Reducing waste throughout your life doesn’t have to be an overwhelming, world shattering experience. It also doesn’t have to be expensive, time consuming or frustrating. Reduced waste is a product of changed behavior and we all know how terrible changing your behavior can be. Before you start stressing and stop reading, let me offer you 9 very simple, very doable, very cheap and very awesome ways to start reducing waste in your daily life.
Are you still here? I hope so.
If you can’t sew, hammer a nail in straight or cook anything, this list is perfect for you. Not everyone is a DIY connoisseur or weekend project seeker. Not everyone can look at a pile of leftover cardboard and paper pieces and see a home decor possibility in the making. Thankfully, you don’t have to think this way to change your wasteful habits. Reducing waste is as simple as choosing one bag over another; shopping in one aisle vs. another; thinking before you throw away.
This list is a compilation of simple, cheap solutions Chet and I have found help to reduce our overall waste. Some of them focus on reuse, others on preservation and a few offer buying decisions I recommend trying out.
1. Choose bar soap over liquid soap.
We use bar soap in our bathroom, kitchen and shower as an alternative to the liquid pump kind. Bar soap comes in a wide variety of scents, colors and textures, doesn’t require packaging, which means there’s no waste at the end, and adds a colorful accent to a room. Find a bright little plate, purchase some oatmeal lavender soap (which has real oats in it!) and instantly your bathroom or kitchen will transform into an oasis of herbal scents and bright colors. Too much? Okay, at least you’re keeping another plastic bottle out of your house! One of my favorite bar soap brands is Zum Bar. Zum Bar is an all-natural soap bar made from goats milk and some pretty awesome smelling essential oils. They come in bulk, meaning you can shave off as much as you need, and their bright colors make for a fun gift or stocking stuffer (I’m so ready for Christmas) for anyone in your life; even the dudes!
2. Remove your produce stickers!
Most people don’t know that produce stickers aren’t biodegradable. Just because it’s on your banana doesn’t mean it also belongs in your compost bin. Produce stickers contaminate a perfectly good batch of compost and can cause some pretty nasty equipment problems when being sorted. Even though they’re small, the problem adds up. You can avoid produce stickers by shopping for your produce at your local farmer’s market. If this isn’t an option for you, then unfortunately they need to be tossed. Now I know this is a zero waste list, but the amount of compost saved by not being contaminated by stickers is worth the small amount of waste produced by these little guys. If you’re super awesome, try reusing them as a tape alternative, art project, to plug holes in leaky air mattresses, or whatever else you can think of!
3. Reuse your plastic bags for pet waste.
Used Ziplocs (which you shouldn’t be using to begin with! Try these: ), bread bags, produce bags (once again, go reusable here!), cereal box liners, chip bags, pasta bags, etc. are all perfect reuse options for getting rid of pet waste. We have two cats and a dog who produce a lot of…well, you know. We reuse our bread, bun and bagel bags for cleaning out the litter box. For our dog’s waste, we’ve used everything from empty pretzel bags, cheez-it liners and deli meat bags to toss her little gems. Find a corner of a drawer in your kitchen or pantry and make that your random bag drawer. By reusing these items, it will keep you from needing to buy dog poop bags and additional trash bags to clean up your pet waste. Don’t waste money on those things!
4. Create an “Eat Soon” box in your refrigerator.
I came across this idea on a TV News segment regarding food waste in the United States. Did you know the average American household throws away 25% of the food they purchase? That’s like buying four bags worth of groceries and throwing one out as you leave the store. Talk about a waste of everything. To help remind yourself and your family which foods are ‘on their way out’ create an “Eat Soon” box in your refrigerator. We use a large tupperware that I labeled “Eat Soon” and it houses our produce, cheeses, meats and sauces that we need to eat first before anything else. I find that we end up with a lot of small tupperware containers full of half an onion, a third of an avocado, 2 slices of pizza, etc., so for us, we have an “Eat Soon” shelf. This simple fix will drastically help you reduce your food waste and help you gage how much you should buy next time.
5. Buy a reusable coffee pod.
Ever since single serve coffee makers came on the scene, people have gone crazy for them. As great as the idea is, the waste produced from these plastic little coffee pods is astounding. In 2013, all of the k-cups sold were enough to wrap around the earth 10.5 times. This single-use mentality is getting out of hand, friends. However, us coffee fanatics have been given a wonderful solution for our morning routine that we are now faithful to. So, what to do? Simple solution: buy the reusable coffee pod! The one I purchased for my machine cost $15…$15 to save thousands of plastic coffee pods from being thrown out throughout your lifetime. Seems worth it to me. The reusable coffee pod is essentially just a very tiny version of a mesh coffee filter that you fill with your favorite ground coffee. As I’m writing this I’m feeling inspired to do a series of single serve coffee recipes that will really get you hooked! Wait for it. It’s coming.
6. Purchase a wine pump.
For all you wine drinkers out there, purchasing a wine pump will save you from wasting all those half bottles of open wine that you can’t finish. These cheap little pumps suck out excess air to keep your wine from turning into that nasty, tart vinegar juice. Personally, I don’t spend more than $8 on a bottle of wine, so I’m really saving pennies here, but if you buy quality wine (which to me is anything over $10) then this will end up saving you quite a bit more!
7. Reuse mini hotel toiletry bottles for future travels.
If you’re like my mom and you stuff your bags with as many miniature shampoo, lotion and conditioner bottles from your travels, then you probably have at least 3 drawers filled to the brim with these things at home. I encourage you to stop the madness and reuse your little bottles by filling them with your own shampoo and conditioner at home. That way, when you travel next, you’ll already have your personal showering needs in your carry on that you don’t have to worry about checking. Another option for these little bottles is to fill them with your favorite spices to take on your next camping or backpacking trip. They are light and small enough to fit in any pouch or pocket. Trust me, you need spices when it comes to camping food!
8. Reuse your plastic produce and fruit containers for future produce from your garden.
Although I recommend buying your produce fresh and not pre-packaged, sometimes you don’t have this option. If you find yourself with a pile of empty plastic lettuce and/or fruit bins, reuse them to collect fresh fruit and vegetables from your garden. The vents allow for breathing room and will keep your produce from molding quickly. My parents use theirs to harvest lettuce, berries, herbs and other vegetables from their garden. If you don’t have your own garden, take them with you to your local farmers market to fill with fresh produce.
9. Purchase Preserve brand or bamboo toothbrushes and razors.
According to the EPA, Americans toss over 2 billion razors every year. The average american purchases a new toothbrush 3 to 4 times every year. This amounts to over 50 million pounds of toothbrushes sitting in landfills annually. Oh the pain we inflict on our environment for clean teeth and smooth legs. Thankfully, theres a better solution. Companies like Preserve make toothbrushes, razors and other household products out of recycled #5 plastics like yogurt containers and butter tubs. When you’re done with one of their products, you can drop it off at a Preserve bin (found in some grocery stores), or mail it back to them free of charge to be recycled into new products. This is what we like to call a closed loop system! Another option is to choose a toothbrush or razor made out of bamboo. Bamboo is a sustainable resource that will biodegrade after thrown away. This is a good alternative, however I’d go with the closed loop option first. Chet and I love to use Preserve toothbrushes and razors and when they’re at the end of their life, we mail them off to be recycled. Bonus, they’re cheap!
Are you overwhelmed? I hope not! These are meant to show you that reducing waste is not as difficult as it may seem. I encourage you to try out a few, if not all, of these solutions to kickstart your zero waste lifestyle! Once you start thinking about reuse and preventing waste, you’ll find yourself reducing and reusing every last little bit of packaging you can to keep your trash from piling up. Do you have some other ideas? I’d love to hear them!