items we already have and buy fewer new things, especially things we don’t need, but only want, and which won’t last or be useful on a regular basis.
Here’s a list of things you can easily do to lower your household waste:
- Buy loose fresh vegetables instead of packaged ones. Invest in a few reusable produce bags and put your purchases into those, instead of the filmy plastic produce bags provided by the supermarket. Reusable produce bags are washable and will last a long time.
- Stop or reduce the use of plastic wrap or plastic zip bags. Instead, choose reusable, sealable storage dishes to store dry goods, perishable leftovers, or food scraps. Choose food products at your grocer’s that use less plastic or, better yet, compostable paper or cardboard containers.
- If you must get take-out food, ask that the order be provided with no plastic utensils, napkins, straws, or sauces you won’t use. Carry reusable utensils, straws, and napkins in your backpack, purse, or car and use those instead. If you are eating out, don’t ask that they package your leftovers in foam or plastic dishes that will end up in trash or recycling; instead, take along a reusable container to save your leftovers for another meal later in the week.
- Stop or reduce your use of paper towels. Instead, opt for cloth rags and towels that can be washed and reused over and over. Cheaper by far in the long run, and better for the environment.
- Opt for wash-and-reuse cotton or bamboo rounds instead of single-use cotton pads for makeup removal and skin cleansing.
- Choose bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic ones. For the most part, bamboo toothbrushes are minimal waste; some can even be composted. Most, though, still have nylon or nylon-based bristles, which will have to be removed before composting. There are a few out there that have fully biodegradable bristles; one even has bristles made from boar’s hair (sanitized, of course!). Sustainable Jungle lists the ten best options, along with several entries on zero-waste floss and toothpaste, and even a bamboo electric toothbrush:
- Opt for shampoo bars instead of bottles. Of course, less plastic is a good choice all around. But be mindful of the ingredients in some shampoo bars. Look for brands that have eco-friendly ingredients and packaging. Some brands even double as shampoo and body wash bars, thus cutting back on your usual expenses—always a plus. Rolling Stone picked a few favorites among this category in their March 2022 lineup.
- Repair your furniture and belongings, rather than throwing them out and buying something new. Reupholstering can be less expensive than buying a new sofa or chair and helps keep local tradespeople in business. Sand those scratches out of your coffee or end tables, then stain or paint the whole thing for a beautiful “new” look. See if that glitchy lamp can be rewired or repaired before you toss it out and replace it.
- If you must replace an item, buy second-hand instead of new. Not only is it a more sustainable practice, but you can often find name brand items for a fraction of their usual cost.
- Choose stainless steel pegs for your shelving, rather than those more common plastic ones. They’ll last longer, and you’re putting less plastic waste out there into the environment (when the cheaper plastic ones eventually break—and you know they will).
- Mend your clothes rather than toss them. If you must buy replacement items, buy second-hand. See #9 above.
- Choose laundry detergent strips instead of buying bottles or pods of detergent for your washing. Choose dryer balls instead of dryer sheets. Both will last longer and produce less waste.
- Go paperless in your bills. This one speaks for itself.
- Opt for reusable grocery/shopping bags over those wasteful plastic things the stores use now.
- Compost, if you can. Even apartment dwellers have options in this arena with countertop composters. If you have a yard, even better. There are numerous ways to compost, from cold- to hot-compost methods; there’s sure to be a practice you can use. This is an excellent way to reuse your table scraps, shredded paper (if it’s untreated), scraps of cardboard and newspaper, grass clippings, small twigs, leaves, and many other plant-based materials. Don’t have a garden? No worries. You can share your compost with neighbors, donate it to local community gardens, or even just sprinkle it on your lawn. You can google good composting practices or uses for compost, but a few good places to start are: The Natural Resources Defense Council, Gardening Know How, and One Green Planet.
All these tips seem like such small things, it’s true. But just think how much of a difference it would make if we all did them!
For best results, the experts recommend that you take a hard look at how much trash your household produces in an average week. Make note of the plastics, food scraps, and other things that end up in your weekly trash pickup. Then choose one or two things you want to change and do just those for a while. As you get comfortable with the new process, add in another switch or two. After six months, take stock once again of your household trash. You might be shocked at the difference in quantity!
More helpful articles:
BuzzFeed’s article “36 Sustainable Swaps Under $25 to Make in 2022.” The article is nearly a year old, but the information remains useful. I intend to check these out myself!
Dropps article “22 Sustainable Home Swaps for 2022.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s article “The Best Zero-Waste Swaps from Hollywood-Loved Home and Beauty Brands.”