There is a great number of people that if you were to ask them why they don’t practice trash reduction (sometimes known as Zero Waste), they will say because the idea is daunting. Having a goal, even a small one can really help, but to do that you have to know where you are starting. You can do a trash audit, which can mean anything from carefully recording and cataloging the waste that leaves your house to just noting in your head how many trash bags were in your curbside bin before pick up this week.
If you do go the more detailed and data driven route, I suggest putting a piece of paper or white board in the vicinity of your house’s main trash bin, mark every time you throw something in. You can even use symbols for different types of trash. Example: a circle for food packaging, a check for junk mail, an X for broken items. This gives you an idea to the areas that are creating the most waste in your house and what you can tackle first to make the biggest impact. Our house was awful about tissues during allergy season. I now keep a few handkerchiefs around and barely ever have to empty the bathroom trash can anymore.
- Use what you have.
Whether is using that old past jar to store black beans, turning your old shirts into cloth “un-paper towels” or converting the leftover plastic strawberry clamshell into a mini greenhouse for seedlings, trash is not trash if you give it continuous life. Does this means you go buy all the pasta sauce? No. Don’t buy what you don’t need. Shop your house, or ask for what you need from a neighbor, friend or local buy-nothing group. When you do need to purchase something to make a sustainable swap, consider buying used, or get something of high quality that is reusable over and over again.
Bars: The new face of consumable products
Almost everything that can be classified as Soap, comes in a bar form now. For your personal cleanliness there are body bars, face bars, shampoo bars, conditioner bars and even lotion bars. For house hold use there are Dishwashing bars and Castile soap bars which are multipurpose for home and self. The dishwashing bar also makes a great stain stick for laundry.
Food for thought: Be thoughtfully when shopping for food
Food related waste accounts for between 50-75% of most household’s waste output (trash and recycling). By slowing swapping pre-packaged and processed food for bulk food items and fresh produce, you can reduce the contents of your trash can by a lot. I know this one is particularly difficultly in the time of Covid as many bulk food sections are not open or not allowing personal containers, so you need to give yourself some grace here. Do just want you can.
Some tricks are to try to get ingredients in larger, paper or burlap packages, at least those are compostable, which is a step in the right direction. If you are someone that enjoys meal planning, pick a couple more recipes for the week where you know you can get the ingredients package free or in low waste packaging.
- Take along culture
If you were to track your trash of a typical day, you’d find a lot of it to be trash of convenience. The cup and straw, plastic fork, chip bag and candy wrapper add up, and they won’t be caught by a home trash audit if you are tossing them while you are still out and about. Get used to throwing reusables into your car or travel bag (purse). You don’t have to go out and buy a fancy bamboo utensil set if you can grab a fork from home on your way to the food truck festival. If you are bad about remembering to grab on your way out, designate a bag, a fork, a cup and a plastic(or glass) food storage container as your “to-go” set and keep it in your car, travel bag or next to your keys. Make that the designated spot for it. I don't have a place to put my reusable grocery bags but back in my purse as soon as I’ve folded them.
It can feel weird to ask a cashier, if you can just use your own of something, or you might get smacked with guilt when the server brings you your cheese fries with a plastic fork already sticking out the top because you didn’t let them know you brought your own. Take a breath, reset and try again the next time.
If you figure out how to incorporate even some of these waste reducing basics into your life, you will see a difference and it will feel encouraging.