Reduce the Waste

Veering a little off course today – but let’s be honest, that’s my specialty! Just need to talk about something that really weighs on my heart and that I feel is SUPER important for everyone to take action on NOW!

I could share a little about my obsession with sea turtles, how so many of them die from swallowing plastic dumped in the ocean because they mistake it for the oh-so-yummy turtle-snack known as jellyfish.

I could talk about how pretty soon, there will be more plastic than water in the ocean. How there are entire currents filled with islands of trash.

I could talk about how awful and overwhelming and destructive all this is to our water supply, our fish supply, our food supply and our health as humans.

But today I’m going to offer little tips of what we can do – NOW – to help in little ways to make this world a cleaner and better place. For both ourselves and our children/future children.

The average American couple throws out about 258 pounds of trash per month. 258 POUNDS OF TRASH PER MONTH!!! Are you caught up yet? That’s almost 3,100 pounds of trash per year between TWO PEOPLE.

Obviously, there are a LOT more than two people on this planet.

Using these simple tips and techniques that I’m about to share with you, we’ve managed to reduce our waste by about 236 pounds per month from the national average. That’s right – we only waste about 26 pounds per month between the two of us, plus our cat and dog.

Imagine if everyone could reduce their trash by that much? Imagine what a better and cleaner world we could live in! The best news is, we all CAN reduce our trash by that much! Even more probably! Here’s how you can start implementing small solutions that lead to big results, starting today:

  1. Redefine what you think of as waste. We so often, and so carelessly, toss stuff without thinking about it. We hardly even think of it as waste. We often forget that whatever we toss has to go somewhere – it doesn’t just disappear. It ends up in the soil, in the land, in the water, in the ocean, polluting a mountain side, the other side of a farmer’s fence, etc. Every item we throw away gets stored somewhere else. Imagine if every item you ever threw away had to sit in your backyard. Pretty quickly, you’d have no backyard left! View the world as your backyard and do what you can to take responsibility for your own waste!
  2. Recycle. This one seems pretty obvious, but if you didn’t know this one already, start here. Start today, right now. If you don’t have a recycle pick up in your neighborhood, try to initiate a program with your friends, family, city council. If that sounds like too much work, save your aluminum cans and plastic bottles and take them to your nearest recycling center once a month. Most recycling centers PAY YOU a small fee to take in recycling. You could squirrel that money away for a vacation fund, or a kid’s college fund or something that has time to accrue and build. Start a pact with your neighbors. If you don’t think you can do it, watch this video about a 3 year old boy who made $20,000 by RECYLCING!!
  3. Donate, don’t throw away. There’s so much truth to the saying that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. DO NOT THROW AWAY OLD STUFF! Old clothes, housing goods, appliances, toys, dog leashes, etc. There are SO MANY organizations that could use what you just carelessly chucked into a landfill. Not to mention, if you donate to many of these organizations, you can actually GET A TAX BREAK for donating! Try Salvation Army, Goodwill, Purple Heart, various Veterans’ organizations, women’s and children’s shelters, Habitat for Humanity, even sell stuff on Craigslist or Ebay. But please PLEASE, whatever you do, DON’T just toss it in the trash. When we do that, we could be taking a free shirt right out of a poor little girl’s hands.
  4. Don’t buy individually wrapped items, buy whole foods. Or buy foods in recyclable containers. Usually any plastic numbered 1-3 is okay to recycle. Not only is this better for your health, it’s also better for the world. Skip the plastic bag that holds your celery or other produce and just put your produce in the crisper drawer when you get home. Don’t buy pre-packaged, pre-cut celery, buy it regular and cut it yourself! Think about it – say you buy zucchini, fruit, celery, and another vegetable each time you go to the grocery store. If you skip putting plastic bags on all those items like you normally do, you’re literally saving 4 or more plastic bags per shopping trip! It might not sound like a lot on it’s own, but it adds up quick! Think about it – 4 bags per trip, 2 trips per week, you’re looking at saving 24 bags per month!
  5. Compost. For starters, it’s just fun. If you’re not able to compost for whatever reason, see if there’s a person or a program near you who DOES need compostable items. There are so many things you can put in a compost bin! Banana peels, cracked eggshells, used tea bags or coffee grounds, any veggie food waste (don’t put in any meat or dairy though!) and you have wonderful, rich soil after just a few months! Compost tip: Keep a sealable container in your freezer that you use to fill with scraps on a daily basis. Once that container is full, dump it in the compost bin outside. This saves you from making multiple trips to the larger bin!
  6. The easier and more convenient you make reducing waste, the more you’ll do it! Trust me here. Don’t try to go big or go home. Don’t promise yourself you’ll trek out to the compost bin at the edge of your property every morning in house slippers with dew on the grass. We’re lazy creatures of habit after all, so work WITH that rather than AGAINST it! Put a small recycle bin in the house that you can empty to the main bin once a week. Put a small compost bin in the house you can empty to the main outdoor bin once a week. Etc.
  7. Reduce the size of your trash can. This is a big one (hooray puns!). How many times have you stuffed the trash down in the bag so you didn’t have to drag it outside yet? It’s so much easier to add more trash when you have a giant indoor trash can that you only have to empty every so often. I recommend you buy a smaller (about 13 gallon max) trash can. This makes you be more mindful about how much trash you’re producing. I’m pretty sure it’s a biologically inherent thing that we like to make as few trash trips outside as possible, so it also encourages you to cut back on your trips by putting less in the bin to begin with!
  8. Don’t put liners in your bathroom trash cans, or use biodegradable liners instead. You can empty your bathroom trash cans as much as you like. You can take them outside and hose them off or spray them down with toilet cleaner. By not putting liners in your bathroom trash can, you can again cut back on the number of plastic bags you waste.
  9. Eat less to-go food. Notice how many of this tips make you eat and live healthier yourself? Again, think about it. So much to-go food comes wrapped in foil, put in a bag, inside a bigger bag, inside a styrofoam container, with a to-go cup that seems to grow bigger every year, as well as plastic cutlery. All of that goes straight to the landfill. Try to pack your lunch more often. Which leads to my next point…
  10. Use tupperware instead of ziploc bags. If you don’t want to buy a bunch of tupperware and you eat meat, buy lunch meat, clean the container and peel off the label and voila! tupperware! Reusable, washable, and stackable in the fridge.
  11. Use a reusable lunch box instead of a paper or plastic bag.
  12. Take your own bags to the grocery store. Not only do the handles help you fit more in each bag and carry more inside your house in one trip, they save hundreds, if not thousands of plastic bags per year!
  13. Save your poop-scooping for trash day. If you have a dog, cat (or both like I do!) instead of using an extra plastic bag to scoop the poop in the middle of the week, save your poop pick up for just before trash day. Dump any poop directly into the by now full kitchen trash bag and take it straight to your large trash can outside. This can save a few bags a week. Another tip – purchase biodegradable poop bags for picking up after your pup when you take them on a walk!
  14. Give up the styrofoam, now! Styrofoam is some of the worst material on the planet, and so harmful. Besides, it takes years and years and years for a single styrofoam cup to break down.

Notice how many bags you could save a month if you implemented this entire list. Let’s conservatively say that each month you could save 24 produce bags, 10 ziplocs, 6 trash liners, 4 kitty scoop poop bags, 30 plastic grocery bags. Even just making those few changes, you could save about 74 plastic bags per month!! And that’s not even including how much plastic you could save if you stop buying individually-wrapped items as well!

Take a moment to look back over this list and pick two solutions you can implement starting today. Just pick two for starters! Once you master those two, revisit this list and pick two more. We don’t have to do everything, we are human after all, and between work and school and kids and life we can only do so much and still have time to sleep and eat. But we can do SOMETHING! And that is awesome in and of itself.

My hope is not to overwhelm but to empower people who feel overwhelmed to make small changes that can lead to big results. If everyone cared just a little bit more, if everyone could save just one plastic bag per day, that could lead to HUGE IMPACT!

I’m sure this list isn’t exhaustive, so please leave comments if you can think of anything else to add!