10 Easy Ways to Minimize your Home’s Garbage
In honor of Earth Day, I thought I’d share some of the lifestyle changes that we have been implementing in our home to significantly decrease the amount of waste that our family disposes of. While making efforts towards being more present and intentional in my life, I’ve come to the astonishing realization that I alone am capable of producing a scary amount of garbage on a daily basis. Before taking this hard look at my own consumption and waste habits, I had always considered myself fairly responsible. Truth was though, I was only making minimal efforts to recycle and be thoughtful about my purchases. There really was SO much more that I could...and should be doing.
When you set your bins out on garbage day, do you ever wonder where all your garbage and recycle is really going? It doesn't just magically disappear, right? Well, have you heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? If not, check this out. A significant amount of our day-to-day garbage consists of plastic materials. The thing about plastic is that once it has been created (by humans), it is here to stay. For-like-ever. Unlike natural materials, plastics will never completely decompose and cycle back into the earth. Our plastic throwaways will just continue to collect and collect and collect. Not only will our garbage keep piling up, it will also continue to leach dangerous toxins in to everything we eat, drink, breathe and touch.
If you are saying to yourself right now “I'm really good about recycling so I'm already doing my part”, here is a reality check: recycling requires a significant amount of money, energy and resources to be achieved. For those of us lucky enough to actually live in an area where decent recycling options are available, chances are many of us are not taking the time (or just don’t even know how) to properly clean, sort and prep those recyclable items. Most of the items that we think are going off to be recycled never actually get there. Those items that do are often recycled to become new items that then can no longer be recycled, thus ending up in the landfill in the end. Recycling is just not going to cut it if we are really going to make a difference and slow down our staggering garbage accumulation. Recycling really should be our last resort when all other steps to avoid waste are not feasible.
Below I've listed 10 totally doable changes that our family has recently made to significantly reduce our own garbage. These lifestyle changes have not in any way caused us to go without or negatively impacted our daily lives. If anything, we have simplified our household choirs, have been eating better quality food and have saved money. My hope is that we all will start to put more thought in to making responsibility decisions and recognize the impact we each personally have on our home planet. I fear that if drastic changes don't happen now, we will be leaving behind a real awful mess for our children to have to attempt to survive in. Remember the movie WALL-E? For the sake of our babies’ futures, let’s all agree to do what we can to clean up our act.
1. Bring Your Own Reusable Containers
Bring your canvas shopping bags and mesh produce bags to the grocery store. Pack your lunch in your reusable sandwich bag or wrapped in wax cloth. Fill up your own water bottle. Ask your barista to make your latte in your own thermos. Put your leftovers in your own washable glass or stainless steel container. Just do what you can to avoid "single-use" plastics.
2. Buy From The Bulk Section
When I say bulk, I’m not talking about shopping at Costco where most items are wrapped in tons of extra unnecessary packaging. I’m talking about that area in your grocery store where you can buy the exact amount of what you need from bins. Once I started looking into shopping bulk, I was amazing by how many different items and grocery products I found. The key to buying in bulk is planning ahead and making sure you have your own containers handy so you don't have to use the disposable bags provided at the store. All you have to do is weigh your own containers at the checkout counter before you fill them. I now purchase the majority of our groceries in bulk, even our soaps and lotion.
3. Say No To Bottled Water and Keurig Coffee
We seriously just have to stop with the plastic water bottles and Keurig cups. These are two of the biggest sources of garbage piling up on our planet and there really is no excuse for it. There are so many nice reusable bottles available to purchase that will keep your water cold and your coffee hot all day long. Some even come with built-in filters. Plastic water bottles leach nastiness in to your water anyways, especially when left in hot vehicles. Let's be honest, Keurig coffee is really kind of bad tasting. I highly recommend a simple glass French press – best tasting coffee with no waste (after composting the left over grounds). If you really prefer your Keurig single cup capability, get yourself a reusable, washable Keurig cup and use your own bulk coffee.
4. Switch To Bamboo Tooth Brushes
Plastic toothbrushes are another one of those plastic objects that can't be recycled and is piling up in our oceans. There are a ton of companies that are now making awesome bamboo tooth brushes. Bamboo is a renewable resource that is naturally biodegradable and anti-bacterial. If you can't find bamboo toothbrushes at your local stores, order them online. Check out Amazon for a bunch of options. You can also buy in bulk to save money.
5. Choose The Plastic-Free Shopping Options
When buying produce, skip the food that comes wrapped in plastic. One of the reasons I avoid shopping at Trader Joe's is that almost all of their organic produce comes on a Styrofoam (not recyclable) tray wrapped in plastic or in a plastic bag. There is just no need for that. Shop your local farmer's market or ask your local grocer to consider sourcing from somewhere else. Vote with your dollar. Also, avoid single serving packaged snacks and meals. Fill your own reusable container with your desired serving size.
6. Simplify Your Beauty Routine
Unfortunate, most beauty products are packed full of harmful chemicals. They also usually come in a bunch of wasteful packaging and containers. For this reason, I have significantly minimizing my beauty routine. I've also starting trying some homemade solutions using bulk ingredients. My skin is healthier now than it has ever been. Make an effort to avoid product samples, unnecessary prescriptions and gifts you know you won't ever use. We are all guilty of accumulating piles of barely used cosmetics and medicines under our sinks. Most of these are items that are difficult, if not impossible to recycle. Luckily, there are now more and more companies popping up that pride themselves on producing natural, ethical and cruelty-free products that can also be purchased with minimal plastic packaging. There are even companies, such as LUSH, that gift little incentives to customers who return their bottles to be reused. Consider trying out soaps and shampoo bars that you can purchase sans plastic packaging.
7. Sign Up For Paperless
Pretty much every company and organization offers the online, paperless communication option now. Take a few minutes and sign up for all of them. Sign up for the automatic bill payment option too while you are at it and just make your life a little easier.
8. Shop Second-Hand
I recently made a vow to myself that I would be deliberate about all my purchases. For the past two years I have been trying to buy used or second-hand whenever possible. I have discovered some really great consignment shops. I have also made some awesome thrift finds. There are tons of opportunities available to get what you need used or free. This way of shopping avoids waste and saves you a lot of money without having to go without. I’ll spare you the lecture on “fast fashion” but I will urge everyone to please consider purchasing quality over quantity. Pick timeless, quality pieces that will last longer. Most importantly, don't fall victim to compulsive consumerism.
9. Rethink House Cleaning
There are an overwhelming amount of cleaning products on the market and most of them are toxic, expensive and completely unnecessary. Most cleaning jobs can be tackled with a little vinegar and baking soda. If you don’t believe me, just ask Pinterest! I no longer purchase paper towels or single-use disposable cleaning products. For the last several years I have been using all washable, reusable cleaning supplies. Even old socks and cut up t-shirts will do the trick.
10. Get Comfortable With Saying "No, Thank You"
When you order a beverage - "No straw, please". When you are leaving the dentist office and they hand you a baggy of samples and a plastic toothbrush - "No, thank you. I'm good". When you get takeout food - "No plastic utensils, please". Would your kid like a free little plastic toy? No, thank you! If we all start saying "no, thank you" to these unnecessary plastic items that will just end up in the trash, than there won't be a demand for them and business will stop ordering them.
Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about how to go about making some of these changes in your own home. I'd love to hear if you have any additional suggestions as well. Thank you for taking the time to read this and for considering what we can do now to help improve our babies' futures.