Totally Free Ways to Reduce Waste
Reducing waste is for everyone. You don’t have to “go zero waste” to reap the benefits of reducing waste. Our combined efforts impact climate change.
The average American recycles only 1.5 pounds of the 4.40 pounds of waste they generate on a daily basis, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Here are six ways to start reducing that number at your house.
1 – Eliminate Food Waste
How many times have you bought a huge bunch of greens at the farmers market or grocery store only to throw out half of it? I know it happens to me, too. Although, I have learned to reduce spoilage significantly by:
- Store produce properly so they won’t spoil
- Have a plan so it is all consumed
- Freeze or save what you can’t eat right away
If I haven’t eaten my greens by the third or fourth day, they are going to go in a smoothie or at least get blended and frozen. Let’s say you bought too much spinach and you can’t eat it all. Put what’s left in your blender with just enough water to keep it moving. Once it is blended, pour into an ice cube tray or other containers to freeze. Later you can add these to fruit smoothies, soup bases, casseroles, stir fry, and more.
You can learn more about how to plan a menu for less waste and use what you buy. The earth supplies enough food for everyone, we all do good to remember: feed people, not landfills.
2 – Composting Reduces the Amount of Waste in Landfills
One of the easiest ways to reduce the volume of landfill waste coming from your home is to dispose of food scraps properly. The amount of food wasted in the United States has a significant environmental impact, not to mention it drives up food prices all over the world. Think supply and demand.
By learning proper methods of handling food waste, you will be making huge strides in the effort to reduce landfill waste and keep food prices reasonable. In reducing waste in your own home, you make it easier for those in poverty to afford food too.
While there is a lot more to be said about how to reduce food waste, let’s focus on what to do with inevitable food waste such as eggshells, avocado pits, banana peels, and such. When these compostable items are mixed in with solid waste they do not disintegrate as some people mistakenly believe.
Unfortunately, compostable items that end up in the landfill will not have enough oxygen to break down aerobically (with oxygen.) When food waste ends up buried in the landfill, the food rots and produces methane gas.
Wasting Natural Resources
In addition, the nutrients in the food are not able to complete their lifecycle which is to return to the soil. This robs the earth of precious resources. Food waste also means that the resources used by the farmer are wasted.
Think about all the labor, energy, time, fuel, fertilizer or even pesticides that were wasted to grow that food! So many veggies can be grown with the organic materials that come from composting.
So while we can’t always prevent a bit of food waste in the kitchen, we can definitely dispose of it properly by composting! Composting is free, it just requires a bit of effort.
If you aren’t into composting, consider composting programs. Locally, I use Green Heron to pick up my food scraps.
Not free but an alternative worth mentioning is to use a Foodcycler to turn your food scraps into fertilizer for your plants. I give my organic waste to friends and they often gift me their abundance of zucchini, squash, and tomatoes they were able to grow with it! Amazing, huh?
3 – Recycle Your Cardboard
Corrugated cardboard as well as chipboard (like shoeboxes) are infinitely recyclable. Not ALL cardboard is recyclable, the average used pizza box is not recyclable because of the oils that penetrate the cardboard. These oils make it hard to recycle, unfortunately. I have been known to rip the clean pizza box top apart from the greasy bottom part of the box which then goes in the dumpster.
Bottom line: the cleaner the material, the more marketable it is.
When you do recycle your cardboard boxes, break down the box and fold it so that it is flat, stack in or near your recycling bin. Always keep cardboard dry until picked or you drop it off at a recycling facility.
For more details on keeping cardboard out of the waste stream, read: How To Recycle Cardboard.
4 – Waste Reduction through Reusing Stuff
Reusing things is a fun challenge and a perfect way to keep stuff out of the landfill. Just because something has fulfilled its original purpose, does not mean its usefulness is gone! Heck no!
One of the most common examples of this I see is plastic bags. Have you ever thought about the fact that consumers go to the grocery store and bring home food in plastic bags, yet buy different plastic bags to line trash cans?
While I’d rather they did not exist, they do, so at the very least, use them or take them back to the store where you got them. Many recycling facilities will not accept plastic bags so they need to be taken to a specially marked container which you will find at most stores.
Just including this in the list will annoy many “zero wasters” but the reality is you have to start somewhere, and many people still use plastic bags. I’d like to convince you not to, but if you do use them, please dispose of them properly.
Another wonderful example of giving an item a second chance at being useful is glass jars. If you buy spaghetti, peanut butter, and other food in glass jars, reuse them for buying things in bulk! They also make excellent containers to carry soup or salad to work for lunch.
If you make your own bone broth (reusing bones!) then you can store it in a jar. But that jar is not limited to food items, no, there’s more! You can also store things in your jars such as sewing notions, buttons, paint brushes, tubes of paint, and lots more.
Put on your thinking cap, and reuse your jars. Later when you’ve used them up you can always place them in a recycle bin.
Plastic Prescription Bottles
Most are recyclable but here are a few things you can do with them:
- Change holder
- Art supplies, paint, etc..
- Seeds for storage (to plant again next year!)
- Condiment containers for packing in lunch boxes
- Mini first aid kits
- Screws, nuts, nails, etc.
- Travel shampoo, conditioner, soap, sanitizer
- Earbud storage
- Small snack containers
- Dog or cat treats
- Fishing lures container
- Paper clips
You can browse Pinterest for ideas on how to reuse anything! Also, follow my Zero Waste Effort board for more ideas or opt-in to get more tips via email.
5 – Stop buying disposables
Not only is this option free, but it will also save money!
I get it, you’re busy, we all are.
In conversation, friends have told me that they are saving water by using disposable plates. First of all, I can only hope they are using 100% paper plates and not styrofoam. Second, even with paper, they usually end up in the landfill. Third, disposable plates require more of the earth’s resources than washing reusables.
While a dishwasher or handwashing does use water to clean a reusable dish, many people don’t realize that it takes a considerable amount of water to create a paper plate.
Making enough paper for one plate uses about 8 gallons of fresh water, which means your 10-plate dinner party uses 80 gallons, without washing a thing. Running the dishwasher for one load uses much less water, between six and 10 gallons. ~ Green Dinner Parties
A used disposable plate is not recyclable.
- Food residue cannot be removed from the paper in the recycling process rendering a used disposable plate destined for the landfill.
- Many disposable plates are coated with plastic or wax and must be separated from the paper before recycling can be considered
The bottom line is that not all plates are made from recyclable materials and using a plate for food prevents it from being recycled.
Other disposables we can eliminate
Disposable batteries and water bottles are other examples where you can easily find reusable and reduce household waste. Also, rechargeable batteries are easier to recycle when you’ve used up their full life cycle.
Packaging materials can often be reused and will help you save money you would spend buying your own!
When you have to buy items, like tools, think about the possibility of borrowing or renting instead.
6 – Buy products in whatever is recyclable where you live
This is a very last resort idea. If glass isn’t recyclable in your area, you might consider purchasing products in cans or plastic, as long as you are going to recycle them. Never thought I’d hear myself say that, but if you’re throwing glass in the trash but you recycle plastic, maybe opt for the plastic?
Locally here in Tennessee, Knox County convenience centers stopped accepting glass, however, at the City centers, glass is still accepted. For the ultra dedicated recyclers, saving up the glass to take when you are in the area is an option. For those who hate throwing glass in the trash, maybe purchase in other containers when possible. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this as I feel it’s a bit controversial but this is where we’re at.
Keep the conversation going
These are just a few of many ways you can reduce the amount of waste you send to the landfills. I also found this article useful in stopping junk mail, unwanted calls, etc.
What ideas can you contribute that will help reduce the amount of waste we send to landfills? I’d love to hear them in the comments!