I am writing this post as much for myself as I am for others. My goal is to one day have a zero waste home, but I am just as guilty as anyone else. I would be ashamed if I actually saw my families trash statistics, but admitting you have a problem is always the first step . . .
“An average family of four produces 6,351 lbs of waste every year!”
According to the EPA, Americans throw away an average of 4.4 lbs of trash per person, per day! In some states, that number is over 14 lbs per person each day! An average family of four produces 6,351 lbs of waste every year. This doesn’t even include waste from businesses, industry, and agriculture.
Have we lost sight of the impact we are having? All we need to do is put everything in that shiny waste bin, take it out to the road, and it magically disappears
Kind of an obvious one, but that’s why it’s the first word in the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” campaign. It is the most important principle in sustainable living and also one of the most difficult things to practice. The culture in our country is driven by consumerism and escaping that is nearly impossible. We love gift giving, decorating, pampering ourselves, and showing off. Reducing the amount of products and energy we consume can make a huge impact, and it’s only going to happen if we commit.
Some ideas of ways you can reduce your consumption . . . (and save money in the process!)
- Turn off water and lights when not in use
- Invest in energy efficient appliances
- Switch your house over to LED light bulbs
- Switch from fuel to geothermal heating and cooling
- Go solar
- Stop buying things you don’t need!
2. Go Antiquing
Ok, I know I just told you to stop buying things you don’t need, but I’m an interior designer and I cannot seem to stop myself from decorating my home. My guess is, a lot of people have this weakness as well. Embrace the farmhouse decorating movement and shop at antique stores.
Buying items that are not new means that there isn’t a manufacturer turning around making another one as soon as it leaves the shelves. There is also no packaging to throw away when you get your items home.
3. Compost and/or Burn
Before you just dump something in the trash, consider if you can dispose of it yourself. Many kitchen scraps can be composted. This includes inedible veggie and fruit trimmings, tea bags, coffee grounds, eggshells and hundreds more items. Burning is an option for many paper products you would otherwise throw away: junk mail, cardboard boxes, yard waste, and product packaging. (If you want to go really hardcore, use those ashes to make lye for soap!)
4. Stop Throwing Away Food!
If it can’t go into the compost, find another way to use spent or overripe food. Or better yet, if you’re not going to eat it, don’t buy it in the first place and save yourself the grocery money. One way to help yourself is to organize your fridge so you don’t buy more of something you already have and food isn’t spoiling because it was shoved to the back of the shelf weeks ago. Meal planning is also a great way to minimize overages and reduce stress at meal time.
Learn how to preserve fruits and veggies to make them last longer. Baking banana or zucchini bread is a great option to clear out food that is reaching its final hour, and those baked goods can even be stored in the freezer for later. Many fruits and veggies can be flash frozen or blanched and vacuum sealed to last quite a long time in the freezer. Freeze veggie scraps for future use in homemade broth! Canning is another option if you have a large enough quantity. Use stale bread to make breadcrumbs for future recipes.
If you still can’t figure out what to do with those scraps, see if there are local farmers that could use them as supplements for their livestock. Pigs can eat just about anything, including food a bit past its best by date for humans. They would welcome your contributions.
5. Mend or Repair
Don’t throw away stained and worn out clothes. Do your best to make them last. There are lots of stains hacks out there. Did you know that salt can remove red wine stains and grease disappears when you sprinkle on baking soda followed by dish soap?
Learn to sew on a button, fix a hem and patch a hole in garments or other linens. Not only are these useful skills, but you can save yourself money by keeping what you already have.
6. Upcycle worn out clothes and linens
Some items just cannot be saved. Fabric becomes threadbare, clothing becomes stretched or warped and just doesn’t fit right or items are just simply outside your skills to mend. Put these in the scrap pile to make yarn, blankets, or crafts down the road. There are so many great ideas and DIY tutorials out there.
7. Change your shopping habits
Shop at farmers markets, where you wont find all those plastic containers. Buy in bulk to cut down on the amount of packaging your buying. There are also stores that allow you to fill your own container instead of buying pre-packaged.
8. Bring your own bags and containers shopping
This is all about planning ahead. It can be tough to remember to bring your reusable bags to the grocery store, especially when you have an unplanned trip, so try keeping them in the car. Before you leave the house, fill up your reusable coffee tumbler and water bottle, instead of having to buy a disposable one while you’re out for the day. Bring your own take out containers to restaurants and say no to a disposable straw.
9. Cut down on disposables and opt out of plastic
“Americans use 2,500,000 plastic bottles every HOUR! Only a small fraction of those are recycled.”
Replace disposable items you throw out with reusable versions. There are refillable k-cups that take regular coffee grounds. Use dishcloths instead of paper towels and dishes instead of paper plates. If you do need to buy a product that will be disposed of later, choose options that are recyclable or compostable such as a bamboo toothbrush vs a plastic one.
There are reusable alternatives to almost every disposable item you use at home: plastic wrap, ziplock bags, paper towels, paper plates, garbage bags, water bottles, refillable soap containers, sweeper/mop heads, feminine hygiene products and even toilet paper!
Set small goals like, “today, I will not use a single paper towel.” Once you have made it a week of accomplishing that goal, add another. Make a shopping plan that will help you reach these goals by slowly replacing your disposables with reusable alternatives. (Click the link for a great list of eco-friendly products!)
The internet is a great resource for DIY projects that use salvaged or repurposed material. You can save packaging paper to use as wrapping paper and handmade bows. Use cardboard boxes to organize your basement, garage, closets or drawers. Save grocery store plastic produce containers for use as planting pots and seed trays.
You can also see if anyone else in your community could use your items. Save egg cartons for a local chicken farmer, advertise free cardboard boxes for someone who is moving, or donate used toys, office and craft supplies to your local school.
11. Sell and buy used items online or garage sales
I love the Facebook marketplace, but there are hundreds of sites and apps like craigslist and LetGo that bring buyers and sellers of used items together. I’ve sold everything from outgrown baby gear to broken furnaces and made some serious cash for the updates I needed to do. It feels great to see these items being used by someone who could really benefit from the savings. Some people will even list items for free, just so they get reused and don’t go in the trash.
My raised bed gardens are made out of cement blocks from someone tearing down an old barn. They wanted them gone and we got them for free for our labor to haul them away!
12. Grow or produce it yourself
Grow a garden, bake your own bread and pastries, make your own blends of loose leaf tea, make beauty and cleaning supplies, cook at home instead of eating out, pack your lunch for work! There are so many options.
By growing your own food or making your own products, you eliminate packaging by reusing containers you already have at home. You also cut down on trips to the store. An added bonus to doing this is that you have complete quality control over what ingredients you use.
Don’t know where to start? Take a look at this Veggie Garden Supply List!
Recycling is great compared to throwing something in the trash, but it should only be done after assessing and eliminating all other options for reuse. Some items, such as aluminum cans be recycled an unlimited amount of times, but many plastics can only be recycled once. Most likely, the things you recycle will end up in a landfill at some point down the line in their life-cycle. That’s why it’s the last option in “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”.
Make it easy on yourself and get organized. Create recycling areas around your house to avoid throwing recyclables in the trash out of convenience. Also, make sure you and everyone in your household is familiar with what items your local recycling center will accept and how it must be sorted.
Many waste management companies offer roadside pickup for recycling and even have incentive programs to encourage their customers. If you don’t want to pay an extra fee for pick up, you can take it to the center yourself. Do what fits your lifestyle, budget, and time limitations.
14. Make Energy Efficient Upgrades
Anytime you do a home improvement project, consider energy efficient and sustainable options. Not only will you save money on energy costs, but you will also add equity to your home. Double bonus!
When our propane furnace broke last year, we could have just replaced it for a few thousand dollars, but many of the other mechanical fixtures in our house were on their last legs as well. We opted for an option that was more expensive up front, but would save us money in the long run – Geothermal. A Geothermal heating and cooling system draws from the consistent temperature of the earth to heat and cool your home (no more fuel).
We calculated that in 8 years, the initial cost of the system would have paid for itself in fuel savings, at which point we would be heating and cooling our house for free!
15. If you must buy New, buy Green and buy Quality
There are unavoidable times when we have no other option but to buy something brand new. Always think about the entire life-cycle of the product your buying – does it have recycled content? Was it sustainably harvested? Is it made from renewable resources? Is it non-toxic?
Buy high quality items that are made to last, otherwise it will only be thrown away at some point down the road. Heirloom quality products made from sturdy materials can be kept forever or sold/traded when you no longer need it.