7 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Waste
If you're as inspired by I am by change and reducing your carbon footprint through single-use waste, here are the top 7 ways you can eliminate your waste and seek to find a better lifestyle to aid in the reconstruction of the environment. While these 7 steps are just 'easy ways' to reduce your impact, being inspired and motivated for change is truly the only thing you really need and these small steps can reduce a huge impact on our sweet earth.
1. Carry a reusable water bottle/buy a filtration system
This has been the hardest step for me. I’m so forgetful and definitely dont remember to carry around a water bottle wherever I go. I know even just by having one on my desk when I work, I drink way more water, but when you’re on the go and thirsty, there’s a level of desperation that comes. Even having a water bottle in your car as a spare in case you find yourself needing to grab some water on the go, I use this Sigg water bottle (I did lots of research before I bought it, aluminum bottles are much more sustainable because they can be melted back down and repurposed and they’re longer lasting than a plastic bottle. They are also rust free). If we didn’t live in Portland, we would have a proper filtration system for our home, but thankfully we can drink water straight from our taps. In Southern California, I know that everyone relies on plastic water bottles because the water quality is so bad, but there’s so many other solutions; you could refill a large 5-10 gallon canister at your local grocery store each time you shop and refill it to bring to work with you.
My biggest recommendation though is the Berkey Water Filter system because regardless of where you live in most of the US (excluding places like Flint and rural Mississippi where the water quality is considered completely toxic) you are able to drink the tap water directly after running it through the Berkey system. Especially those of you in California or the desert states where your water is heavily processed, this system takes out so much of the toxic chemicals that are considered unacceptable (read this cool review!) and makes your water acceptable to drink.
If you really must drink purchased plastic, the best way to reduce your environmental impact is not to buy single packaged single-use bottles from Costco which are also wrapped in more plastic, you’re much better to buy the incredibly large bottles of water and just refill your bottles with you when you need to. This also creates a healthy habit of watching how much water you’re drinking. Please recycle any plastic bottles you need to use if you’re in a place where the water is unhealthy to drink, recycling isn’t a perfect system by any means but it’s much less likely your bottle will end up in landfill if it goes into the recycling bin or a direct bottle recycling box at your grocery store.
2. Shop in Bulk and if you can’t do that, choose package free produce and cardboard over plastic.
The biggest way I’ve been able to reduce our household waste has been through our weekly shopping trip for groceries. If you have a think about what you’re consuming, your groceries are the most frequent, and if you are purchasing packaged products every single week, thats the majority of your trash consumption right then and there. We’ve been collecting jars from pasta sauces, oils, jams and spreads for the last year or so, and we have an eclectic collection of jars we now take to my local co-op (or New Seasons now will let you, for you Oregonians) to fill in the bulk sections. If you don’t have access to a co-op or can’t necessarily afford the slightly higher cost of these stores, you can make or buy reusable cotton bags (like these or these) and take them to Winco to fill with your bulk items there. Add little white label stickers to your bags to write their #code on them. If you need to start your jar collection, these ball jars are my absolute favorites for all things bulk. I have them in Pint, Quart and the occasional random jar here and there. These are also self preserving jars so they’re great for preserving and preparing food, something I’ll go over later.
When we shop at the co-op, we know that almost everything they stock is not in dangerous plastic. Pretty much everything is at least recyclable. We eat a vegan diet too, so most plant products are not packaged in plastic like cheese, dairy and meat products are because they don’t run the risk of diseases and cross contamination like your average carrots and broccoli. When buying produce, try and avoid buying the cute little pre-cut produce that’s in a plastic bag, chances are it’s a far older product and it’s been cut and packaged to save its shelf life, so it’s going to go off much faster. Rather than using those atrocious plastic bags for your produce, you can always head over to the mushroom section and grab yourself some paper bags to put your produce in (I’ve always done that and it’s never been an issue at the larger department stores). I would then bring those in the following week and reuse them until they got too soggy.
We fill our jars with anything we would’ve bought at Trader Joes or Fred Meyer in plastic or cardboard, such as rice, flour, pasta, beans, grains, nuts, herbs and spices, even as much as oils, pastes like tahini, butters etc. Your local co-op or health food store would have most of these at your disposal. You can find any local co-ops on this amazing map! You don’t have to be a member to shop at any of them.
It’s important to shop seasonally, and what’s on sale, because those are almost always loose for purchase. Berries are hard to buy ever not in plastic unless you shop at your local farmers market (which we do!) and things like cabbage and cauli are hard to find never wrapped, so we get those specifically at the farmers market when we need it and freeze bits we can use later. Things like squash are fantastic to buy when in season, and they’re not too hard to cut so try and avoid pre-cut. It’s if you’re trying to buy things like watermelon in late winter, you’re probably going to end up with it cut in a little plastic box in the cold section. There are lots of CSA programs (read Alison Wu’s fantastic post on these) or things like Imperfect Produce that deliver fresh produce directly to your door. Ultimately, not only do we reduce all our waste when it comes to grocery shopping (minus a few produce ties and rubber bands here and there) we’re actually saving a lot of money, because we’re not buying the packaging that goes with what we’re buying.
3. Consume less clothing and shop sustainably.
Clothing is one of our biggest purchases outside of groceries and it’s important to know how your clothes are being made, as well as where they’re coming from and how sustainable their materials are. You want to try and stay as close to things like organic cotton, linens, hemp and natural products like wool and easy to grow fibers. Regular cotton is a heavy polluter and things made from acrylic and polyester are horrible for the environment and made from virtually complete plastic. Unless you’re purchasing a product that’s intentionally designed to be reusing plastic bottles for shoes or non-virgin wool for a jacket, try and stay to the natural materials as much as possible.
This goes without saying but I’ll say it, thrifting is the most sustainable and eco-friendly way to shop. It’s also the cheapest. What’s worse than buying brand new clothes when we have SO much clothing going to landfill every day? Thrift where you can because you’re going to find very similar pre-loved products for very cheap prices and you will have saved a piece of clothing for going to waste.
When you do want to purchase clothing, try and buy from places you know are transparent and sustainable about their production and their materials. Everlane is my absolute favorite for both of those things. Also buying locally and from people who are hand making clothing is always a bonus, because you’re fueling your local economy and supporting a maker. These people are much more likely also to aid in your requests to not package your item in plastic when buying (I’ve left lots of little notes to retailers I’ve purchased from to refrain from plastic packaging where possible!).
4. Carry a low-waste kit in your bag or your car.
In the picture above, you can see my little kit that I try and keep in my car. I usually have one that stays in the car as often as possible and a few things I take around with me (because I’m likely not leaving the house, unless I’m in the car) . My kit includes bamboo utensils, metal straws (an extra in case I’m with a friend who doesn’t carry one), a sheet of beeswrap or my homemade wrap (recipe on that another time!), a cloth napkin, a mason jar for drinks on the go or if I need to make a quick stop at a grocery store while I’m out, David carries his little klean kanteen coffee cup that he gets refilled (some places have given him free coffee for bringing in his own cup!) and occasionally I’ll bring my snapware container if I know I’ll have leftovers if we’re eating food out. You can also buy a kit directly from Etsy or some low waste bloggers. We’re working on a kit that will be available to you soon.
5. Eat a Plant Based diet.
I’m definitely not trying to convince you to become vegan or vegetarian, but one of THE biggest ways you can reduce your carbon footprint is to reduce your animal product intake. Animal agriculture for meat and dairy is one of our biggest polluters (here’s a great article on the matter) and yet accounts for a small portion of what SHOULD be our daily diet. A plant based diet is not only better for the environment, but is better for you and your health (I’ll talk a lot more on this is in an upcoming blog post).
When we’re talking about day to day waste, like mentioned above, most meat and animal products like cheeses and yoghurts etc come in plastic packaging to preserve them from spoiling. Fruit and vegetables have their own skin so they don’t need packaging, so buying package free is way easier. If you’re adamant about eating meat and dairy etc, I must encourage you to shop somewhere local and where they know how to meat is being sourced and fed. Bring in your own container and ask them to tare weight and put the meat directly into the container (they’ve done that for us plenty when we cook for our cats). Same as cheese, try and shop directly in the deli section of your supermarket. But ultimately, being vegan allows us to focus more on nourishment than triggering our pleasure receptors in our body, makes us feel more full and energized, is amazing for cholesterol, our heart, our blood and our weight, and less animals are being harmed in the process. Plants are also way easier to grow (we grow plenty ourselves) and require far less resources yet make up most of our diet.
6. Swap out Single use for Reusables.
This one is easy. You know those plastic shavers you keep throwing out? They can be replaced with one for your own family (yes, many people can share a safety razor) - we have this one. Their blades can be recycled directly through the company which is much safer and better too. I use toothpaste in a jar that I can reuse (and its the best toothpaste I’ve ever used, Peppermint is usually my go to). I refilled my last jar with activated charcoal. We buy our toilet paper from WGAC and I don’t think I’ll never not buy from them. Everything comes in recyclables, from the box to their packaging individually. We have a metal floss tool and all our shampoo and conditioner and shower products get refilled at the coop. Even our napkins get washed (linked above!) and reused. No paper towels in our house, which I miss the most for sure. But if there’s something you find yourself throwing away often, find a way to replace it with something that is reusable. The less waste you throw away, the better.
7. Meal prep/Make things yourself
When I first tried reducing my waste, I was stunned at how much I was buying that couldnt be reused or repurposed. I started growing our own herbs and cabbage and lots of different vegetables, but things like hummus, almond milk, spreads, etc came in packaging that was so wasteful. So I learnt how to make those simple recipes. It helps that we bought ourself the professional grade Vitamix a few months back, but I think it’s already paid itself off with how much we DON’T have to buy having it. Anytime we want hummus, I make it on the spot, vegan ranch, almond milk, laksa paste, curry etc. We have everything available to make what we need, so we save so much packaging doing so.
Another great way to reduce waste, especially if you work away from home, is make your food a few days a week extra than normal and bring your utensils etc with you. Or, use your zero waste kit like mentioned above to ask your local cafe to place the food they are making for you, directly into your container or beeswrap. Preparation is the key to reducing waste, and if you can allocate an extra 10 minutes a day to getting ready to reduce your waste, you’ll save the planet a lifetime.