10 Ways to Reduce Home Waste
I think most of us aren’t aware of the amount of waste we produce in our everyday lives. There’s so much going on, it’s easy to take every piece of plastic we’re tossing out for granted. While I know it’s not logical for every home to be zero waste (we aren’t), I think it is logical for us to become conscious in how much we’re using/producing/wasting/tossing all day everyday. Most of the items we purchase are covered in plastic and many families can easily fill their trash can within a day. While we can’t control what the rest of the world is doing, we can control what WE are doing. By choosing to make small (or big!) changes in our home, we can easily cut our trash in half, and make our children more waste aware.
I get messaged a lot about zero waste ideas and people being interested in taking on baby steps to reduce the waste they’re producing in their own homes. I’ve put together 10 things I do in my home to hopefully get you started! Please don’t do all of these at once, you will get overwhelmed and you will give up, that’s not the point here. Take one, maybe two, of these things and try them out, see how they work for your family..if they don’t, try something else.
1.) Ditch the paper towels.
This was one of my first steps in becoming more aware of the waste in my home. One day I realized paper towels were ridiculous and pointless. What did people do before we could buy these wrapped in plastic pieces of thick paper? We used rags, we washed said rags, the end. So, I went to the store and loaded up on “bar rags”, lots of em. I’ve been using the same rags for the last 2 years and I can count on one hand how many times we’ve had to purchase a roll of paper towels. I still stash (if I remember) a roll in the closet incase the animals have an accident, but otherwise I don’t use them.
You can buy some fancy rags online that are “eco friendly”, but they’re wrapped in plastic and need to be shipped, so pick your poison. My rags aren’t fancy but they were tied with ribbon and didn’t have any plastic, so I’ll continue going that route. Also, when a piece of clothing is no longer wearable, cut it up and use it as a rag for cleaning. Multipurpose use is the best use!
2.) Avoid processed/packaged food.
Hands down, I think our unhealthy addiction to packaged and processed foods is causing the majority of trash being thrown out in the home. When you look at your grocery cart, what does it look like? Is it a cart of boxes and plastic? Or is it fresh (unpacked) produce, bulk items, etc? 99% of the items in my cart are fresh produce. The packaged items I buy: coconut milk, my ramen noodles , and coco aminos. Of course I randomly buy something for a snack when I’m out, but otherwise I don’t buy anything in packaging from the grocery store. You can avoid a lot of packaging by simply planning your meals before running to the store or planning your meals around being as zero waste as possible.
Purchasing your dry foods in bulk is the easiest way to avoid packaging when you still need “processed” foods. Most bulk sections have flours, noodles, dried fruits/veggies, nuts, seeds, granola, cereal, rice, etc.
So that brings us to..
3.) Bring your own bags and containers
If you eat meat and buy it from the store, bring containers to have the butcher fill with meat behind the display. They WILL do this, but they’ll give you a look like you’re insane, that’s fine. My husband eats rice and chicken EVERYDAY he’s at work (barf, I know), so I have to get chicken from the local butcher. I’ve done this at Fred Meyer, Carrs, Mat-Valley Meats, and Mike’s Meats in Eagle River. If someone says they can’t do it, they need to go ask their manager because they just haven’t experienced someone wanting to do this before. Good! The more that stores are aware we don’t want their trash, the more likely they are to make changes.
Produce is easy, bring your own bags (I have ones similar to this), make your own bag, or don’t use a bag at all. If I forget my produce bags then I just don’t use a bag at all. You should be washing your produce anyway, yes? So what is the purpose of that bag that’s going to live in a landfill for well, ever (plastic never truly decomposes, just breaks down to smaller pieces)? Ditch the produce bags, guys!
For bulk dried foods I use my produce bags as well. Obviously, you can’t use the DIY tutorial I posted for that, but if you have a sewing machine you can easily whip up something that will hold your rice, flour, whatever! I like to use the cotton bags for bulk and to avoid the plastic piece with the # for checkout, I use a washable crayon and write it on the outside. I seriously BLOW MINDS when I check out, haha!
Oh yeah, and bring your own grocery bags..I think that’s a given? If you haven’t already purchased your bags PLEASE avoid the plastic ones you see sitting out in grocery stores. While you aren’t going to bring home flimsy plastic bags every trip, those bags actually slowly degrade and send tiny plastic particles into our water ways. Get cloth bags like this or make your own. If you’re one that struggles with remembering your bags, put them on your front door handle as soon as you unload them, I mean the SECOND. Then when you’re rushing out the door they’ll be in your face and you can grab them to put back in your vehicle.
4.) Food Storage
Ziplock bags and plastic containers may be convenient, but they’re definitely the furtherest thing from being zero waste or even environmentally friendly. Slowly replace your bags and containers with metal and glass. I really love using mason jars for storage because they’re really cheap and really easy to find. Thrift stores are usually overrun with them! I’ve also asked on social media if anyone has mason jars they don’t need and was really surprised by how many people were hoarding them (and happy to hand them over!). I also love these metal containers, but they are costly. Really consider how many storage containers you need and then replace them one by one when you find yourself with a little extra cash.
I usually say to hang onto the plastic whatever you have instead of recycling/tossing them, but storing food in plastic is actually pretty bad for you, same goes for water bottles. Recycle your plastic storage containers or donate them. Many communities will recycle your ziplock bags too.
Another waste many don’t think about is tin foil + plastic wrap (THE WORST). Replace your foil and plastic with something like this. There is even a DIY option for those that have the time + resources. You can read about that HERE.
5.) DIY your household.
You can avoid a lot of waste and save a good bit of $$$ by choosing to go the diy route for household cleaners and basic self care items.
I make my own liquid laundry detergent and it lasts us around 6 months. The ingredients going in are all in cardboard boxes, so there’s no plastic to toss and I can avoid the plastic jugs coming home with me every month. I’ll be using this liquid dishwasher detergent the next time we run out!
And that dishwasher detergent brings us to my obsession with Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap! Yes, it comes in a plastic bottle, but this stuff is SUPER concentrated and can literally be used for everything. We use it for dish soap, body soap, shampoo, spray bottle cleaner, toilet cleaner, etc, etc. You can read their dilution list here. Anyway, 32 oz. lasts us almost 3+ months, and at around $18 a bottle..that’s magic, ha!
I’ve been DIYing with my skincare recently, but before I ordered from a company that put everything in glass and didn’t use plastic packaging. This is why buying from small businesses is so amazing. Contact that small business and they’re very likely going to be willing to work with you on minimizing packaging. That being said, if you don’t have crazy skin you can easily DIY at home. Look into oil cleansing if you haven’t done so already. Your brain is going to tell you it’s wrong, but it’s SO right when you find the right oil for your skin.
For shaving I use Dr. Bronner’s in a pinch (it has oils in it) but prefer to use straight olive oil or sweet almond oil, no need to moisturize when you get out!
Look for local places where you can refill oils or choose to purchase your oil in glass containers if possible. At the end of the day it goes a long way so I feel less guilty about that big plastic jug.
6.) Self Care Essentials
Continuing on with self care, there are a few key things we all use everyday to take care of our bodies. You can go pretty deep with the zero waste self care, but for now I’m just going to go through the basics.
Once your next plastic toothbrush has finally hit it’s limit (let’s be real, none of us are changing our tooth brush as often as we should), purchase a bamboo toothbrush like this . I’ve yet to come across a toothbrush with 100% biodegradable bristles (it doesn’t exist), so these are the next best thing. I’ve used a few different kinds of “earth friendly” toothbrushes, but really, bamboo is the best way to go. Once I’m ready for a new toothbrush, I’ll pull the bristles out to toss, and then throw the bamboo into the compost.
Stop buying plastic razors! Instead, get yourself a safety razor like this. I grabbed mine at Fred Meyer and yes, it came in packaging, but now I don’t have to throw out plastic razors and I don’t have to purchase expensive heads on repeat (that are plastic and get tossed). A lot recycling places will recycle your blades once they need to be replaced, so definitely check into that in your area.
For your next hair brush don’t go grab the cheapest plastic one you can find in the store, instead purchase something like this. I’ve yet to do this because my plastic comb has literally lasted me 5 years and will probably continue lasting until I accidentally break it..so maybe another 10 years, ha!
If you don’t want to use Dr. Bronner’s like I said above ^, look for package free soap at your local grocery store. Fred Meyer offers soap without any package (minus the sticker) in the organic aisle.
Last but not least, tampons and pads are SUCH a waste. Think of all the tampons/pads one woman goes through in just one cycle..now add that up into her entire life (pre menopause). Diva Cup figured it up and on average women are using 9,600 tampons in their lifetime. Now, if you’re like me, that number is way off..try 3 weeks of tampons every month with a heavy cycle. Yeah, that’s a lot. A year ago I got the cup simply because tampons hurt and made my endometriosis feel worse (it’s a thing, I promise). Most tampons are bleached and are full of chemicals..chemicals that you’re directly putting in your body. So, all around, they’re just bad news. Add in the cost of using disposable tampons/pads and I was completely sold when I found out this was a “thing”, it’s so convenient! If you’d like to discuss it a little further, feel free to contact me. I’m pretty open about all “that”, ya know, periods. ;)
7.) Shop Second Hand
Shopping second hand saves on so much waste. Over the last year I’ve found a real love for thrift shopping for clothes. Fast Fashion is a serious problem and a major source of waste in first world countries (you can read more on that HERE), so instead of running to Target, H&M, American Eagle, etc, for new clothes, check out your local thrift stores. I’m always amazed at what I can find there and leave pretty happy knowing I’m giving these items a second life. Usually after a few months they’re beyond their limit of being worn (because fast fashion isn’t made to last) so I cut them up to use as cleaning rags. When I really want a nice piece of clothing that will last, I save my pennies and shop from small businesses that hand make their clothes. Yes, it costs more, but you’re feeding an actual person instead of a corporation, and you’re getting a piece of clothing that will truly last. I’m currently loving this shop and plan to purchase a few pieces for this winter.
Shopping second hand isn’t just for clothes. Think of all the random things you buy that you only use a handful of times. We seem to always accumulate random junk when working on a home project or something else that involves manual labor. I have a love/hate for social media, but this is a time that it can be really useful. Get on Facebook and ask for whatever you’re needing! We have a local buy nothing group where people are constantly asking for + giving away items, groups like that are a great place to ask for random stuff you don’t necessarily want to purchase brand new. When you’re done with it, give it away again so it gets used over and over.
Toys are also an awesome item to shop second hand for. There are plenty of children’s stores (thrift shops too, of course) that offer a wide selection of toys. Instead of shopping for brand new toys every time your child gets tired of theirs, make it a fun process! Have your children choose toys they’re no longer wanting, take them to a second hand store to be donated, and then let them purchase “new” toys at said store. It’s essentially a toy library that will keep your children interested while also showing them that we don’t need to buy brand new things all the time. If your child is older, explain to them how the process works. For example, our local thrift shop uses the money they make from donated items to help people in our community. Not only will they get “new” toys, but they’re also possibly helping another child.
8.) Shop Local
I think we all love the convenience of online shopping, but it is a really wasteful way of getting what we want. I know all too well that sometimes you just have to shop online (hello, Alaska), but a lot of times it’s simply a convenience, right? A lot goes into shipping a package. Not only do you have to consider the actual packaging itself but also think of the gas/oil/energy needed to get your package to your front door. If we’d put a little more effort into finding those items we need in our community, we can have a little more control of the outcome and avoid all that extra packaging showing up to our home. Bring your own bag to the store and avoid even more waste!
This is the easiest thing you can do! I think people assume there is some kind of art to composting (some people get wild with it) but really, it can be very simple. We’re lazy composters because I simply don’t want to throw out food and don't really use it for gardening purposes (yeah, yeah, save the lecture). How do we compost? We have a bucket that’s sealed in our kitchen and throw all of our food scraps in there. Once the bucket is full then I dump it in these old burn barrels the people that lived here previously left behind. Sometimes I mix it up but usually the chickens jump in there and do the work for me. I avoid composting meat simply because it does draw in animals more than other scraps. That being said, I’ve never had an animal issue with ours. If you live in a community with a bear problem, you do need to make sure your container (outdoors) is sealed. One huge plus to composting? Your trash doesn't stink anymore. Usually we just have items we can’t recycle sitting in the trash can, so solids that don’t smell.
If you can't compost, consider reaching out to your local community to see if anyone can use the food scraps for their animals. If they’re raising animals for meat and are strict about their diet, they obviously can’t use your food, but if they’re someone like me who simply has animals because they love them, then they’d probably love to take your veggie/fruit scraps! Refrigerate them please and NEVER give moldy/rotten food.
10.) Learn to say, “no, thank you”.
One of the biggest struggles I’ve had with cutting back on waste is dealing with other people in businesses. For example, if I forget my bags the cashier is quick to throw my items into plastic bags, now I make sure to tell them as soon as I get to the register, “I don’t want any bags, please. I’ll just carry my items out to my car”. It’s the same for restaurants, waitresses are quick to pull straws out for you to use. Once those straws hit your table there’s a HUGE chance they’re going to be tossed even if you don’t use them. So, I try to tell them I don’t want a straw before they get the chance to throw them down. I’ve gotten used to not using a straw at all but if I really want one I now have two metal straws in my purse just in case.
Don’t beat yourself up.
This isn’t meant to be stressful, it’s meant to inspire you to make small changes in your home to slowly move towards a zero waste(ish) lifestyle. I don’t do all of this all of the time. I forget A LOT but that’s the entire point, this is a slow process of slow change. Pick and choose what you think you can implement and go from there. Small efforts are better than none.
You’ll see that I linked almost everything to buy from Amazon but I really, really, want you to look in your community for zero waste options before shipping them in. I’m hoping to soon offer a few things myself for the local community but you’d be surprised how many small businesses are carrying random things like bamboo toothbrushes, ton scrapers, safety razors, etc. When I visited Virginia recently I finally got to visit Bring Your Own LLC and was so inspired! If you live in the Shenandoah Valley, I encourage you to give her a visit.
If you have any specific questions are want to brainstorm, I’m always available via email (email@example.com) and Instagram, I’d love to hear from you!