5 easy ways to reduce waste

January 26, 2015 Baltimore, MD, USA

As part of my ongoing green living journey, I decided that this year I would pay more attention to the waste I am personally responsible for and take steps to reduce it.

how to reduce waste


As previously discussed, I'm already an avid recycler and I wouldn't dream of littering. Still, there's always room for improvement. There's the intentional projects, like fixing broken boots instead of buying a new pair, and then there's the daily nitty-gritty. The little things I hadn't thought much of but know they add up. That's where most of my changes have been thus far. Small things with a big impact. Sometimes easy, sometimes inconvenient.

1. Use what you already have 


Birthday? Wedding? Just Because? Who Knows? Plus, I reused that ribbon and the recipient can do the same!
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It's dangerous to think that waste is only what we throw out—acquiring additional things that will only be tossed out again shortly is equally harmful.

For instance, I love gift wrappings—I have quite the collection of wrapping paper (plus cute bags, tissue, ribbon, etc.) I get a rush picking out more at Christmas sales for the following year. It's a bargain, right?

Wrong. Just because I recycle doesn't mean everyone else does. And really, I have rolls of paper yet to be opened. The simple truth is I have enough. I don't need more. This year, I literally fought the impulse every time I saw a cute roll of paper. From now on, I use what I have. When I run out? We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Really, who says all wrapping must be occasion-specific? I recently went to a baby shower, and instead of rushing to Target for pastel trappings, I shopped my own collection. The paper was neutral and chic, and instead of paying the insane price of cards these days, I used part of the mommy-to-be's gift as a gift tag. I don't think she was thinking my wrapping was unaccepable or frugal  when she saw how the gift was wrapped and exclaimed "you're so creative!"

2. Recycle—even when you can't 

I've already mentioned I recycle whenever possible. But, the reality is, sometimes I "can't". Sometimes I'm out and about and there's only a trash can for my plastic water bottle. Sometimes I'm at work and I think it's no big deal if I toss that post-it note into the trash can since it's right at my desk.

Those little things add up. The good news it, it's easy to be intentional and set yourself up for success. Keep a bag or container in your car for recyclables that you can take home.

In my office, we are fortunate to have recycling containers throughout the office. To fight my own laziness, I brought in a waste bin separate from my trash can. Anything recyclable (my greek yogurt cups, those post-it notes, etc.) gets tossed in there and at the end of each day, I sort the paper, aluminum, and plastic into the appropriate office bins. Having a visual of how much I could have thrown away is a great encouragement to keep it up!

3. Repurpose at home

My dad was (and is) the king of this. Holes in his undershirt? He cut the shirt up and they became rags for dirty work in the garage. Helping a neighbor with yardwork? He brought home firewood (really, it stunned and still stuns me that people buy logs for their fireplaces. My dad is handy and always got wood somewhere that was not the store). This cuts back on waste and saves money.

What can you repurpose? Here, it can be as simple as a towel that's a little to worn for daily use to be kept around for spills or after bathing the dog.

4. Implement a plan for things you no longer want or need 

Among the 2015 resolution buzz, I found the #ThrowOut50Things Challende. I'm all for de-cluttering, but I'm not at all for the "throwing out" part (hello, waste!).

A plan of action is so important here because clutter has a way of staying put or relocating otherwise. As a kid, we had a "giveaway box" where we put old toys or clothes that no longer fit. When it was full, my dad donated all the contents to a thrift store.

We're still slowly unpacking boxes and finding items we clearly don't need. For an item that can move quickly (think furniture or electronics), We list the item on a local Facebook yard sale group—a quick way to lose an item and gain a few dollars. We also keep a designated bag for clothes that can be donated (I drop it off in a local Planet Aid or similar bin whenever it's full) and a designated box for items that could be potentially sold at a yard sale (if it doesn't sell, off to the thrift store it goes!). If it comes to our attention that someone we know has a need for an item we have and don't need use—we're happy to give it to them! Kindness is never wasteful.

5. Choose quality whenever possible

This can be the most difficult, especially when money is tight. We know. It's easier to choose the cheap disposable razors when refill blades are so darn expensive. It's easier to get your groceries bagged at the store instead of worrying about buying and remembering reusable bags. It's easier to buy fast fashion that you can have now even though you know it'll fall apart by season's end and you'll be buying all new clothes next season.

Baby steps here.

Quality costs more initially,  but quality outlasts the life cost of the "affordable" option that you pay for many times over via replacements. And no replacements means less waste. Using the dishes when you would rather skip doing dishes and use paper plates saves you money and saves landfill waste at the end of the day.

Most of us can't do it all at once, but we can evaluate. What are we buying only because it's cheap? Can invest in a long-lasting alternative? Can we do without it for a bit longer until we save the money for the long-lasting alternative?


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