Waste. Whether it’s piling up in a landfill, floating into the atmosphere and killing the ozone, or filling your X/Twitter feed, waste is a prominent and seemingly never-ending issue that we all must deal with on a daily basis. While many sustainability-forward thinkers are doing all they can to support and lessen their subsequent carbon footprint, it can be a daunting and overwhelming crusade to take on for the average person.
Where do you even start? You can do some research or read a blog that will tell you to carpool more often and save turtles via your choice of straw, or maybe it will tell you to stop buying things altogether, get off the grid, move to the forest, and live off the land. All decent, though maybe impractical, options to get you started. But what can we regular folk really do to help reduce waste that is actually feasible, makes an impact, and doesn’t require a change of address?
Here are our top 10 ways to reduce waste.
1. Start Composting
You’ve heard this one before, but you haven’t started yet because it sounds like a real pain and commitment to set up, you don’t want to add another step to your garbage routine, and worms gross you out. Completely understandable.
However, the reason why composting is at the top of this list is that it is actually easy to start and the return on investment from a waste-savings aspect is gigantic. Composting accomplishes multiple waste-reduction and cost-saving goals all at once. By composting, you can diminish the volume of food waste destined for landfills, markedly decrease methane emissions, lower the dependency on fertilizers, and produce more nourishing soil that serves as a barrier against erosion. Additionally, it fosters robust plant growth and aids in water conservation. It is quite literally one of the most impactful moves you can make to reduce waste and promote sustainability.
For more information on composting at home, including how to get set up and a cheat sheet of what is and isn’t compostable, visit the US Environmental Protection Agency.
2. Reuse Everything
Say goodbye to disposables! Going the reusable route, while potentially a little pricier up front, not only reduces your landfill waste, but also reduces costs over the long term. Here are a few quick and easy items to make the switch to:
- Cloth shopping bags – These are becoming more mainstream as many grocery stores are starting to charge for bags. Just bring your own to help reduce plastic waste and save money!
- Napkins – Instead of paper towels and napkins in the kitchen, opt for washable cloth napkins instead. Not only will you stop throwing away a bunch of paper, but the cloth napkins will also pay for themselves after a few months. You can find them in all sorts of designs to match your kitchen aesthetic.
- Plastic water bottles – Don’t. Just buy a reusable water bottle. This one is so easy and so important.
- Other ideas – Reusable coffee cups/tumblers, glass straws, cloth diapers, polyester sponges, and wool dryer balls to replace fabric softener and reduce drying time.
3. Make Your Own Cleaning Products
Did you know that you don’t need to buy those dizziness-inducing cleaning products that coat everything you own in chemicals? You can easily make your own cleaning products at home using common household ingredients you probably already have. You’ll mostly need some combination of white vinegar (which can basically do anything, by the way), baking soda, water, and lemon.
Making your own cleaning products not only reduces the amount of chemicals brought into your home, but it also helps reduce the amount of plastic you buy and saves you money. Skeptical? Check out these 15 homemade cleaners the pros swear by for some recipes and try it yourself! Another option if you don’t want to feel like a mad scientist at home is buying a multi-use product like Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds or Branch Basics’ The Concentrate. Both can be used for everything from laundry detergent to counter spray.
4. Buy Recyclable Products
This one may appear to be obvious, but buying products that can be recycled is a great way to reduce your waste! Next time you’re at the store, look for the universal symbol of arrows in a triangle to ensure the product is recyclable. The only tricky part is deciphering the number in the middle of the symbol. While many believe the number tells you whether the plastic is recyclable, the number actually just tells you what type of plastic the product is. Here is a great rundown on plastic recycling symbols.
Pro tip: Find recyclable products made from recycled material for a twofer on your sustainability efforts. If you’re unsure about your products, TerraCycle and alternative at-home recycling programs like Ridwell are great options for ensuring what you buy doesn’t end up in a landfill.
5. Start Planning Meals in Advance
Meal planning is one of the most efficient ways to help lower food waste in your kitchen. Though it can sound exhausting to try to plan out meals days or weeks ahead of time, it is so
beneficial that it’s worth the hassle. Meal planning helps you drastically reduce food waste while also saving you time and money.
Here are some tips for meal planning:
- Take a look around your fridge and pantry first to see what items you have that are expiring soon and need to be used up. Identifying and using up soon-to-be-expired ingredients is the first step in making sure those don’t go to waste.
- Keep portions in mind when creating your shopping list! You’ll want to make sure you’re not buying either too much or not enough ingredients for the portions you’re planning.
- FIFO (first in, first out) is a simple and common method of food storage in many food service and grocery stores, and it’s a fantastic principle to live by when storing food at home to ensure you’re always using the item with the shorter shelf life and reducing waste.
By going to the grocery store with a plan and exact amounts in mind, you’ll stop yourself from overbuying and overspending. Here are some other meal-planning tips to nibble on.
6. Buy in Bulk
This one goes hand in hand with meal planning. Purchasing items in bulk not only helps with meal planning, but also reduces the necessity for individually wrapped products, resulting in significant savings of bottles, cans, jars, etc. It also helps you reduce waste by allowing you to choose the exact quantity that you need instead of whatever comes in the package. This lessens the amount of leftover and unused food going bad.
It’s worth noting that the buying-bulk party doesn’t have to end at food. There are many other items such as toilet paper, vitamins, and batteries that are perfect choices for buying in bulk.
7. Buy Secondhand Items
Hand-me-downs, thrift stores, Craigslist – we are truly living in the golden age of secondhand purchasing. Buying secondhand items decreases waste by prolonging the life of products and keeping them out of the landfill. This practice extends the usefulness of a wide variety of items, from clothing to electronics, which then reduces the demand for new manufacturing. Secondhand purchases also minimize packaging waste and support a culture of recycling and reusing items, fostering more sustainable consumption habits.
To buy items secondhand, people need to donate them. Donating is a great way to lower your waste output as it again helps divert items from their trip to a landfill and extends the product life cycle.
Pretty much everything said about the benefits of buying secondhand items also applies here, with the added benefit of being able to support charitable causes. Charitable organizations, thrift stores, and shelters are often set up where proceeds from sales support social and environmental causes within the community. So, donating not only lowers your negative waste impact, it also increases your societal impact – a double whammy!
9. Be Efficient with Energy
While not as mainstream as your extra food or garbage, energy waste is a biggie and often overlooked. Energy waste is when energy is produced but not used, or used inefficiently, which leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions and higher utility bills.
So what to do? Surely it can’t be as easy as turning off lights in rooms you aren’t in … right? That’s actually a great starting point! In addition to being more attentive to your light bulb use, here are some other ways to lower your energy waste at home:
- Unplug electronic devices you aren’t actively using. Electronics are constantly consuming energy even when not in use, so unplug ’em!
- Use smart technology such as smart lightbulbs and smart outlets so you can control everything from your phone. Being able to manage your home’s electricity on the go and set up automations really helps reduce wasted energy and is also very convenient.
- Double-check those seals on your doors and windows to make sure they’re working properly. Weathered seals can let the heat or cold in and cause unnecessary energy usage.
- Consider a switch to LED light bulbs, as they can last three to five times longer than a CFL and 30 times longer than an incandescent bulb! (There’s a reason you can’t buy those anymore.) More on the benefits of LED lights here.
10. Reduce Waste Around the Office
If you’re reading this, you’re probably sitting in an office and energized with the inspiration to take action now. Luckily, there a few ways to limit your waste in the office environment as well!
Digitizing everything (within reason) will do wonders for your office’s paper consumption. Switching over to file sharing and storing programs instead of file cabinets is a great way to decrease paper waste. While that may be an obvious (and probably already completed) transition in today’s working environment, a less apparent idea is to change all internal printer settings to print double-sided. This will save – you guessed it – up to 50% of paper when printing.
Another great idea is to ditch the single-use coffee pods for a less wasteful method. That may sound like an impossible task, as the disposable coffee pods are so engrained in office culture these days, but according to Consumer Reports, 64.6 million used coffee pods are thrown out or recycled every day as of 2020! Even though many single-use coffee pods are now recyclable, many don’t know that you need to remove the tops and clean out the grounds (compost them!) before recycling. If you’re not looking to move on from your machine, they also make reusable pods that you can fill with grounds and clean out between uses. It’s a little more work, but it means much less waste. Here are a few other ideas on how to reduce office waste.
Do What Works for You
Now you’re ready to fight the good fight, armed with new weapons and strategies to defeat the monster that is waste. In all seriousness, if you take one thing away from this blog post it should be that reducing your waste comes in many shapes, sizes, and impacts. So tonight, throw your leftover dinner in the compost bin, turn off the lights before bed, and sleep greener dreams.
If you’re looking to start reducing waste and green-up your business, connect with us! With more than 15 years of PR and marketing experience and a dedicated Sustainability practice, Kiterocket can help your business plant the seeds for a cleaner future.