11 Unexpected Ways You Can Reduce Waste Today
We’re all aware by now switching to reusable straws, mugs, and water bottles is an easy way many people can reduce their personal environmental footprint, but there’s more we can do in reducing the amount of waste we contribute to the Earth, and reusing and recycling more objects too. “Plastic goes deeper than just straws — there is plastic hidden in so many items, from tea bags to gum,” says Kathryn Kellogg, founder of Going Zero Waste and author of 101 Ways To Go Zero Waste.
It’s not just plastic that’s getting thrown away in exorbitant amounts: It’s paper products, textiles, and more that are unnecessarily ending up in our landfills. “The average American throws out 4.4 pounds of trash every day,” Kellogg says. “But a few simple swaps can make a huge difference.” We don't have to wait for Earth Day to band together for Mother Earth — and here are some small changes we can make to our trash habits, starting today.
1. Make your toilet into a bidet
“The number one thing I can recommend in your bathroom is getting a bidet attachment for your toilet...they help cut down on how much toilet paper you’re wasting, which for the average American is about three rolls a week,” Kellogg says. Getting the attachment is a financial and environmental investment, and it can even be more sanitary than toilet paper. If you do want to supplement with toilet paper, make sure you buy rolls made from recycled content or cardboard-less rolls.
2. Compost your menstrual products.
You can’t stop your period from coming, but you can make more eco-friendly choices in dealing with it. Some people choose a menstrual cup, reusable cloth pads, or washable, reusable underwear, but another solid option is a reusable tampon applicator and organic cotton tampons (not the standard kind, which contains other materials like rayon), which can actually be composted, Kellogg explains.
Reusable Food Wraps
3. Be a beauty product minimalist.
Kellogg is a proponent of keeping a “capsule collection” of versatile staple beauty products, and she employs a “one in, one out” rule with all of her makeup and other products, so everything gets used to capacity before she buys something new. If she decides she isn’t a fan of a certain shade or type of product, she gifts it to a friend to try out rather than pitching it.
4. Reduce the number of items used in your beauty routines.
It’s important to keep down the number of disposables you’re using in your skincare and beauty routine. “Put toner in a spray jar, and spray it on your face that way instead of using a cotton pad,” suggests Kellogg as one example. “It doubles the life of your toner too.” There are also opportunities for upcycling used beauty products, such as cleaning off and donating old mascara wands to help care for wildlife.
5. Always buy lonely bananas.
Did you know that many grocery stores and markets throw away single bananas detached from a bunch at the end of each night? This is honestly a huge environmental bummer. “Bananas have a high carbon footprint, because many of them aren’t grown in the US,” Kellogg explains. There’s nothing at all wrong with a single banana, so you should buy them instead of letting them go to waste, she says. And when you do pick up produce, bring your own mesh produce bags or canvas totes to eliminate the use of plastic grocery bags.
Image via Kathryn Kellogg
6. Swap out plastic food wraps and containers for more sustainable options.
Plastic wraps and containers are another big environmental “don’t,” Kellogg agrees. Instead, choose reusable beeswax wrap to preserve food and invest in reusable plastic-free containers and silicone bags instead of plastic zip bags to store food. This especially comes into play during meal prep when you’re packing lunches, Kellogg adds, which is often the most wasteful meal of the day when it comes to using disposables.
7. Brew your own tea.
Tea bags are one of those surprising items that actually contain plastic, which then gets in our tea, and then in our bodies, Kellogg says. Brewing your own loose-leaf tea with reusable infusers is healthier for you and for the planet — and with the option to perfectly customize the blend, it can be even tastier too.
8. Find creative ways to cook with food scraps.
Ideally, we should waste no part of the ingredients that we’re cooking with, especially if they’re plants (many leaves, stems, and greens of fruits and vegetables are edible and can be incorporated into recipes — though there are a few notable exceptions, so be sure to Google first). To make a flavorful vegetable stock in your slow cooker, Kellogg recommends using the skins of onion and garlic.
9. Enforce a 30-day clothing buy delay on yourself.
“Put a 30-day hold on anything you’re eyeing and feel like you want to buy — separate yourself from the feeling of wanting the item,” advises Kellogg. Marketers can really trap us and get us to spend money in stores or on their sites, but fast fashion and its processes, in particular, are hugely detrimental to the environment. “If you feel like the piece is an investment for your closet, that you’ll get many wears out of, then purchase it,” Kellogg says. If not, shop secondhand, make use of clothing rental sites, or swap clothes with friends.
Image via mill.
10. Rethink your trash.
If you aren't in a position to compost but still want to do more than just throw your food scraps away, check out Mill. Every member receives a Mill kitchen bin that dries and grinds kitchen scraps overnight to turn your banana peels, pizza crusts, and egg shells into Food Grounds, which can be sent back to farms instead of going into the landfill. The best part is that it can take the meat and dairy your compost bin can't, you only have to empty it every couple of weeks, and you don't have to deal with stinky trash anymore.
11. Donate your clothes and household items to specific charities.
Once you’ve decided what does and doesn’t spark joy in your home, think twice before dumping bags off at a large donation center or thrift shop, where you don’t exactly know what will be done with the items, Kellogg says. Especially be wary of curbside collection boxes, which often belong to for-profit organizations that ship the clothes overseas, where they flood the market and reduce demand for local craftspeople. Reselling your clothes is a smart option, or Kellogg suggests that you “try to find a specific charity for the specific pieces you have,” such as an organization that collects gently used prom dresses or interview-appropriate clothing for those in need.
Check out our Sustainability page for more ways to reduce waste.
(Featured image via Kathryn Kellogg)
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This post has been updated.
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