The US creates 250 million tons of trash a year, equal to around 4.4 pounds of waste per person each day.1 Large percentages of this waste are made up of unnecessary plastics and packaging, leftover food, and other products that could be easily re-purposed or recycled.
We live in a throwaway culture where excessive consumerism costs us money and damages the environment. However, as the world wakes up to the harm caused by excess waste, it is becoming easier to deal with household garbage more responsibly.
Although not always apparent to the consumer, the benefit to the environment of reducing waste, recycling unwanted goods, and fixing broken appliances is significant. What is more obvious is the time, effort and money that can be saved by making some simple changes in household management.
Cut Down on Food Waste
A huge amount of food is wasted in the US and up to 40% of the food that is produced and processed is never eaten.2
The key to wasting less food in your own home is being organized. This includes creating menus and planning meals in advance, adapting recipes, and, perhaps most importantly, only buying what you need and will actually want to eat. Buying in bulk to save money and reduce packaging is great, but be aware that it can lead to extra waste if you are enticed to buy something you wouldn’t normally eat simply because it is cheap.
When perishable items like fruit and vegetables are on offer or near their sell by date, make sure you use them as soon as possible. You can always cook them up to freeze and eat at a later date. Batch cooking meals in advance like this is also a great way to never be without a nourishing meal ready to hand and then being tempted to order takeout. When you are cooking from scratch and have just one portion of a family dinner left over, take it to warm up at work the next day instead of spending money on sandwiches or lunch at a restaurant.
With a little thought and imagination, even the smallest of scraps can form the basis of a tasty and nutritious meal or simply be added as garnish to a dish. Learn to adapt recipes in order to use up whatever you have left over in your fridge. Fry any surplus vegetables with egg to make a healthy and filling frittata, or throw in a pot to make a soup or stew. You can add them to homemade stock that you have previously prepared by boiling a chicken carcass or bones from a joint of meat.
Don’t Send Food Scraps to Landfill
Of course, there will always be some food waste that you can’t use for cooking but it shouldn’t simply be thrown out in the trash.
Wasted food in landfills accounts for more than any other type of municipal solid waste. When discarded food is sent to landfills, it decays and produces methane gas. Methane is a natural gas and can last for thousands of years when produced underground. However, when it is released into the atmosphere, it is a potent greenhouse gas, making up 10% of the greenhouse gases produced by human activities and contributing significantly to global warming.
To avoid adding to this problem, one solution is to use a garbage disposal unit to safely dispose of any food waste.
Create A Compost
There are some food scraps that are unsuitable for processing in a garbage disposal unit. Coffee grounds can cause a blockage when they accumulate in drains and large amounts of starchy potato peelings may also cause turn into a thick past causing a build-up in pipes.
Instead, these remains make great additions to a compost heap. Layered with grass clippings and dead leaves in a shady corner of your garden, they will help produce a healthy and enriching supplement to the soil. This will save you money on shop bought fertilizer and mulch. Compost also reduces the sterility of the soil and so keeps in check diseases and pests that might otherwise spread.
Re-usable Storage and Wrap
To make saving and storing excess food and leftovers easy and convenient, make sure you have plenty of reusable storage. Invest in some good quality pieces in sustainable and durable materials like glass and metal, but also save and re-use the glass jars from store bought products like coffee and condiments.
Although plastic wrap and film packaging can be recycled, an eco-friendly, reusable and compostable alternative is beeswax wrap. It can be expensive to buy but it is possible to make your own and then use it for wrapping your sandwiches or covering food dishes.
When you are out and about, a lidded travel mug will avoid wasting disposable cups and save you a little money at the same time, as most of the major coffee chains now offer a small discount when you take in your own reusable coffee cup.
Cut Down on Plastic Bottles
If you are one of the average Americans who get through 167 disposable water bottles every year but only get around to recycling around 20% of them3, consider swapping them for a reusable, stainless steel bottle. The metal is hardwearing and its insulating properties will keep your water nice and cold.
If you only buy bottled water because you don’t like the taste of your tap water, invest in a filtered water pitcher. It will soon pay for itself as you remove the cost of buying bottled water from your grocery bill, and you can help make reduce the $1 billion worth of plastic that is wasted each year.
Wipe Out Paper Waste
Paper and cardboard accounts for over two-thirds of the total amount of recycling4, so although this means households are recycling effectively, it also shows that paper usage could be reduced in the first place.
Ways to cut down on paper include asking for paperless bills and email receipts, using USB sticks to share or move documents and, if you really need to print something, using both sides of the paper.
You can reduce the amount of paper you bring into the home by reading online newspapers, magazines and catalogues and remove your name from unnecessary mailing lists to avoid any unsolicited mail through the door.
Around the house, simply swapping kitchen paper for fabric cloths and using material napkins instead of paper serviettes can reduce your paper usage hugely and save you money at the same time. Even factoring in the cost of washing and drying cloths and rags, the amount is still less than that spent on disposable paper products.
Recycle Odd Items
You are probably already in the habit of the putting out waste paper for recycling along with aluminium cans and plastic bottles and you can always check with your local services for a list of exactly which items can be recycled at the curbside.
However, there are also many charities and organisations that will take other household items for recycling or re-use. Up to 80% of a cell phone is recyclable, while reading glasses can be re-used by people with poor sight in developing nations. Look out for collection boxes in libraries and major stores. Several organizations will also collect bras at drop off points or by mail, and some will even send you a tax reduction receipt for your donation.
To protect the environment, always dispose of hazardous items carefully. Most counties will have a drop off point or they may hold one-day events where you can take items such as small appliances, pesticides and paints. They will also take single use and rechargeable batteries, both of which have several recyclable components.
Keep Textiles Out of the Trash
The average American disposes of around 80 pounds of clothing each year, contributing to the 15 million tons of used textile waste5 that is generated annually United States.
Instead of throwing out good quality but unwanted clothes, donate them to a thrift store for re-sale. Textile recyclers will buy any damaged or worn out items that are not suitable for sale from the thrift stores, or you could donate items to them directly yourself.
With a little imagination, many textiles can be repurposed. Old towels and bedding make great cleaning cloths or pet bedding. Even if you don’t have your own pet, a local shelter will be happy to take your donation.
If you brush up your sewing skills, a missing button or broken zip is no longer a reason to throw something in the trash and, with a little more know-how, items can be altered for size, hemmed for length or completely repurposed by using the material from one article to make a new piece of clothing.
Trade In Large Household Items
If an old or broken appliance is broken down correctly, many of the parts will have some value or can be used again in refurbished items. Recycling responsibly is good for the environment but you may also be able to make money by selling white goods for scrap metal.
Some businesses offer the chance to trade in your old appliance when you replace it with a new one or will at least take away the old goods when they deliver the new product, which will save you a trip to the local waste facility.
Thrift shops may also pick up large pieces of furniture for free, as long as they are in good condition, or you could try listing them on an online auction site to make a bit of cash. If you have several pieces to get rid of, a consignment store or furniture dealer might make you an offer. If you are having a clear out to reduce the clutter in your home, think about holding a garage sale.
Don’t Buy More than You Need
As well as disposing of all of your household waste responsibly, think a little more carefully about the products that you bring into your home in the first place.
Sometimes, if cupboards and wardrobes are crammed full, it’s difficult to see or remember what you already have and you end up buying duplicates. Have a good look in your wardrobe and decide which items of clothing are missing or need replacing and, at the same time as re-using and mending clothes, consider only investing in good quality items that will last longer.
Do the same in the kitchen. Clear out the refrigerator so you can see what needs eating up and take an inventory of your store cupboards to identify which items you have more than enough of and which need re-stocking.
Then, when you do go shopping only buy what you know will use within an appropriate timeframe. Just because something’s on offer or cheaper in bulk, it won’t save you money unless it’s something you would normally purchase and happily eat.
Living in a culture of excessive consumerism with cheap and disposable products ready to hand, it’s easy to get caught up in a cycle of buying more than you need, never using it and then throwing away the excess without much thought. However, by making some small changes to the way you run your household, good habits will develop and you’ll soon appreciate the time, effort and money that you can save.
Start by buying more wisely, as by bringing less into your home, you will have less to throw away. Try to ensure that what you do bring in is of the best quality you can afford and made of durable and sustainable materials, and of the items you no longer need or use, donate, sell or recycle as much as possible.