You know that minimizing your environmental impact is what’s up – to produce less trash, to reduce or eliminate your demand for wasteful single-use products, to directly address climate change as a consumer – but honestly your life just isn’t there quite yet. It’s a process that takes time and practice – it’s not an overnight change, no matter how much we wish. In that spirit, here are some simple steps you can take to help reduce your trash. Here we go –
#1 Begin composting!
Compostingis the superstar of reducing your waste. One of the first steps towards a trash-free lifestyle is to begin collecting compost at home and finding a way to properly dispose of our favorite stanky pal. Compost is the practice of collecting biodegradable stuff – such as food scraps and food waste – and letting it all quickly rot so it can turn back into a healthy, nutrient-dense soil. When these materials instead go into places like landfills, they rot slowly and as a result release harmful greenhouse gases like methane. It’s essentially the reason why “trash is bad”.
While society has invented non-biodegradable problems such as everlasting poisonous plastics and toxic landfills, conversely collecting compost is versatile and eco-friendly. Everything from rotten food, soiled paper towels, cotton balls, compostable to-go food containers, snotty tissues, cooking grease, bones, to even worn out clothing made of all-natural materials (like, you know, those ratty 100% cotton undies that are totally shredded and gotta go) can probably get thrown straight into your compost.
Yes, it can be stinky – but it’s still totally worth it. There are so many ways to compost that it’s truly a topic for another discussion – here are some ideas to get you started.
But the easiest is definitely municipal composting, where the city comes around and picks up your compost just like they already pick up your trash and recycling. If you don’t have municipal composting (most people don’t), then call in your area for more information and tell your city that you want municipal composting. Right now. Or else.
#2 – Recycle. Properly.
Are you one of those folks who truly does care about preserving our environment, yet habitually fails to recycle properly? I know you’re out there! You don’t have to fess up to me, but it’s important to be honest with yourself about your attitude towards the waste that you produce. The best policy is: if you use it, you also must accept the responsibility of properly disposing of it.
Unfortunately, recycling guidelines are not uniform across recycling facilities. Google recycling in your town to better understand their guidelines, and always keep an eye out for information about how to better recycle at city-sponsored events, the library, public buildings, etc.
In general, make sure your recycled goods are free of most food debris. Aluminum is by far the most efficient material to recycle with a 92% energy savings per recycled can, since generating new aluminum is highly energy intensive. Plus, aluminum is easily recycled back into the same product, while glass and plastics are often “downcycled” into other products, like carpet or landfill liner.
Don’t forget about products such as light bulbs, batteries, old computers and electronics, printer ink, unwanted chemicals such as paint or construction materials, and more. Each of these can be recycled as well, or at least safely disposed of. Check out places like Best Buy to help you responsibly get rid of some of these more difficult items. Here’s more information about used oil, hazardous household wastes, and used tires.
Another key aspect to this entire chain is supporting businesses that use recycled materials in their finished products. Recycling isn’t perfect, but it’s much better than a landfill.
#3 – BYOB (bring your own bag)
Don’t be a fool and get stuck at the store buying so much stuff that you’re forced to take a plastic bag just so you can make it home. Instead, always carry a reusable bag with you. Personally I love 100% cotton cloth tote bags because they last longer and I trust them to regularly carry heavy items home without ripping, but there are also more compact options such as these great clip-on bags from ChicoBag that fold down into tiny pouches and work great as well. ChicoBags are perfect for small purses or even can be clipped onto your keychain. 100% cotton bags can be composted once they do finally give out, but polyester reusable bags are often made of post-consumer recycled plastics which is a pretty good deal too.
If you have a car, make sure to keep a stash of reusable bags in your trunk or glove box. Leave a few extra bags at work too, just in case. Bring smaller cloth bags to the farmers market or grocery store to safely carry home delicate produce in.
After a few uses or whenever they get dirty, just toss them in with your laundry,
#4 – Scrub-a-dub-dub, used glass jars in a tub
Give a bath to your reused glass jars and plastic baggies to extend their lifespan far beyond their intended single-use. Items that were once single-use – such as glass peanut butter or pickle jars – can easily be washed and reused. Upcycled glass jars are a space-saving way to bring your zero waste lunch to school or work, and any leftovers after you’re done eating can be placed back into the jar and carried home to your compost bin. Glass jars are an easy way to store leftovers in your fridge, too.