5 Tips for Reducing Your Waste at Home
5 Tips for Reducing Your Waste at Home
By Shawna Miller
With the nation’s landfills approaching capacity, Americans have heeded the battle cry of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. But the third “R” in that slogan — recycling — has hit some major obstacles. So it's time to put more emphasis on reducing and reusing if you’re serious about preserving resources.
Community recycling, the mainstay of the environmental movement, is slowing because the market for recyclable materials has collapsed. As a result, some towns and cities have halted their recycling programs, or worse, are sending recyclables to the landfill.
Here are five things you can do that will help reduce the flow of trash to the landfills.
1. Stop throwing away food
Food has displaced paper as the leading category of refuse that goes to the landfill. To stop the waste:
- Buy only what you’ll eat and avoid impulse buying at the supermarket.
- Use or freeze leftovers before you forget about them.
- Compost. Almost all food products can be composted for use in gardens, flowerbeds, and yards.
- Understand food expiration dates. “Sell by” and “Best by” doesn’t mean the food is bad by that date. The Food & Drug Administration estimates we waste 20 percent of food because of misunderstood expiration labels.
2. Reduce single-use items
Instead of throwaways, use things that last. Real plates and real silverware can be washed and reused, as can cloth napkins, dishcloths, and towels. Disposable products made from plastics — water and soda bottles, tableware, and bags from the supermarket last in the landfill for up to 1,000 years. Many end up in our oceans. Only 10 percent are recycled. Carry a collapsible bottle in your pocket and fill it when you pass a water fountain.
3. Cut back on paper
Most companies you do business with offer and encourage paperless billing online. Take advantage of it. Likewise, most newspapers offer online content. Use it and halt newspaper deliveries. Junk mail can be stopped, but unfortunately for consumers, marketers have made it difficult and sometimes charge a fee. Use cloth instead of throwaways such as paper towels and disposable diapers. While paper is the most widely recycled product, about 22 million tons a year still goes to the landfill.
4. Recycle used clothing
Donate usable old clothing to agencies like Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Some will be resold in their shops while the rest will go to textile recyclers or to companies that resell them in less-developed countries. You might also sell them to local resale shops or online at sites such as thredUP, eBay. Also, consider buying used clothing. Once a stigma, quality second-hand clothing is now considered a fashionable alternative to cheaply made products hustled onto the market by “fast fashion” retailers. If your old clothes are worn out, cut them into rags to use in place of paper towels.
5. Shop for reusable products
Even in a shrink-wrapped society, you can still find items at the supermarket that you can repurpose. Glass and hard plastic food containers can often have a new life as storage containers for leftovers — or even nuts, bolts, and screws in the workshop. Buy large-volume refills of cleaning products such as 409 and Windex to avoid tossing a spray bottle when it’s empty.
One reason recycling hit hard times is because consumers used their recycling bins as catch-all trash barrels, which led to unusable and contaminated products being mixed with recyclable materials. That’s why China, once the biggest buyer of recyclable materials from America, stopped buying.
To really do some good, be as conscientious as you are well-intentioned.
Shawna Miller is a home decor and lifestyle writer who enjoys making the most of small spaces. Her patio is covered with a garden she built with upcycled materials.