Easy Ways to Reduce Waste at Home
By Henry Walsh
Powering a mountain bike across rugged trails calls for more than stamina and quick reflexes. How about clean water to keep you going? Or fresh air to keep you healthy? Protecting those precious resources goes beyond tossing empty bottles into a recycling bin. Think zero waste.
Although 100 million Americans recycle, we throw away 262 million tons of trash into municipal landfills each year. Of that, 35 million tons consists of bagged grass and yard trimmings. Landfills release methane — a potent greenhouse gas — and can leak toxic chemicals into the earth. Try a few of these ideas to reduce waste in your home and in your yard.
Discarded electrical items wreak havoc on the planet. They contain lead, mercury, and a host of materials that are toxic to the environment. Recycling old phones, computers, and televisions keeps them out of the landfill and supports the production of new devices. Many parts of old electronics can be recycled into material for new items. Target, Staples, and Best Buy will recycle your old electronics and accessories. Many cities and counties now have free drop-off sights. Make sure to erase your data and wipe the hard drive before dropping off your computer or other devices.
The United States produces enough plastic each year to shrink-wrap Texas. Recycling as much as possible helps, but cutting back on your trash means not creating it in the first place. When considering a purchase, give some thought to how much packaging you’ll have to throw away. Opt for the bare minimum when possible and choose paper or glass instead of plastic.
Does every task in the kitchen require a paper towel? Reach for a sponge or cloth towel for your next clean-up instead of dropping more paper products in the trash. Consider cloth napkins instead of disposables. Use food storage containers instead of zip-top plastic bags. On laundry day, make static cling a thing of the past with reusable wool dryer balls instead of single-use dryer sheets. The chemical-free balls also cut down drying time by soaking up water.
No doubt reusable grocery bags are already part of your shopping routine. Try something similar for produce. Cloth or netted vegetable sacks are great options instead of the store’s plastic bags. You can also skip bagging your produce. You’re going to wash it before you eat it, right?
Reuse, reuse, reuse. Shop with a long-term, low-waste mindset. Razors with refillable blades, cloth lunch sacks, and rechargeable batteries can save you money in the long run compared to their single-use alternatives. Naturally, you know the benefits of reusable water containers, such as the Anti-Bottle. They keep plastic out of the landfills and are a lot easier to carry.
And while we’re talking hydration, a reminder about straws. Plastic straws are part of the up to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic trash flowing to oceans each year. They're dangerous to marine animals since they choke them or get stuck in their digestive tracts. Many cities and companies have recently banned plastic straws. The greenest option is to not use one. Your next best options are the reusable stainless steel or compostable paper versions. A small sacrifice which translates into a more sustainable, healthy environment.
The biggest step you can take toward reducing waste is to compost. Kitchen and yard waste account for about 30 percent of landfill contents. Composting food scraps and lawn trimmings is one way to take trash and turn it into a garden treasure. Instead of adding to the landfill, you’ll be turning those scraps into a rich natural additive for your garden.
A simple bin in your backyard or a special container under the sink is all it takes to get started. Some cities offer container rebates or even curbside pickup of your compost. Easy!
Consider more sustainable solutions when possible, and you’ll make progress toward reducing waste. A few small changes could save you some money while producing significant benefits for the environment.
Henry Walsh is a gardening writer and eco-conscious living advocate. He recently began his homesteading journey after many years of incorporating the principles into his urban lifestyle.