Because we live in a world that makes waste such a low priority, being conscious about reducing your waste requires you to change behaviors in almost every facet of your life. Some of these changes are difficult, taking time and effort. But a lot of behaviors are really easy.
The thing about waste is that we care about it so little…we put a trash can in every room in our home and toss stuff in them all day without even thinking about it. But the alternatives don’t even require much more effort. It’s just that when throwing away trash is so easy, you don’t even consider how easy it is to not throw it away.
If you want to cut down on your waste in the easiest way possible, here are the 5 behaviors you should adopt. These habits things require almost no effort, but make a huge impact on your waste.
If you’re trying to adopt a low-waste or zero-waste lifestyle, my advice is to start with these 5 things right away and work towards other waste reduction practices over time.
Recycling is by far the easiest and most impactful behavior you can have on your waste.
Most Americans have their recycling picked up right from their home. How much easier can it get? All you have to do is put your recyclables in a separate bin and put that bin on the curb once a week. But a lot of us take the system for granted and still don’t recycle.
75% of solid waste is recyclable, but only about 30% of trash gets recycled. What is the cause of this major gap? People who don’t recycle are not the only ones to blame…it’s also due to people not recycling everything that they can.
Look at your trashcan and recycling bin. Is 75% of your waste going into the recycling and 25% going into the trash? Probably not.
If you don’t currently recycle, then start. If you already recycle then get stricter with your recycling. A lot of us recycle large items that are obviously recyclable, like boxes and bottles, but forget the small items like cards, envelopes, yogurt cups, and clothing tags.
Mentally asking yourself whether an item is recyclable before throwing it away is a decision that takes a fraction of a second, but reduces your waste significantly.
Recycling is so simple there’s no excuse not to do it.
Donating used items is another behavior that is so easy, yet often underused. Most communities have made donating unwanted items insanely easy.
Charity shops or thrift stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army are found all over.
And it doesn’t get much easier than the clothing drop off bins that are located in so many parking lots. You can literally drive up to the things and drop your bags of clothes in… we are talking absolutely minimal effort here.
Churches often accepted unwanted clothing and household items.
Libraries accept unwanted books.
There are online communities for donating everything from prom dresses to electronics.
Family and friends with new babies would love you to donate your old baby items.
You can donate school supplies or books to local schools.
You can donate old toys to local day cares.
The point is that it is so easy to find a new home for any and all items that you no longer need. Always choose donating over throwing things away. One’s man trash is another man’s treasure. And there’s no reason for that trash to go off to landfills when there are so many people who so desperately need it.
3. Reuse containers and jars
Why do we buy food that comes packaged in reusable containers, but then throw those containers away and go out and buy tupperware? They’re essentially the same thing.
I didn’t realize until I started my low-waste journey how much food comes packaged in containers that are just as good as Tupperware containers. I read a blog article pointing out how strange it was that we view our food packaging as “trash” even though it’s the same quality as regular storage containers.
We insist that tupperware has to be purchased and that washing and reusing food packaging is “penny pinching” and ridiculous. But why?
I’ve started saving all the plastic containers that my food comes in, rather than throwing them out. In particular, my favorites are lunch meat packages (they are the perfect size for sandwiches), bulk yogurt containers and deli containers. I haven’t wasted a cent on food storage containers since I started saving my food packaging. I’ve even noticed that some food packaging is better quality than the tupperware I used to buy. It really makes me wonder why I used to throw them away.
4. Pack zero-waste lunches
Switching from a wasteful lunch to a zero-waste lunch was so simple I hardly even noticed that I did it. It’s just about swapping your disposable items for reusable ones. Read my post on how to pack a zero-waste lunch to find out more.
That goes for other things besides lunch too. Anything you pack to take on the go should be packaged in something reusable. Take a tip from #3 and use recycled packaging from other sources as much as possible.
5. Eat your leftovers
Americans generate 21.5 million tons of food waste every year. It’s as much a waste of money as it is a waste of resources.
Scientists are scrambling to figure out how to feed a growing world population, meanwhile so many of us are buying an abundance of food, letting it rot in our fridge and then throwing it out.
Instead, just be sure that you eat all the food in your fridge. If you have leftovers after a meal, don’t hassle over making a new meal, eat the leftovers.
Also, only buy as much as you can eat for each shopping trip. Don’t splurge and throw out rotten food each week. And wait until you have exhausted all your resources before going back to the grocery store. Your uneaten food will probably be ignored if you fill up on new food. So wait to go grocery shopping until you absolutely need to.
I might be making this sound difficult, so let me sum it up… eat your food… all of it. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a challenge I can accept.