Happy Earth Day everyone! I don’t know what you do to commemorate this holiday, but I think there’s no better time to reevaluate our habits and see what we can change for better sustainability.
We definitely aren’t zero-waste at our house, but we’ve taken lots of bitty steps that help us throw away less every week. We recently stopped using a full-size trashcan (so we wouldn’t have to buy kitchen trash bags) and use only little ones lined with free plastic shopping bags – which are on their second or third life since I accept them used from people. Just simply having a smaller trashcan makes us think more critically about what we throw away. (And seriously, why buy trash bags?!)
How We Reduced Our Household Waste:
Even if you don’t have a garden, you can compost leaves and organic materials to reduce waste and cost of pickup. You can give your finished compost to friends or put it around the bases of trees to enrich your soil. We built a very simple bin out of old pallets that came with our house. It cost us nothing to build, and it helps us keep our yard tidy and our trashcan empty. You can compost a lot more than you think: cardboard, teabags, waxy wrappers from butter, dust from sweeping and vacuuming, coffee grounds, and dryer lint.
Don’t buy things
Packaging is a huge amount of what families throw away every week. Boxes, wrappers, zip ties, and receipts really add up! We’re in the middle of a Buy Nothing Month, so the only packaging entering our home is currently food packaging. Buying used at thrift stores, Craigslist, and yard sales reduces packaging greatly when you must purchase something!
Carry bags or skip them
It takes practice to get in the habit, but this is easy once you start doing it regularly. Find a way to make it part of your routine and always bring a bag when you go shopping. If you forget to bring one, ask for no bag. The added work of no bag will help you remember next time! If you forget them in the car, ask for the cashier to just leave your items in the cart and bag them when you get to the car. Use strong bags, preferably ones you can throw in the wash occasionally. Reusable bags are not only greener, they’re better at doing the job than plastic or paper bags! You won’t want to go back.
Cook your own food
Fast food and prepared foods have so much paper and trash! When we pick up litter in our neighborhood, it’s almost all food wrappers! Making your own food is a win / win / win: healthier, cheaper, and greener too! We buy items we use the most like rice and beans in large packages and store them in airtight glass jars to keep them fresh. Cooking everything from scratch is definitely a balance and won’t happen overnight. But taking a step in that direction will make a difference – in your health and your trashcan. Fast food is probably the worst, since everything is packaged and disposable. Maybe consider a Monthly Challenge of no fast food for starters, or if you must eat out, choose a place that uses real dishes.
We use cut up t-shirts instead of paper towels. We also have cloth napkins and real silverware. My friend Lisa had the great idea of carrying a real silverware wrapped in a cloth napkin when out and about so she never had to take plastic when out and about. Here’s a tip if you decide to do that: buy cheap silverware at the thrift store with no packaging! When entertaining Josh and I rely on a large collection of used bowls, dishes, and plates. It’s much cheaper and it feels nicer than using paper goods. Goodwill Outlet is the cheapest place for dishes if there’s one near you. Glassware is sold for just cents a pound!
Reusable water bottles
Do whatever it takes to avoid bottled water in your home – whether it be installing a filter, or refilling glass jars. We drink our tap water at home without any problems. At my work we have a water filtration system and employees are encouraged to bring their own bottles rather than buy plastic water bottles everyday.
I can almost always be seen with a mason jar in hand. I could go on and on about their awesomeness, but I’ll try to keep it short. These have many uses: water bottle, coffee cup, leftovers, smoothies. They are much cheaper than buying glass water bottles and glass food storage containers. Not only that, they are airtight and leak-proof! I’ve never even used them to can things with hot water, but I have frozen them successfully with a little space left in the top for water expansion. If you want a free option, just save old jelly jars and pasta sauce jars! The only thing you can’t do is pour boiling water in glass jars…but I don’t recommend you do this with most containers! You can even use them to shop at the bulk store if you have bulk bins in your area. I have a whole cupboard full of jars of various sizes and we’re always using them. Minimalist? Maybe not…but I love them!
These are not at all as intimidating as people think. A little optimism goes a long way – if you tell yourself you can do it then you can! We use store-bought wipes and a disposable diaper for overnight, so we still fill one small shopping-bag-lined trashcan a week. We save a lot of money by cloth diapering, which is my main (albeit selfish) motivation in doing it! Here’s the ones we use and the pail liner. We wash about 2 loads a week. We have a high efficiency washer and we dry them outside in the summer, which helps with cleaning costs. My frugal friend Kalie from Pretend to be Poor shares some cloth diaper tips and cost / savings analysis here. She estimates that cloth diapers save parents approximately $700-$800 for the first two years, and more if you’re able to re-use them for subsequent children! (It’s also kind of nice to never have to run to the store just to buy diapers!)
If you’re female, feminine trash is a thing. A thing that can be eliminated with a Diva cup. I realize they don’t work for everyone, but mine does the trick for me. You buy it once, and reuse again and again. No worrying about having enough “supplies” when you’re out, no yucky trash, no risk of toxic shock syndrome, and it’s cheaper and greener than tampons. Worth looking into, ladies!
The greenest part of minimalism isn’t getting rid of things – it’s preventing things from entering your home to begin with. When someone offers you a trinket at a party or something you don’t need with a company logo on it, you can simply say no. These little things will add up and either clutter your house or end up in the garbage pile. It’s better to just say no thank you from the get-go. Maybe it will still end up in someone else’s trash, but you did send a message to whoever was handing out the promotional material or paraphernalia. If it happens enough, maybe these companies will try a different marketing strategy.
There’s more than one way to green up your morning coffee. Worst scenario: K-Cups or takeout with a paper cup and little individual packets of sugar and cream. These are pretty high on the waste spectrum! Better scenarios: French press at home and compost grounds, filter at home and compost filter, or bring your own mug or mason jar if going out.
I hope these tips inspire you! There are so many little things we can all do to make a big impact in our footprint on this planet. If you’re interested in more ideas, I recommend the book Zero Waste Home. I’m still a work in progress, but I aspire to tread lightly on the planet and save money while doing it. A few new habits can make all the difference!