It can seem really daunting to try to reduce the amount of waste you produce. The extremes are so extreme: hoarders at one end, and the (unreachable) goal of zero waste at the other. Instead of trying to be perfect right from the beginning, make small changes that will have a big impact in your life! You’ll likely find that a majority of your trash is generated from just a few activities; if you can reduce the waste associated with those activities, your overall trash production will go down a lot!
One way to do this is by substituting a reusable product for a disposable one. A simple example would be Tupperware or a glass jar as a replacement for Ziploc bags used to store food, or rags/cleaning cloths as a replacement for paper towels.
Lastly, approach waste reduction like a game! It feels like you’re gaming the system and like you know something others don’t (like if you buy stuff in packaging, ~9% of your money is paying for the packaging).
- Don’t drink bottled water. It costs ~1800x more than water from the tap, and is less regulated (because it counts as a food product, and not as water). Use a reusable water bottle instead. If you like chilling your water before drinking, keep a carafe of water in the fridge and use that to refill your water bottle. Here is The Story of Stuff on bottled water.
- Buy secondhand instead of new. There are a ton of options, depending on what exactly you’re looking for. You can use: Craigslist for cheap, local items; eBay for specific items (e.g. if you want a particular model of blender); Freecycle for free, local items; your local thrift store; and online thrift stores for specific categories of items (e.g. Thredup has women’s and children’s clothes and accessories). Even Amazon has lots of items available used.
- Eat fewer animal products, especially beef, lamb, and pork! Chicken and eggs have a much smaller environmental impact (their carbon footprints are each ~1/10 of beef’s). Eat more plant foods and more sustainably-produced animal products. Cornucopia‘s scorecards and reports can help you find sustainable dairy, eggs, and yoghurt in your area.
- Bring reusable bags to the grocery store or anytime you’re out shopping. Small ones can be used for bulk dry goods or produce; large ones can be used for carrying your groceries home.
- Use handkerchiefs instead of kleenex. This is one of the easy substitutions! Just wash your handkerchiefs with your regular laundry (but consider soaking first to help loosen all that dry mucus!). You can buy handkerchiefs new, but there are a lot of fancy vintage ones out there waiting for you!
- Air-dry your laundry and wash your laundry on cold. This saves a lot of energy and helps your clothes last longer!
- Wait longer to wash your clothes. Ask yourself if an item is truly dirty. I wear shirts at least 7 days and pants ~1 month before washing. If you get something, e.g. food, on an item, spot wash instead of washing the whole garment.
- Use dish towels, cloths, or rags instead of paper towels.This is one of the easy substitutions! Throw your cleaning cloths in the laundry when they’re dirty.
- Block junk mail. 40% of it gets thrown away unopened.
- Flush your toilet less (only when you poop). There’s even a rhyme: if it’s brown, flush it down; if it’s yellow, let it mellow. Ignoring irrigation, the shower and the toilet compete for top water users in the average American household. Toilets use 1.6+ gallons per flush. Showers use 2+ gallons per minute.
- Take shorter showers or colder showers or fewer showers. (Of everything on the list, this is the one I don’t do consistently…)
- Avoid single-use items (plastic bags, paper bags, ziploc bags, swiffer cleaning pad things, dryer sheets, paper towels, any kind of unnecessary packaging, etc). 10% of the petroleum drilled every year goes to the production (and also maybe shipping) of single-use plastic items!
Okay, I’m going to end the list here. Of course I have a ton more tips to share, so there will be a part II and maybe intermediate and advanced tips, too. Some of these tips deserve more discussion, so some of them will be turned into full-length posts of their own. Stay tuned!