Many families are looking for ways to reduce garbage waste in their homes. Maybe they realized they were spending too much money on consumable items that brought no value to their lives. Maybe they realized they were overflowing their garbage bin each week and started to wonder if they could do better. Regardless of the reason, aiming to reduce the amount of waste your family produces is a noble goal.
When it comes to many of the issues in our environment, some people feel it’s easier to point fingers and blame other countries, blame corporations, blame….anyone but themselves. There may be a lot of truth to what they’re saying, but the fact of the matter is we can do what we can to advocate for other people to change, and it may help….but we can change our own habits right now to do our part.
We are 100% in control of our own habits, and we need to believe that we can make even a small difference, and we need to believe that a small difference is worth it… even if that difference is just teaching our kids it is important to care.
So let’s get to it! Here are 5 simple ways to reduce garbage waste. The ideas presented here are meant to be relatively simple to implement, but it’s okay to take baby steps and just try one thing at a time to make gradual changes.
#1: Cloth Diaper!
Of course, I had to say that; this is Rocking the Cloth after all! But really, cloth diapering sounds way crazier, harder, and more disgusting than it actually is. It is none of those things!
If this is something you would even remotely consider or would be willing to look into a little more, check out my Cloth Diapering 101 series. You will find a series of posts to introduce you to the topic and help you decide if this is something your family could do. You could also check out my Pros and Cons of Cloth Diapers post for more convincing arguments, statistics, and solutions.
The average baby that uses disposables adds about 7,000 diapers to a landfill. It’s really easy for us not to think that’s a big deal–we put the diapers in the garbage, the garbage truck takes it away…out of sight, out of mind, not our problem! But this number is really not sustainable.
Also, the amount of resources that goes into manufacturing disposables is concerning. The amount of disposable diapers needed for one year of diapering one child uses 300 lbs of wood, 20 lbs of chlorine, and 50 lbs of petroleum feedstocks. Disposables also use more than twice the amount of water to manufacture than cloth.
I get that not everyone is willing to do this. I hope that I can help some people to see that there are a lot of misconceptions about them, but I understand that some people will draw a firm line and not even consider it. That’s okay, and there are other ways you can work to reduce your family’s waste. You can still make a difference even if you have a hard stance against cloth diapers.
#2: Find Alternatives for Single-Use Kitchen Items
There are so many alternatives for single-use kitchen items, such as paper towels, plastic zipper bags, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, etc. These alternatives will not only reduce the amount of waste you produce, but they will save you money. Here are some simple ideas that you can look at gradually implementing to reduce the amount of waste from your kitchen.
Instead of plastic bags, use reusable bags for shopping, and consider how you might choose more eco-friendly options for garbage bags. If you do need to use plastic bags, consider how you might give them a second purpose.
Instead of paper, plastic, or Styrofoam plates/cups/silverware when you have company (or if you use them at other times, like when bringing lunch to work), invest in a cheap, but large amount of plates, silverware, and cups. This doesn’t need to be expensive. Check Goodwill or other thrift stores for second-hand items. Stores like Ikea, Target, and Walmart also have very economical sets.
For cups, I already have a large amount of mason jars from various projects, so I use those. I do have some plastic ones for small children.
Tips for use and storage: Make sure your dishwasher (if you have one) is completely empty before your guests come. That will make it much easier to get the dishes in there and off your counter/out of your sink right away. If you don’t have one, it might be a good idea to get some sort of plastic tub that you can tuck out of the way for guests to put dirty dishes in after use. It would also make washing easier because you could add dish soap and hot water right to the tub, then rinse in your sink.
For storage, I bought a Rubbermaid tub to keep these items in, and they sit on a shelf in my basement until I need them.
Instead of paper towels, invest in some kitchen towels, wash cloths, and/or flour sack towels. I was hesitant at first because I thought some messes were just too gross and it would ruin the rags. Well, I haven’t found that to be true at all! Use reusable rags to wipe up any mess, and just rinse it in the sink when you’re done. Then if the rag is done for, toss it in the laundry.
(Hint: I do try to toss them in the basket that is likely going to be going to the washing machine the soonest–sometimes when wet rags sit around too long, they get mildewy. Washing within a couple days is important, so just make sure to toss them in the basket that is going to be washed next!)
Instead of plastic zipper sandwich and snack bags, use Tupperware/reusable containers! Honestly, these work BETTER for many things, anyway. When was the last time you put some chips in a baggie in your lunch box, then took them out at lunchtime and they were all smashed? The only downsides to using containers instead of baggies is you have a little more to wash at the end of the day, and sometimes they take up more room.
For the first downside, if you are serious about reducing waste, you are just going to have to accept that you will need to do a bit more washing. That is par for the course. 🙂 For the second downside, you can get reusable sandwich bags that seal with a zipper or velcro if you would like to try that. Otherwise, what I will do is combine what foods I am able to in the same container so that I can use fewer containers overall. Sometimes it’s easier to fit one big container in a lunch box than several smaller ones. You could also look into the next alternative I’m about to describe.
Instead of plastic wrap, invest in some beeswax food wraps, or make them yourself! Beeswax food wraps are a piece of cloth that is coated in beeswax (and maybe a little bit of oil). The result is reusable food wraps that can help keep food from spoiling, or help you package it up to put in your lunch box.
Instead of aluminum foil, use silicone baking mats. Obviously, this will depend on what you are using the foil for, but if it is to help cookies or other treats bake without sticking and keep your cookie sheets clean, silicone baking mats would be a fabulous choice.
Instead of plastic straws, use reusable silicone or stainless steel straws. I have both kinds, and I really prefer the stainless steel (tastes better to me), but get whichever kind appeals to you! My kids love them.
Most sets will come with little scrub brushes to clean them. To make it easier on me, I let them pile up a bit and I wash them all at once while I have the scrub brush out. They are easy and quick to clean. You could also completely do without straws all together, but I find with having small kids in the house, it’s nice to have some straws.
#3: Research Recycling (and Do It Properly!)
It’s very likely you are not recycling 100% as you’re supposed to, whether that means you are recycling things that shouldn’t be recycled, or not recycling something that actually can be. Look into recycling rules for your area, as I know some of this can be regional.
Here is a resource from Waste Management (a garbage/recycling company) about what is recyclable and what you need to make sure you do to an item before putting it in recycling. Properly preparing things for recycling ups the chances that the items can actually be accepted and reused.
Update March 2019: Here is another thorough, easy-to-understand recycling guide you can reference: What Can Be Recycled? Your Complete 2019 Recycling Guide
#4: Invest in a Water Filter
It is estimated that Americans purchase and drink over 42 billion bottles of water each year. Even if you recycle those bottles (which, lets face it, many of these bottles do not end up recycled), that’s a lot of energy used in that process that doesn’t even need to be used because most of these people buying bottled water don’t need to be buying it. (I’m not harping on anyone who needed it during natural disasters and other unfortunate situations, but am speaking about the people who use them for just daily drinking water in their home).
There are also health concerns about eating and drinking things packaged in plastic that I won’t get into too much here, but I will mention it.
If you don’t feel comfortable drinking your tap water (or you just don’t like the taste), buying a water filter may cost a little bit on the front end, but it will save SO MUCH MONEY in the long-run. It will also significantly reduce your waste. My husband and I spent less than $200 on a 2-gallon reverse osmosis system 6 years ago and it’s still going strong and gives great tasting water.
You will also want to invest in some quality reusable water bottles so that you can easily bring water with you when you go places. Glass and stainless steel water bottles are believed to be best, but use whatever you need to use. The most important thing in reducing waste is that it’s reusable, even if that means it’s a plastic water bottle.
#5: Reconsider Individually Wrapped Snacks
Many of the snack foods we buy for our kids (or even ourselves) are individually wrapped. Granola bars, string cheese, fruit snacks, chips, etc. No doubt this is convenient, but it adds to our daily waste.
Instead of buying individually packaged cheese sticks, you can buy block cheese and cut off chunks. Instead of buying granola bars, you can make them yourself (they are actually very easy to make, and much healthier. You can control the amount of sugar, and there are no preservatives) and store in Tupperware. You can buy a large bag of chips and portion it out in reusable containers.
This can also save you quite a bit of money when you don’t purchase individually packaged snacks and instead make your own, or package them yourself from a larger quantity.
It Starts with Baby Steps
I’m not going to pretend that this is all so easy. I know for many people used to the convenience of these consumable products, it might seem like a lot to change. A big reason we are dealing with excess waste in the world right now is because of the convenience factor.
For myself personally, I found that while buying a prepackaged snack or using a disposable diaper is easier, it’s not actually THAT much easier. It does involve an extra step or two to avoid disposable products– I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t. But that extra step or two in the grand scheme of things was not that big of a deal.
I think a lot of people get overwhelmed at the thought of the extra time, the extra work…it might be a little bit more, but you’re probably overestimating in your head what it actually takes. You are capable of more than you think. All of these things can easily become a new habit, and then they will be no big deal to you.
If you are interested in more ideas for reducing waste, check out these articles: Reducing Plastic and Waste- Small Steps to a Cleaner World Part 1
Good luck on your journey to reducing your waste! What else would you add to this list? Or what do you think out of my suggestions is absolutely ridiculous? Let me know in the comments!