We have surrounded ourselves with disposable items to make our lives easier and more convenient. From plastic utensils to electronics and everything in between, most items are now meant to be thrown out and replaced instead of repaired.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), it is estimated that in 2018 the U.S. produced 292.4 million tons of solid waste, which translates into an average of 4.9 pounds of waste per person per day.
In addition to solid waste, our society’s wastefulness can also be seen in our actions, such as in our excessive driving or using too many appliances.
Gaining control of how much waste is produced can have a lasting impact on the environment. With that in mind, how can each person reduce the waste we produce in our daily lives?
Here, we explore how to reduce, reuse, and recycle our way to a healthier planet.
1. Reduce, Reuse, & Recycle
Disposables are everywhere. They make our lives convenient, but we now realize it is at the expense of our planet. We can all do our part to reduce, reuse, and recycle those consumables to keep them from going into landfills.
The low prices may appeal when shopping at big box stores; however, buying in bulk may only be worth it if you consume the entire item before it expires. Select products with minimal packaging to reduce waste.
Getting takeout can be a lifesaver when life gets busy. However, takeout containers with black plastic cannot be recycled. If you do end up with those containers, try to repurpose them.
You can send guests home with some food or dessert, use them to take a sick friend some food or use them to store food, trinkets, toys, or hobby supplies.
You can also consider supporting restaurants that opt for compostable or recyclable containers.
2. Use Reusable Bags
Purchase reusable grocery bags and cloth produce bags for grocery shopping. Those flimsy produce bags are not recyclable and are incredibly wasteful.
If you tend to forget your reusable bags when you head to the store, as many of us do, try to keep extras in your car, or when you unload your groceries, place them in a visible spot so that next time you go on an errand, you can place them in your car and be ready to go.
Additionally, reusable bags aren’t just for groceries. Use them when you go shopping anywhere! You’ll feel great knowing you’re contributing to plastic bag waste reduction.
3. Avoid Single-use Plastic
Avoid single-use plastic, such as cutlery, straws, plates, cups, etc. They are huge contributors to waste, as most cannot be recycled.
When ordering takeout, you can also opt out of disposable utensils and use what you have at home.
Your morning drive-thru coffee is a must on some days. However, remember that disposable coffee cups are not recyclable due to the coating inside them.
You can try making coffee at home. It will save you money and reduce waste. But when you must buy that cup of joe, just take your coffee mug along. You’ll have to go inside and hand it to the barista, but the extra step will ensure you’re not contributing to landfill waste.
4. Buy Fewer Clothes
Believe it or not, the textile industry greatly contributes to landfill waste. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) estimates that about 5% of it comes from textiles and that the average American throws away roughly 70 pounds of textiles per year.
With new clothing collections being released regularly, fast fashion produces quick, cheap, and unsustainable items.
Instead of consuming the latest trends, wear what you have and take care of it to make it last longer. Repair damaged clothes yourself or alter them to breathe new life into them.
If you find yourself in need of new clothes, second-hand and vintage shops are great options. Their affordable prices and uniqueness will help keep your wardrobe fresh and keep them out of landfills.
You can also donate items in good condition you no longer need or want. It will keep someone else from purchasing new items and give your old garments new life.
5. Replace Disposable Products
Choose cloth to replace disposable napkins, paper towels, wipes, diapers, etc. Switching to a sustainable option will save you money and reduce your carbon footprint.
Any type of cloth or an old T-shirt will do as a replacement.
Composting food scraps, newspapers, yard trimmings, and other organic waste help keep those items from landfill. Additionally, the finished product helps reduce the use of fertilizers on your plants.
Applying compost to your plants increases water retention, reducing water waste. Compost also helps prevent soil erosion.
Compost production can be done at a small scale if needed; however, if you are limited in space, vermicompost might be more suitable for you.
With vermicompost, redworms help break down the organic matter. Their worm castings, or worm poop, thus provide nourishment for plants while reducing waste.
During the hot summer months, try raising the cutting height on your lawn mower. The longer grass length will help keep the grass roots shaded and cooler while retaining water, preventing it from evaporating too quickly.
Additionally, when you mow the lawn, leave the grass clippings, do not collect and discard them. This method is known as “grasscycling.” Leaving the grass clippings on the lawn allows them to return nutrients to the soil while helping retain moisture, thus preventing water loss.
Xeriscaping is another way to prevent water loss and waste, especially in drought-prone areas. With xeriscaping, you select native plants that thrive in that particular climate and group those with similar water requirements together.
Applying mulch to your lawn also helps conserve water and prevents erosion and soil compaction. Mulch can be gravel, pebbles, wood, bark, and leaves. Rye and clover can also be used as living mulch.
9. Conserve Food
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that Americans waste approximately 30-40% of the food supply. That figure translates to roughly 219 pounds per person. That is a lot of food being wasted!
To attempt to remedy this food waste, there are several things people can do, starting in their homes.
10. Organize the Refrigerator
Try organizing your refrigerator regularly. Implement the first in, first out method to ensure older food items are used before they go bad instead of being tossed.
Making a grocery list before shopping will help you purchase only what you need instead of impulse buying items you may wind up discarding.
Instead of discarding your leftovers, get creative and make something new with them. If you don’t feel like eating them immediately, simply freeze them to eat later.
Along the same lines, many restaurants serve very large portions per customer. Instead of tossing the uneaten portion, ask your server to pack it and take it home to eat at a later time.
11. Make a Grocery List Before Shopping
Make a grocery list before going shopping. This will allow you to stick to what you need instead of impulse buying something you may end up discarding.
Although the low prices of buying in bulk may lure you into making unnecessary purchases, in the long run, it may not be cost-effective if you throw out the food or if it expires before you can consume it.
12. Purchase Goods in Bulk
When you purchase too much, produce freeze any extra for use later, such as for smoothies, soups, or roasting.
When purchasing dry goods, do so in bulk. You eliminate the disposable packaging if you take a reusable bag or container. Plus, you purchase exactly what you expect to prepare and eat and not more.
Don’t peel your produce; it contains the most fiber and nutrients. Instead, keep your produce intact and avoid sending the peels to the landfill.
13. Prevent Energy Waste
Preventing energy waste in your home directly impacts the environment as it reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which lead to global warming.
Turning down the heat and putting on an extra layer of clothing during the winter months can help reduce energy waste.
14. Install a Smart Thermostat
Install a programmable or smart thermostat and close your blinds during the summer to stabilize indoor temperature.
Turn the power off appliances at the power outlet or put them to sleep when not in use.
15. Use LED Bulbs
Use LED bulbs use 85% less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent light bulbs. Thus, switching LED bulbs is an easy way to reduce energy waste. Turn off the lights when not in use.
16. Buy Energy Star Appliances
Appliances can be significant energy wasters, especially if they are poorly maintained, too old, or inefficient.
Only purchase those with the energy star logo to ensure your appliances are not huge energy wasters.
Turning your water heater down to 120⁰ degrees Fahrenheit can significantly prevent energy waste.
When streaming movies or shows, do so on a smart TV instead of a game console since game consoles are unsuitable. This will prevent energy waste by simultaneously reducing the number of items you have.
17. Replace the Old Refrigerator
Replace your refrigerator every 15-20 years to ensure it functions efficiently. Once you are done with it, be sure to recycle it.
Additionally, set your refrigerator to 35-38⁰ Fahrenheit and your freezer to 0⁰ Fahrenheit, no lower. Overpacking your refrigerator can prevent it from operating at optimal efficiency.
18. Use a Laptop Instead of a Desktop
When you buy a computer, choose a laptop instead of a desktop because they use less energy to operate.
19. Drive Less
When driving around the city, avoid too many stop-and-go’s since driving in such a manner hurts your fuel efficiency. Moreover, using the car’s cruise control, when possible, can help you save fuel, improving emissions.
Additionally, planning your errands for the most efficient route can be cost-effective and a time-saver.
20. Take a Public Transit
Taking public transportation during your daily commutes, such as a train or bus, can help reduce gasoline waste and GHG emissions, even if only done several times a week.
21. Bike to Work
Cycling for short errands or commuting to work when the weather permits can also help save natural resources.
22. Carpooling to work
Carpooling to work or gathering with friends for a special event can also reduce waste. Working remotely instead of commuting to an office significantly reduces waste and GHG emissions.
23. Maintain Your Car
Servicing your car and checking the tire pressure often will help keep it running efficiently since low tire pressure can hurt fuel economy, leading to fossil fuel waste.
Weighing down your car with heavy items and using the air conditioning when not needed can also impact fuel economy.
24. Fly Less
Whether traveling for work or pleasure, taking fewer long round-trip flights and electing fewer connecting flights can help significantly reduce waste and GHG emissions.
Choose a staycation instead of flying to far-off destinations when you can. Doing so will help reduce waste.
Final Thoughts on How to Reduce Waste
If we implement small changes in our daily lives, we can have a lasting impact on the waste we produce.
By reducing waste in all aspects of our lives, we can reduce GHG emissions, thus impacting our carbon footprint for the benefit of future generations.