Monday, August 31, 2009

8 Ways to Reduce Household Trash

As an experiment, I saved all my plastic trash for one week and posted it Condo Blues and later on Fake Plastic Fish: Show Us Your (Plastic) Trash.

These were the items I threw away in the trash. There were other items in my tally that I recycled or found a reuse for.

Katidids commented:
"I can't get over how little trash you have! We have a huge bag a day! Part of it is cleaning stuff out. I free cycle & goodwill a lot but 20ys,  4 kids who were pack rats... {snip}
Boy, you REALLY opened my eyes..I would hate to show all our trash...every time I start to feel like we are doing the right thing...pop that balloon, no no I mean dog poop bag"

I felt bad because I didn't write the original post to sound like a Greenzilla about trash and recycling. I certainly didn’t get this zero waste, low waste way overnight. To be honest, there are times when the garbage can has more in it than I like or the recycling bin overflows. 

Like today, please don’t look at the recycling bin in my garage. (But if you do, feel free to drop the way too full bag off at the nearest city recycling dumpster. Oh, and since you’re out, could you pick up a gallon of skim milk on your way back? Thanks.)

Here the 8 steps I took and how I reduced my garbage outpout and household waste.

1. Take Stock – Go thorough you trash can and look at what type of items you are currently throwing away.
  • Can you replace it with a nondisposable item? It may cost more up front but it will save you money in the long run.
  • Can you recycle it? If not through your city maybe through another organization? For example I found out that our local Battery Plus store will take alkaline batteries for recycling. Check with your local trash collection company or Earth 911 for more information, you might be surprised at what you find. I was.
  • Can you fix it? Either by you or someone else - a repair person or the manufacturer perhaps?
  • Can you donate it to charity or a thrift shop (you might be able to take it off of your taxes!) or put it on Freecycle?
  • Can you find a creative reuse for it? This doesn’t always involve super duper craft or DIY skills. For example I cut up worn out towels I can’t donate to use in place of paper towels and refill empty spray cleaner bottles with solution. Check out the Reuse section on Condo Blues for more ideas!
2. Date it. By writing the date I open items I can tell how long they last in our house before they spoil (if applicable), know best low waste size to buy for our family, and how long it should last.

3. Make a plan and choose one. Choose one area of trash to cut down on and make it family affair. Maybe it’s single serving foods or zippered plastic baggies. I reduced my baggie waste by using the small army of plastic containers to store items like open packages of lunch meat or cheese in the refrigerator instead of a baggie. I still use baggies for freezer items, but a lot less than before. Once you have changed the habit, move on as family to another one on your list.

4. Buy the large/bulk sizes and decant if applicable. I buy large family size bottles of soap/shampoo/cleaners etc. and use it refill small dispensers throughout The Condo. I don’t know why but we seem to use less of something when it comes out of a small bottle than the large family size bottle. It lasts longer,there are less containers in the recycling bin, and it often saves money because we're buying in bulk.

5. Check the packaging. Try to buy items in low waste, recyclable or reusable packaging if possible. Your options and mileage may vary.

6. Cook from scratch more. Find ways to make quick meals with lower waste food.
  • Can you do stir fry, use the crock pot, grill, bread maker, and start things in the microwave and then finish them in the oven?
  • Can you make something ahead of time and freeze it for later?
  • Can you eat leftovers for lunch instead of a prepared frozen meal?
  • Can you enlist your indentured servants (most people call them children) to help you make dinner by boiling pasta, washing or chopping vegetables, etc.?
7. Stop buying so much stuff. I’m not saying stop shopping altogether, we’re a consumer based economy after all. Look at what’s happening now that no one is buying anything – it’s all trickling down to business closings, layoffs, and hiring freezes. Instead, take a look at your shopping habits – could they use some tweaking?
  • If you find that food spoils before you eat it all, should you cut back on the amount you buy or make a few more smaller food shopping trips instead of one big shopping trip each month?
  • Do you yard sale or thrift shop for sport but end up with a ton of extra stuff you don’t use? (Guilty. Now I take photos of things I like for inspiration.)
  • Do you end up buying extra stuff just because it’s on sale but not sure what you’re going to do with it? (Guilty again. I made a deal with myself not to buy anything unless I had a specific project or use in mind. I pass on a lot of good deals, but it doesn’t do me or my trash can any good if it sits around the Condo unused.)
8. Change wasteful habits. A few ideas:
  • Do you measure items like laundry detergent or just dump it in? If you dump it chances are you are using more than you need, go though it more quickly, and generate more waste.
  • Do you use too much of something for an average size job? (Sometimes I do. I really like the smell of my shampoo and sometimes use too much.)
Reducing the amount of trash and household waste is an on going project. Do what you can in stages. Don’t worry about meeting someone else’s pie in the sky extreme green or low waste expectations. There are many shades of green and I guarantee that even the greenest of people have times when they generate a more waste than normal – including me. (Hello 13 single servings of organic yogurt currently in my refrigerator! Yep, I got coupons for free yogurt and treated myself. When I buy yogurt I usually buy a big tub of low waste plain yogurt and flavor a serving with jelly or honey. Once the single servings are gone I'm going back to the big tub o' yogurt though.)

Often what you can do and how you do it depends upon where you live or your personal situation, say if you a large family instead of my small one. That's OK. Try something and if it cuts down on your household waste and fits your family – great! If not, modify it or try something else. Just try it and no guilt, OK?
Now excuse me while I treat myself to a high waste cup of yogurt.

This post is part of The Green Moms Carnival were our topic is Conserving Resources. Scoot on over to this month's host, Mindful Momma for some great posts!


Mrs Green said...

Great post with some brilliant tips. We're getting geared up for National Zero Waste week over on, so this is very timely and helpful for lots of people wanting to reduce their waste.
Thank you for caring and making a difference to the world. And most of all for inspiring others to do the same :)

Lisa Sharp said...

These are great tips!! I'm making way to much waste right now because I have a cold. I still had a box of Zicam nasal swabs which I'm using (OH the plastic!), tissues (recycled, my poor nose is raw and was bleeding a bit ago but I'm saving trees damn it! hehe), large amounts of tea (but I do compost the bags and recycle the paper), salt packs from my neti pot, and so on. I just have to remember it's less that in would have been a year ago.

A year ago it wouldn't have been recycled tissues, tea bags wouldn't have been composted (or organic and fair trade), etc... Plus I know my waste is less than some since I only take homeopathic meds and no cold meds (I have asthma so can't have cough meds). Of course then there are my inhalers which thank goodness are CFC free now and recyclable!

Robj98168 said...

One thing I try to do is use mason jars instead of ziplock bags and ziplock disposable containers- You can freeze with them, and they keep soups and casseroles very well

Robj98168 said...

Lisa- those Zicam swabs work pretty good though

Condo Blues said...

Aw shucks, Mrs. Green I'm blushing at your kind words. Thank you!

Morgan said...

Wow-- I admire you for having so little trash and making a smiley face out of some of it! These are all really great tips and I need to utilize some of them. Smart grocery shopping has helped us-- it takes a lot more time, but in the end it's easier on the wallet (and less waste in the end).

I will have to try to apply some of your tips to my life and see what comes of it! :) You're so damn clever!


Jennae @ Green & Gorgeous said...

When we do buy food items packaged in plastic, we do our best to buy only foods in recyclable containers. There's nothing I hate more than organic salad greens packaged in a #7 container. Really? That ticks me off :( Of course, I could avoid the container altogether if we could get to the farmer's market more often, so that's our next waste-reduction goal.

Mindful Momma said...

I like your approach of focusing on one area of waste reduction...makes it easier to follow through on it! Food packaging is the biggest thorn in my side!

Green Bean said...

Great list. These steps are always so helpful to tick through to make sure I'm staying on top of things.

mother earth aka karen hanrahan said...

Nicely Done Lisa!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jennae. I'll bet that #7 salad container is made from PLA, which is made from corn and is compostable. Check and see if there is anything on the bottom that says "Natureworks" or something similar. I'm not saying PLA is great. It's not and especially if you have no where to compost it. Just thought I'd mention this.

Lisa, this post is great. Very practical. I need to start dating the things I put into the refrigerator as part of my effort to reduce food waste.

La Mama Naturale' said...

Great tips & insight!!! I'd like to record my trash for a wk. and see what my family can cut back on and conserve more of. A great way to put things into perspective.

No I wasn't Sleeping said...

I think someone really needs to get after those marketing and packaging people. Do they need to go so overboard.
And I would love to be able to buy our food staples in bulk...

'Becca said...

Great tips! One thing that really helped us reduce our trash was not having an outdoor trashcan so that we had to keep all the trash in the house until pickup day. Click my name for the whole story.

About the baggies: I wash and reuse them as many times as possible. (Since I write dates on bags when freezing stuff in them, I know I've gotten 3-5 uses out of many bags!) I turn them inside out and put in the bottom of the sink when filling it with hot soapy water to wash the dishes. After I wash a few big spoons or spatulas, I rinse the baggies, turn them right side out, and hang them over the utensils in the dish drainer. They do take about 36 hours to drip dry, but it saves a lot of plastic and money!

Lisa Sharp: Try cutting up an old T-shirt or other soft garment and using the rags to blow your nose. If you don't feel like washing them, at least you reused that fabric before discarding. What tissues you do use can be composted. Also, you can heal your poor nose this way: Rinse it with warm water, pat dry, then rub a little olive oil into your skin.

Claremont First Ward said...

Excellent, excellent post with wonderful ideas to conserve waste. Thank you.

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