If you are new to limiting waste in your home and currently setting out two, three or even more garbage bags of trash per week as a family, then not only are you contributing to a problem but that’s a lot of money you’re throwing away! Fortunately, we have some pointers for you on how to reduce waste, and lucky for you, it’s not that hard.
This should be a no-brainer, but in many areas, recycling is not as readily available as it is in some cities. If it’s plastic, glass, tin, or cardboard, it’s likely recyclable and that includes almost all of the fast food containers that you may have brought home from the drive-thru.
Some families go for fast food or have pizza about twice a week. That would be half a bag of garbage alone if it weren’t for the fact that those drink trays are reusable (more on this later), and that all but the straws are recyclable. Yes, even the waxy cups. If it’s from McDonald’s, Wendy’s, or Starbucks, then the cup is recyclable. Check with your community to find out what numbers of plastics are recyclable in your area.
Another thing families use a lot are frozen juice concentrates. Those are also recyclable. The cardboard can be separated quite easily and put into the cardboard recycling box, and the tin tops in the recycling containers.
It would amaze you what we throw away after one use rather than reusing. I mentioned the take-out drink trays above. If they don’t get wet or stepped on, then you can reuse them easily for at least ten trips. If you’re a frequent take-out flyer, then just put the tray back in your car for later once you distribute the drinks. If you’re thinking about the office coffee run, then there are even better options such as this one from Eco On the Go. It holds four coffees or sodas and folds up tiny to fit between your seat and console. Plus, if it’s that office coffee run you’re thinking about, grab it, make the rounds for your colleagues’ monetary contribution, and stick it in the pocket where their coffee order will go. Win-win.
We all know we can reuse plastic containers, boxes, and so on for repackaging leftovers, lunches, or moving, but you can also reuse the smaller things like yogurt cups. These make great water cups for painting, or even drink cups for your child’s birthday party. They’re just the right size!
An area that can be tough for reusing is family cloths. This encompasses everything from cloth diapers to cloth baby wipes, and even cloth toilet paper and menstrual pads. If you make the switch to cloth diapers and wipes switch you will be saving upwards of $500 dollars in your first year alone. Not many babies are using the potty consistently by a year old, though, so stretch this to almost four years and you’re looking at $4,000 of pooped-on diapers versus $500 dollars if you get brand-new cloth diapers. If you’re really frugal and it doesn’t bother you, consider a trade site such as Craigslist. You can get the whole stash for $50-200 and that’s all the diapers your child and subsequent children will need.
As far as family cloth goes, this is a gradual transition for many who use cloth diapers. You’re already wiping your baby’s butt with a cloth wipe, and soon it’s the older kids, and then it’s you. We keep a bucket for pee wipes and a bucket for poop wipes. It just feels better. That’s another huge environmental impact and recycled toilet paper, because you don’t need to wipe your butt with a new tree or containing the BPA that was in all those receipts you recycled.
We go back and forth on family cloth and another option is alternative female products to deal with menstruation. You can use cloth pads or a menstrual cup, and there are many options for differently sized women and flows. A menstrual cup is a small cup that you use internally as you would a tampon, so you can swim, bike, or do anything except have intercourse with it in. For swimmers, it is a natural progression from tampons. If you’d like more information FeminineWear has a great how-to page, or there is a great support group on Facebook to help you find what will work for you.
This is an extension of reuse, really. If you’re doing the things above, you’ll naturally reduce your waste, especially in the diapering area! Reducing your grocery waste is hard. If you’re cooking from scratch but using canned tomatoes, you could have up to four cans. Yes, you can recycle them or turn them into pen holders, but it’s still four cans! Every time you make that dish — every single time. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need that many pen holders. I look in dismay when I see that pile of cans after making spaghetti sauce, but fortunately, aluminum is one of the more easily recycled materials.
The materials you want to watch out for are the styrofoam trays under meat, the plastic containers around berries, and the like. These you can easily reduce by going to the butcher or local market. Take your reusable bags both for check-out and for produce, (these are my favorite style because you can tuck them in your purse or backpack) and your reusable containers to the local farmer, which also reduces your carbon footprint by shopping and supporting local farmers. If you’re used to going to three grocery stores, then it’s not that much different to source your food locally. If you’re a large enough family, consider purchasing a portion of a cow, pig, and a couple chickens. This way you know who raised your animals, how they were fed and treated, and don’t have to worry about the environmental impact of factory farming.
One last topic I’ll touch on for reducing is baby items. A baby has very few needs, yet it is this age group that has the most stuff, and many parents feel that they need brand-new stuff for every single child. If you feel that you need a bouncer chair, then get a multi-purpose one such as the Graco Duo 2-in-1 Swing & Bouncer. You also don’t need an $800 stroller, $1,500 nursery set, and a minivan for just one child. Sorry, but no. I have a friend who, for their third child, got the diapers, potty (because they do elimination communication further reducing the diaper load), bassinet, swing, playpen, and stroller from a secondhand source for a whopping $300.
Finally, if you can’t recycle it, have to get it packaged that way, and can’t reuse it, maybe it’s compostable. Composting is the final frontier before hitting the trash bin, and if you’re really into creating nutrient-rich soil for your garden, then you might want to consider vermiculture too.
Composting 101 states that if it’s not meat, it’s of organic origin, then you can put it in the pile. Leftover veggies without oil, leftover baked goods, even crunched up egg shells, tea bags, old socks, jeans, papers, cardboard, and more can be composted. There is a science to it, so it’s not like you can just make a pile and it’s magically done. You do have to stir and layer, but if you want to get a big pile going then introducing the red wrigglers or European night crawlers to the pile to stir. They’ll help it decompose faster too because the worms will eat the organic material, and they also create rich output via their stool. It’s quite easy to start up, but make sure you have an area that will stay between 30-70°F as worms need a cool place to retreat to in order to survive and thrive. A sunny deck is not a good place.
(Related: Everything You Need To Know About Composting)
Here are the pointers summed up in case that was too much too fast.
- Recycle everything: juice containers, fast food wrappers, everything.
- Reuse when you can: take-out drink trays, bring your own bags for checkout and produce items, lunch containers and bags, cloth napkins, plastic cups from yogurt, diapers, family cloth, menstrual products.
- Reduce the rest: find a local butcher for your meat to avoid styrofoam trays, consider purchasing a portion of a cow, pig, and chicken so you know exactly what you’re buying and eating, and children don’t need all that “stuff” to be happy, secondhand things work just fine.
- Compost: your food scraps, old socks, old papers, anything organic in origin.