While many people may be focusing on their own health and fitness goals this month and for the year of 2017, I decided to take a slightly different approach. For January, I am focusing on improving the health of the planet, and subsequently, my own health (whether directly or indirectly) by talking about ways to reduce waste and live a more sustainable lifestyle.
As you may have noticed already, on Instagram, each day I am posting a different tip or piece of information about sustainability and how to reduce waste in our daily lives. This post is to summarize those daily posts!
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31 Days to Reduce Waste & Live a More Sustainable Lifestyle
- 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: First off, let’s introduce the “3 R’s“: when it comes to creating less trash, many people only think about recycling, but it’s actually the last on the list for a reason! The first way to create less trash is to simply not have it by reducing your usage of things. This is then, of course, followed up by reusing and recycling.
- Bring Bags: How many times have you gone to the grocery store to get a few items- maybe some milk, cereal and some fruit- and ended up with a mountain of plastic bags? Between double bagging, bagging things that already have handles or are heavy (like milk or laundry soap) or only putting 2 or 3 items per bag (cereal boxes I’m looking at you!) it’s not hard to end up with a large pile of plastic bags every trip you take!
Carrying some small cloths bags in your car or purse is an easy way to carrying shopping or grocery store items without getting excess bags. Alternatively, you can also add a few small, light cloth bags to your bag or purse. Whenever I empty the bags at home, I put them right next to my keys so I remember to restock them when I go next! For lightweight produce bags, I use these.
- Reusable Cloths: While certainly not made of plastic (though paper towels rolls are typically wrapped in plastic) the process of making paper towels still involves cutting down trees and a lot of water to create them. Instead, consider reducing your paper towel usage by either 1: Reuse it! Instead of wiping something down and then tossing the paper towel away, consider rinsing it off, wringing it out and holding onto it for the next spill! Give it a few go’s and let it wear down before you toss it. Or 2: Use cloth towels! Buy some clothes specifically for this purpose, or cut up some old clothes or sheets to use for various cleaning purposes throughout the week. They simply go into the wash after with everything else at the end of the week.
- Skip Plastic Straws: How often do you go into a restaurant and get a drink, complete with a straw? That paper-wrapped, plastic straw is going directly in the trash once you’re done. We’ve become so accustomed to it that we forget how often we use this single-use item and then just toss them directly into the trash.A simple way to reduce this is to simply ask for your drink with no straw- drinking from the cup is just as easy, I promise!When I’m at home though, I love using straws when I’m drinking smoothies! I have a beautiful collection of colorful glass straws from Simply Straws as well as a lovely metal one. To purchase, click here.
- Skip the Plastic Wrap/ Tin Foil: Saran (aka, cling wrap or plastic wrap) wrap and tin foil are pretty wasteful, single-use items. Rather than wrapping up leftovers in these, consider investing in quality glass containers. Over time, these guys can not only save you money from buying more plastic wrap and tin foil, but can also save time! Rather than just putting each different type of leftover into a different container, I’ll revert to my competition “food prep” times and simply divvy up meals into different containers to make less work the next day and during the week. No need to re-pack and reassemble for lunch the next day! To purchase, click here.
- Buy Loose: Often times, things like onions, garlic, potatoes, carrots, celery and citrus will be available in plastic packaging (i.e. a mesh plastic bag) as well as loose. It will sometimes appear to be cheaper, but often times, when doing the math per pound, or per item, it’s about the same as buying loose. Consider buying items loose whenever possible- I also like doing this because it helps me get exactly what I need for the next few days, rather than having more than I need and possibly letting some go bad.
- Biodegradable Toothbrushes: These days, there are a lot of environmentally-friendly options to plastic household items like toothbrushes- you simply need to look! Coming in plastic containers, being made of hard plastic themselves and theoretically being replaced every few months or so, that’s a lot of plastic during a lifetime that takes a really long time to decompose (depending on the type of plastic, we are talking at least several hundred years). After some research a few months back I found eco-friendly, bio-degradable toothbrushes that also came in entirely-plastic free packaging and they work just as well as a “regular” plastic toothbrush. To purchase, click here.
- Opt Out of Mailers: Sorting through junk mail is annoying! Apart from wanting to have less waste in general (and in this case, paper waste), opting out of mailers and updating my mailing preferences periodically makes to less stuff to deal with and clean!I’m lazy- I hate having to sort through junk mail, shred important things and then move it all to the recycling pile. A good way to start is by beginning with things you receive monthly, like bank, electric and interest bills and adjusting settings online to go paperless for everything- just have them send an email instead! From there, you can start going through letters and paperwork when you receive it and see if there’s a way to opt out from those specific companies etc. Not only does it cut down on paper waste, but also helps to keep a cleaner house with less effort!
- Reuse Packaging: This is for all that exciting mail we love to get- packages (and packaging material). Unless it’s really a size you’ll never use, break down the box and store it along with the packing materials (like the bubble wrap or paper) in a single place. Save it for when you need to ship something, instead of grabbing a new pre-paid mailer or forcing you to pay for a box.
- Reuse Containers: I’m big on reusing glass and tin containers. Old jam jars, tea tins, molasses containers? Peel off the labels, pop them in the dishwasher and reuse them! Keep them and use them for other things rather than tossing them into recycling. A lot of the things I dried this past summer (herbs from the garden, woody mushrooms stems – which make amazing soup stock bases- and dehydrated serranos) go into them, or they often make perfect containers for small gifts for friends. Some larger containers, like those for tomato sauce etc can be perfect for storing leftover dinners in (like soup!) as well or you can use them for other things outside of the kitchen, like for sewing materials or simple flower vases. You just need to get creative!
- Water Bottles: While there certainly are exceptions, most places within the United States have safe drinking water which is why I always carry around my reusable bottle to refill throughout the day! If you don’t like the taste of your tap water, look into investing in a proper water filter and see how you feel about the taste afterwards!
- DIY Toothpaste: In many of the same ways that toothbrushes can be very wasteful, toothpaste is the same way! The containers are actually quite difficult to recycle as not all centers recycle the specific plastic used and the tubes actually need to be cleaned out before that can be done! Check out my recipe here to make toothpaste at home!
- Take Out Containers: I love eating out just as much as I love cooking at home. I love having leftovers for the next day but what I don’t love is wasteful plastic and styrofoam containers. Now I bring small reusable containers with me whenever I eat out so that if I have leftovers I can just toss them right into it. For a while I was concerned that if I pulled containers out of my purse I would get weird looks from other customers or staff. In the end I forced myself to get comfortable with the idea and found that all of my concerns was all in my head- the only comments I’ve ever gotten as I boxed away my leftovers was, “You brought your own container? How cool!”
- Return Containers: Some businesses have systems set up that they can receive used containers, clean and sanitize them and then reuse them. It’s an expensive investment for a business so unfortunately a lot of smaller farms might not have them but it is something worth looking into! Typically you pay a bottle deposit fee that you get back when you return the bottle. Depending on the business, sometimes they’ll even allow you to visit the site with your own bottle and can refill it there (I’ve found this to be the case for a local honey business in my area) for you. This is another reason why I love having growlers too for places that can fill them!
- Canning: Canning is a great way to preserve fresh, seasonal flavors and allows you to waste less by reusing jars- the only thing that gets tossed is the sealing lid. While it often strikes fear into the hearts of home cooks, it really shouldn’t! Check out my post here for an introduction to canning!
- Buying Used: Rather than buying something new and fresh in it’s super new packaging, why not look for used items? While this certainly can’t apply to everything, there are a lot of items that are just as good once they’ve had a little bit of wear and tear (or love and care, depending on the previous owner). I love shopping at thrift stores, yard sales, or even just for “used” versions on Amazon or eBay.
- Digital “Stuff”: While certainly people are doing this a lot with music, as many people simply buy and download digital music directly into their phones or mp3 players these days, there are a lot of other things that can be purchased digitally as well. The price can certainly vary with books but I’ve found that digital magazine subscriptions cost a lot less than a regular subscription! Check to see if there’s a digital copy available before purchasing something new. Similarly, check your local area- there are a lot of digital lending “libraries”!
- Grow Your Own: Growing your own food is one of the most sustainable ways you can eat. You can cut out plastic packaging, as well as the gasoline used when transporting and you have more control over the final product you get! Of course, the ability to grow your own food can vary based on your location (i.e. apartment living) and your interest in gardening, but even starting super small with just some fresh herbs is a great way to go!
- Buy In Bulk: Some stores contain “bulk” sections where you can fill bags with various dry goods ranging from oats to flour to nuts, dried fruits and more! Always check with the store beforehand before bringing jars to find out what is the best unit to write the jar weight in (the first time I did this I wrote it in ounces, only to find that at the register they needed it in pounds and so it was very confusing for the cashier) but once you’ve got that, it’s smooth sailing and so easy to cut back on plastic bag packaging!
- Shop Local: Shopping local has many benefits for the environment and local economy but reducing waste is also one of them. When foods are shipped across the country (or the world), there’s not only significant gas usage and pollution production, but also TONS of packaging to allow those foods to arrive safely and undamaged! In my experience with local farms, I’ve found that very little packaging is used, as it only has a short distance to travel and often times, farms will take back and reuse the shipping boxes and containers!
- Rent It: Bookstores have always been a love of mine. In the end though, I often found I would only read a book once and then it would just sit on my shelves forever until I found someone else to take it or just donated it. Earlier this year I actually #konmari-ed my way through my books and got rid of them, only keeping the ones I truly loved (many of those were cookbooks). Now I enjoy getting all my reading done by borrowing books from the library! This way I’m able to read and enjoy as much as I want without contributing to the need to create more paper for more books! And true story: I actually read more books now when I rent and borrow them than when I was surrounded by ones in my house!
- Use Half: This might seem a little silly, but consider using half. Think about it- when using facial cleansing wipes or paper towels etc, often time they’re bigger than what I need so I just cut them in half- double the usage with one easy step!
- Repair: Rather than replacing something the moment it breaks, try to see if you can repair it, have another person repair it or buy the necessary replacement pieces. I’ve had shoes re-soled and given them new life and similarly repaired broken vacuum cleaners. All it took was a little of research to figure out the next steps and what was needed!
- Repurpose: Instead of throwing old things out, look into repurposing it into something else! Old t-shirt? Maybe sew it into a bag or cut it up for scraps for a craft project or just for cleaning rags. Mason jars you aren’t using? Make them vases until you decide to can again!
- Compost: I love composting! Composting is a great way to reduce your trash and help create soil useful for the environment or your garden. If you live in a city and don’t have room, see if there are any composting programs that will accept your kitchen waste, otherwise look into researching and making your own compost bin to make soil for your garden at home!
- Make Your Snacks: After you’ve utilized the bulk bin to grab up your oats and nuts, try making your own granola for cereals or snacks or make your own bars and skip those individually wrapped ones! Give some of these recipes a try: Chocolate Cherry Granola with Coconut & Flax, Dark Chocolate & Candied Ginger Granola or Chocolate Almond No-Bakes!
- Glass vs. Plastic: There is more to consider here than just the materials each is made of. While glass can be recycled, melted down and rescued indefinitely, as it comes from a natural resource (sand), plastic invariably breaks down over time and often ends up in the ocean as microscopic pieces only to be consumed by aquatic life. That being said, glass is much heavier, so it has a larger environmental toll when it comes to transportation and unlike plastic, it can break. In the end, whether you opt for glass or plastic is your decision, but it’s important to be aware of the stakes at hand.
- Recycle Old Clothes: There are many companies and organizations that will take old shoes or old clothes to reuse and repurpose them. Nike, for example, will take your smelly old Nikes and use the materials to make rubber playground flooring. There are also many groups and organizations that will take old clothes (ones that likely can’t be reused on their own) and take the material to use for other things like making rugs. Research your local area for different resources and options!
- Make Your Own Shampoo/Conditioner: Making shampoo and conditioner at home is much simpler than you might think and can cut down on the need for store-bought versions in plastic bottles and containers. The “no-poo” recipe is a popular option, using only baking soda and water for the shampoo and a vinegar rinse is a simple way to condition your hair after.
- Quality over Quantity: Rather than looking for something quickly and conveniently, take your time to research a product before purchasing. I look for products that are made from quality materials that are less likely to break, but also for products that have options for repairing or replacing parts, rather than things that will need to be thrown out and entirely replaced.
- Borrow: Instead of buying new clothes for special occasions, or new tools for a specific project that will only be used once, look into borrowing from friends or renting from websites or companies. There are now many online sites, like Rent the Runway that allow you to rent a dress in several sizes for a period of time before returning it. This is perfect for when you need something for a specific event or occasion. Similarly, for tools and supplies, often times you can rent them from local businesses rather than buy them, or consider utilizing Craigslist- purchase an item, use it for the project you need and re-sell it online!
- Bonus: For people who have periods, using pads and tampons can be a huge expense- not only on your wallet, but also on the environment from plastic applicators, individual plastic packaging and the products themselves. Some more environmentally friendly options include reusable pads and panty liners, like those from GladRags, or by using a menstrual cup, like Mooncup, or both! Just be aware that when selecting a Mooncup to research whether size “A” or “B” is correct for you (these two sizes depend mainly on age and whether or not a person has had a vaginal birth).