Our world has become a disposable society.
We use an object for just a few minutes, and then toss it in the nearest garbage can or recycling bin.
We tend to think – ‘out of sight, out of mind’, right?
When we throw something ‘away’, we instantly forget it ever existed.
But where is ‘away’? ‘Away’ is a landfill. A giant hole in the ground where your waste will be immortalized for all of eternity.
An object that was made with the intention of being thrown away after a short use.
We can do better!
Simplifying your life includes being mindful of the resources we consume, and what impact it has on our planet. This is the only habitable planet we have, and it’s the one our children and grand children will be inheriting. Taking care of it should be our top priority!
A great way to do that, is by focusing on reducing the amount of waste your family creates.
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10 Simple Ways to Reduce Waste
Here are 10 simple ways you can begin reducing your family’s waste!
1. Invest in Reusables
While it sounds counter-intuitive to buy things in order to reduce your environmental impact, the simple truth, is that we’ve become so dependant on disposables that many of us lack the basic things we need in order to live a low-waste life. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on these items, but here are a few of my basic recommendations:
You’ll notice that within my recommendations, I’m going to suggest that you purchase these items in the most sustainable materials possible. While having a re-usable plastic water bottle is better than using disposable water bottles, even better is avoiding the plastic altogether.
So use what you have, or what you can find second-hand, but if purchasing new, strive for sustainable.
- Cloth grocery bags (preferably cotton)
- Cloth produce bags (again, cotton)
- Beeswax wraps – these are a perfect substitute for cling wrap, and also for taking snacks on the go.
- A reusable water bottle (preferably stainless steel or glass)
- A reusable coffee mug (stainless steel)
- Lunch tins – this helps you pack meals and snacks on the go, so you’re not tempted to eat out (and create disposable packaging waste. I like Lunch Bots – they are 100% stainless, and you can get them with dividers in them so you can section off your food
- Mason jars – for liquid items (think dips, etc.).
- Take-Out containers – I like these ones from Life Without Plastic. We have 2 different sizes, and we purchase meat in them from the butcher shop, as well as use them for take-out containers. They get used several times a week, and were a wonderful investment.
- Baskets – I got a gorgeous one at a thrift store, that I get complimented on almost every time I use it!
2. Be Prepared
It’s not enough to buy the above items, if you don’t have them with you when you need them!
Keep them in a convenient spot (either right next to your door, or actually store them IN your vehicle!
I have a large basket where I put all of my farmer’s market stuff as I empty it out. Then, on market day, it’s all in one spot and I just have to grab it and go.
Another option is to have a cupboard that you dedicate to all your re-usables, and things you might need with you if you’re going shopping. Then all you have to do is open that cupboard and grab what you need.
3. Cook from Scratch
Cooking meals from scratch is the best way I know of, to reduce packaging waste. The vast majority of waste comes from the kitchen. Buying real, simple ingredients, and creating meals yourself, eliminates a significant portion of that waste.
You also get to control the ingredients you use, and improve your health as a result!
4. Shop Local
I highly recommend shifting your grocery shopping to the farmer’s market. Not only are you supporting your local economy when you do so, but you will be getting fresh produce (rather than produce that has had to travel across the globe to get to your table).
It is delightfully easy to shop waste-free at the farmer’s market. Almost all produce is sold loose. You will simply need to bring your own bags and containers, so that they don’t need to put things in their plastic bags for you.
Go to the farmer’s market and try to do the bulk of your shopping there first. Then, whatever else you need, you can get it at the grocery store.
For us, grocery store shopping includes things like bananas, avocados, toilet paper, olive oil, etc.
It doesn’t mean shopping for out-of-season produce. We have become so accustomed to having all the food we could ever want, available year-round, that most people don’t even know what’s in season and what isn’t. So they buy strawberries and leafy green veggies all year round, even when they get shipped in from thousands of miles away.
What I suggest is building your weekly menu around what is fresh and available at the farmer’s market. It will help you sharpen your culinary skills, and you will begin to learn which foods are in season, when.
Shopping at the farmer’s market is the BEST way to eat seasonally and waste-free.
5. Make Your Own Products
Over time, slowly begin replacing your store-bought products with homemade versions.
Not only are these going to reduce your family’s waste, but in almost all cases, it’s much, much healthier.
I recommend the ‘as you run out’ method.
Squeezing out the last of your toothpaste? Learn how to make your own.
Used up the last of your Windex? Here’s how to make some out of items in your pantry (and re-use that spray bottle!).
Learn how to make basic condiments, like ketchup and mayonnaise (these are much simpler than you might think!)
Think outside the box, and ask yourself – what did people do before this product was easily available for purchase at the store? What did people use? How did they make it themselves?
6. Learn Some Basic Canning Skills
Learning how to home-can your own foods is a great way to reduce waste. You re-use the same jars year after year, and the metal rings can be re-used too. All you have to buy new is the sealers (the flat part of the lid), because they cannot safely be re-used. In most cases, used sealers can go in recycling.
Having home-canned food in your pantry also means you’ll make less trips to the store, and ultimately, bring home less packaging.
7. Recycle & Compost
The ultimate goal is to create as little waste as possible. And what waste you do create, you want to compost or recycle it appropriately.
A great deal of garbage that comes out of our homes is actually compostable. It’s important to divert compostable waste from the landfill, as it doesn’t compost in a landfill (most people do not realize this). By the time you suffocate it in a plastic bag, then bury it in a landfill where it is deprived of oxygen, it’s just going to rot, not compost. This type of rotting creates CO2 emissions, which as you know, contribute to global warming.
Also, that material is never returned to the earth in a way that it can enrich our soil.
Having a compost system set up is easy!
We actually have 2:
A backyard compost, where we put things like:
- fruit and veggie scraps and peelings
- rinsed and crushed egg shells
- toilet paper rolls (when we’re not using them as fire starters)
- leaves and garden waste
- floor sweepings
- dryer lint (only if you only dry natural fibres in your dryer)
- threadbare rags
The compost we make in our back yard is used to enrich our garden soil each spring.
Municipal compost, for everything we can’t put in our backyard compost:
- meat bones and scraps
- things that are cooked in fats
- avocado pits (these take too long to break down in our backyard compost)
When you learn to reduce your packaging, and compost all your kitchen scraps, you will still create a small amount of recycling. Make sure this gets washed & sorted properly, so that it will actually get recycled.
We have 3 recycle bins:
- 1 for corrugated cardboard
- 1 for plastic & metal
- 1 for glass and paper
I try to only put these out when they’re full, which reduces the amount of stops the recycling truck has to make. I generally put our municipal compost out weekly (it starts to smell otherwise), and recycling goes out about once a month.
Check with your own municipality to see what is accepted in your compost and blue bins. It does no good to put things in recycling that are not recyclable in your area. It takes the sorters more time to pull those items out and send them to landfill.
8. Use Natural Materials
Whenever possible, I suggest purchasing things in natural materials. Many people don’t realize that a great deal of their clothing is synthetic. Synthetic fibres (such as polyester, nylon, etc) are actually plastic that has been made into cloth.
When these things reach the end of their life, they have nowhere to go but the landfill. They will never break down and be returned to the earth.
So whenever possible, I recommend buying cotton, linen, wool, or hemp. Choose natural fibres over synthetics (ie – leather over faux leather, etc.). Leather lasts a very, very long time, where faux leather will crack and break very quickly. We have even used old leather belts to create straps for things. They can be used and re-used forever. Leather can also be repaired, where faux leather (aka plastic) can not.
9. Buy Second Hand
Before buying something new, challenge yourself to see if you can find it second-hand first! I love scouring:
- thrift stores
- Facebook Marketplace
…before making the decision to purchase something new.
Some things I do purchase new if it makes more sense – like buying energy efficient appliances. But many things, from clothing to household items, still have tons of life in them when purchased second-hand.
10. Keep a ‘To-Go’ Basket In Your Vehicle
I like to keep a picnic basket in my vehicle, so that during those times we are out for the day and might need to stop for a bite to eat, we have our own dishes, cutlery, and napkins, so that we are prepared to refuse disposables.
In the basket I keep:
- Jars for any liquids. This has saved us so many times, like when we’ve been out somewhere that they’ve had hot apple cider for the kids! They are also great for smoothies.
- Cloth napkins. Yes, most paper napkins are compostable, but re-usable always beats compostable.
- Utensils. We avoid disposable utensils at all costs. They are only used for a few minutes and then tossed. I purchased a mis-matched set of metal utensils at a thrift store for pennies. These stay with us so that we never have to accept disposable utensils.
- Plates. I have a set of stainless steel section plates that I bought for the kids when they were little. They no longer use them as regular plates, but they were perfect for adding to our to-go kit. Great for when we are out and about and someone offers them a snack. We don’t have to accept disposable plates, we have our own!
- A cutting board and knife. If you need to stop at the grocery store for a snack, most people would opt for fruit trays or veggie trays; food that has already been prepared and cut up for you since you aren’t able to do it yourself. These convenience foods are always packaged in plastic. Having a small cutting board and paring knife with us means that we can easily cut up our own fruits and veggies on the go.
I hope you have found these tips to be simple and do-able for your waste-reduction journey. I have many more tips, but I’ll save them for a later post. Starting with too many things can leave you feeling overwhelmed.
I recommend choosing one or two things to begin with, and getting comfortable with those before adding on something else.
It’s not about giving up the things you love, it’s about finding ways to still have those things, while being gentle on the planet.
It’s not about achieving perfection, it’s about striving to do the best you can.
What waste-reduction steps have you taken in your life? Let us know in the comments!
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