LAUREN NOWACKI9-MINUTE READ
On April 22, 1970, America celebrated its first Earth Day. It helped create more public awareness of the issues facing our planet. While we have made great strides in combating some of these issues in the last 50 years, there is still much to be done. One area that needs work is waste. According to The World Bank, annual waste production is expected to reach 3.4 billion tons, globally, by 2050. There are several ways to make eco-friendly changes at home that can help the environment. To help combat our trash crisis and reduce waste in your home, follow these simple tips.
How To Reduce Waste
Cutting down on waste production doesn’t have to be a super time-consuming or labor-intensive feat. Making small changes around the house can have a significant and lasting impact – and can even cut down on household expenses.
How To Reduce Food Waste
Food waste impacts our world more than we may think. It contributes to our waste, taking up room at landfills and generating methane as it breaks down. And while billions (billions!) of pounds of food is thrown away each year in the U.S., many American families struggle to put food on their tables each dMove Older Foods To The Front ay. To reduce food waste in your home, try these tricks.
Move Older Foods To The Front
Adopt a “first in, first out” system in your pantry and refrigerator by moving older foods that are closer to their expiration dates to the front, so they are right in your face and don’t get lost in the back of the fridge and left to spoil. Create a rule to use the food in the front first.
Plan Your Meals For The Week
Meal planning isn’t just a way to eat healthier and lose weight. It can also help you save money and, most importantly, reduce your waste. Creating a meal plan for the week and shopping with a corresponding grocery list will keep you from buying foods you won’t use.
Before creating a menu for the week, look through your pantry, fridge and freezer to see what ingredients you already have and plan meals that use those ingredients. Don’t forget to employ the “first in, first out approach” and create meals that use those foods first. Using what you already have will keep those foods from spoiling and shorten your grocery list, saving you more money at the store. As you plan your meals for the week, try to think of different meals that use the some of the same ingredients and also consider using leftovers for one or more other meals. Once you have your menu, create a corresponding grocery list with the rest of the ingredients you’ll need. Once you have your menu and all of the ingredients, choose one day to cook (or at least prep) all of the meals. That way, everything will already be prepared to eat, heat up or cook. This will help you avoid ordering takeout because you’re too tired to cook at the end of a long day.
Understand “Sell-By” Dates
Most – if not all – of the food you buy from the grocery store will have a date printed on its packaging. Often referred to as “the expiration date,” this set of numbers often contributes to food waste in the U.S. That’s because these dates often lead consumers to believe that they must throw out food that is past its date. In reality, these dates aren’t necessarily affiliated with the safety of a product, but with its quality. These dates may have more wiggle room than you may think because they are the recommended date to use a product before its quality declines. You may have a couple days – or even longer – to consume the product before it actually spoils or becomes a safety concern.
Remember, too, that there are different types of phrases used on these expiration labels. Knowing their difference can help.
- “Sell-By” refers to the last date a store can display the product. It’s typically still safe to consume this product after this date.
- “Best If Used By” means that the quality of the food will go down after this date and may not taste or perform as it should. However, it’s generally still safe to consume the food for some time after the date.
- “Use By” refers to the date a highly perishable food may start going bad and become a safety concern over time.
- “Freeze By” refers to the date it would be best to freeze the food to maintain its peak quality.
When it comes to eating foods past their “use-by” or “sell-by” dates, use your best judgement when determining if they’re okay to eat. A few key indicators include how the product smells, how it tastes or if there are physical changes to the food, like chunks in your milk or mold on your fruit.
Donate Your Food
Your abundance of food can help others who don’t have enough. Even with methods for reducing food waste, you may still not be able to save every bit of food from going bad. Routinely go through your food storage areas and if you spot any foods that are nearing their expiration date that you know you won’t be able to consume in time, pack them up and take them to your local food bank.
If you have leftover food from a catered event, consider calling around to local churches, shelters and food kitchens that serve meals and to see if you can donate the food. Some caterers offer to donate leftovers, so seek out and hire those that do.
Say Yes To Ugly Produce
Fruits and vegetables come in all sorts of odd shapes and sizes and are still perfectly delicious. But, despite this truth, misshapen or “ugly” items are often discarded or ignored at the grocery store for purely aesthetic reasons. Give misshapen fruit a leg up and choose it over more symmetrical options.
Maximize Freshness With Proper Storing
When it comes to keeping herbs, veggies and fruits fresh, knowing the tricks of how to store them can make a huge difference. For example, did you know that unwashed produce keeps better in the fridge? Storing items when they’re still wet can make your produce mushy. Wash your produce as you use it to keep unnecessary moisture out. If you wash your produce before you store it, make sure to pat it dry. Know which produce should go straight into the fridge and what can be kept on the counter or kitchen table. For example, citrus fruits like oranges and lemons do better in the fridge from the get-go.
Containers make a difference, too. Reusable plastic bags or lidded containers work for most produce, though mushrooms should be stored in a paper bag to absorb extra moisture, and herbs should be swaddled in paper towel first, then placed in a plastic bag or storage container to keep better. To properly store asparagus, you’ll want to treat the bunch like a bouquet of flowers, trimming the ends and placing them in water until you use them.
When fruits and veggies do start to soften and you don’t think you’ll be able to use them before they go bad, consider storing them in the freezer to use for soup or smoothies at a later date. To best freeze your produce, lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet to freeze, then bag them and store in the freezer for future use.
How To Reduce Plastic Waste
Plastic can take hundreds of years to break down, and millions of tons of it makes its way into the ocean each year. Help reduce plastic waste by taking the following steps.
Brush With A Bamboo Toothbrush
The American Dental Association recommends you change your toothbrush every 3 – 4 months. That means that every year, the average person throws away 3 – 4 plastic toothbrushes, which end up in the landfill. We all need to brush our teeth to maintain oral health and hygiene, but that doesn’t mean we need to use plastics to do so. Bamboo toothbrushes are made with eco-friendly material (often packaged in it too) and contain antibacterial properties that help keep the toothbrush clean. And best of all, these products are biodegradable.
Stop Using Straws
Plastic straws are small, so you may think they don’t take up too much room in landfills. However, these little pieces of plastic are a big problem. It’s predicted that the U.S. alone uses 500 million straws per day. It’s no surprise that cities across the country are working to ban them altogether. Opt for drinking straight from the lip of your glass instead of using a straw, if you’re able. If you must use a straw due to physical limitations or because you enjoy the convenience, purchase reusable straws and keep one with you to use on the go.
Rethink Your Coffee Routine
Our daily caffeine boost can be a huge contributor of waste – from single-use disposable cups to single-cup coffee pods – and it’s an easy fix. There are several ways to make coffee that won’t result in so much waste, including using more eco-friendly makers or switching to reusable coffee pods, which keep more one-time-use, plastic pods out of the garbage. The great things about reusable pods is they allow you to brew any coffee you want, including coffee that is freshly ground.
You’ll also want to invest in some travel mugs to brew coffee at home and take it with you. If you absolutely must stop at your favorite coffee place, bring a reusable cup with you and ask them to fill it. Many coffee shops are happy to oblige and often reward consumers for being eco-friendly with a small discount.
Keep Your Razors Dry
Storing razor blades face down in the shower allows moisture to break down the edges and can make them rust faster. Instead, store them razor-side up and dry them after use to keep them sharper and out of the landfill longer. If you are using disposable razors, consider switching to reusable ones that have you switch the blades out instead.
Stock Up On Reusable Grocery Bags
Like other plastics, plastic bags can take hundreds of years to break down and many find their way into the ocean, harming sea life and poisoning the water. Whenever you go shopping, bring your own bags to carry your merchandise. Keep bags stored in your car to make sure you don’t forget them on your next shoppin g trip. If you do forget to bring your own bags, ask the cashier if they can bag your items in paper instead of plastic.
If you have a collection of plastic grocery bags, you won’t be able to recycle them at home. Instead, bring them back to the grocery store, where they can properly recycle them.
Drink Tap Water
Bottled water is unhealthy for humans and the planet because the water often contains toxins from the plastic bottle and it’s packaging contributes to our waste problem. Instead of using bottled water, consider drinking from the tap and using a reusable water bottle.
If you’re worried about drinking water from your tap, install a filtration system to your faucet, use a water pitcher with an attached filter or invest in a water cooler that uses reusable water jugs that you can usually refill at your grocery store or have delivered to your home.
Bring Your Own Container
Bulk dry goods (like flour, nuts and beans) can be purchased in reusable bags. The same goes for wet or liquid items (like peanut butter and oil), which you can fill up and buy in your own glass jars. This cuts down on waste from packaging these items.
Restaurants typically put your to-go items in one-time use Styrofoam containers or paper boxes. Instead, come prepared and request your food be packed away in your own reusable container.
Try Reusable Snack Bags
Between packing kids lunches and our own office snacks, we can go through a lot of single-use sandwich bags in one day. Consider reusable Tupperware or reusable snack bags as an alternative. Reusable snack bags are easy to clean and can be used over and over again to reduce plastic waste and save you money.
How To Reduce Paper Waste
Paper can be easily recycled, and yet it still contributes to waste that’s inundating our landfills. Paper also comes from trees, so reducing your use can also help save trees. Here’s how to do your part.
Reuse Gift Bags And Tissue Paper
Holiday and birthday gift wrapping is expensive and produces an incredible amount of trash. By saving gift bags and tissue paper and reusing them, you can help reduce waste and save quite a bit of money.
Opt For Paperless Billing
Most companies now offer their clients paperless billing statements, which can be read online. Opting for paperless billing prevents literal tons of paper waste by eliminating pages and pages of paper statements and the envelopes they arrive in. There are additional benefits to paperless billing, including saving you money in late fees from misplaced bills, helping you declutter and keeping your private information safe.
Use A Whiteboard Or Phone Apps
Use a white board for lists, meal planning menus, calendars and announcements that you want the whole family to see. You’ll be able to erase and reuse it time and time again. If you need to erase info to make space for something else, take a picture of it before you erase it and store it in an album online.
When it comes to making sure everyone knows the family schedule, consider using a scheduling app that connects to everyone’s phone. If you need to create a grocery list or other to-go type of document, consider using a list app on your phone. And when it comes to planning your day, switch to a digital planner instead of a paper one.
Swap Paper Towels For Hand Towels
We often reach for paper towels way more than is necessary and often grab far more than we need. The shortage of paper goods that came with COVID-19 may have taught us to use less paper towel but, if not, a few tricks include storing rolls in a cabinet, rather than in plain sight and using cloth towels instead. Cloth towels can be washed and reused time and time again.
Read Magazines And Newspapers Online
Cancel any newspaper, magazine, coupons and phone books or other paper subscriptions where you can. Many companies have online subscriptions that may even provide more articles, offers and interactive features than paper subscriptions. If you feel you can’t give up the print version, ask your local library if they have a copy instead.
Other Ways To Reduce Waste
There are several different types of materials, chemicals and other toxins filling up our landfills, besides food, paper and plastics. Think about all of the other items you toss in the trash without a second thought. Here are some simple changes to reduce the various other types of waste in the home.
Buy Rechargeable Batteries
Not only do disposable batteries take up space in landfills, many states consider them to be hazardous waste. That’s because they release corrosive liquids and metals and other toxic substances, which can leach into groundwater. Rechargeable batteries cut down on the amount of batteries that end up in landfills because they can be recharged and, thus, reused and many types can be recycled after use.
Wear Second-Hand Clothes
Textile waste is a huge issue in clothing manufacturing, but second-hand fashion is helping combat the issue. Buying second-hand doesn’t have to mean sacrificing style or function. There are several thrift stores and consignment shops that provide gently-used clothing – sometimes even designer clothing – at steep discounts. By purchasing second-hand, you’re keeping tons of textiles out of the landfills. The same goes for donating your clothing. Every now and then, typically between seasons, go through your wardrobe and donate clothing you no longer wear. If it’s in really good condition, you may be able to sell it to a consignment shop and get paid for your unwanted attire. Anything that doesn’t sell there can be donated to a thrift store or non-profit that provides clothing to those in need. Not only will you be helping the environment, you’ll also be helping people who can’t afford clothing.
If you have clothing that isn’t suitable for donation due to its condition or the type of apparel it is, consider donating it to places that recycle textiles to use for other purposes – like industrial blankets, cleaning rags or padding for car seats.
Use Wool Dryer Balls
Dryer sheets are single use, meaning they’re thrown out after just one use. They can also leave a chemical residue that can be harmful to our skin and our dryers. To reduce waste and keep your skin and laundry appliances healthy, try using wool dryer balls, which are natural and reusable and may shorten drying time.
Leave Your Lawn Clippings Behind
Learn more about what your city does with yard waste that is picked up. Is it taken to a compost site or does it go directly to the landfill? If it’s the latter, consider leaving your grass clippings on the lawn to allow the nutrients to return to the soil. You could also go a little more extreme and opt for a no-mow lawn.
Clean And Store Outdoor Items Properly
Leaving furniture and toys outdoors can leave them susceptible to damage. Properly prepping your patio for winter and cleaning and storing outdoor items can help them last longer and make them easier to resell. Either way, properly maintaining your property will keep items out of the landfill longer.
Donate Or Have A Garage Sale
As the saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Before you toss out your old items, consider having a garage sale or donating the items to a local church, thrift store or shelter. Along with keeping you from contributing more waste, the act of donating or selling your stuff can clear clutter from your home, help you earn money or leave you feeling good that you helped someone in need.
The Bottom Line
The world has a waste problem and it’s up to all of us to help reduce the amount of trash that ends up in the landfills and in our water. That starts art home. There are several simple ways to have a positive impact on the environment. Check out more articles on our blog to learn more ways to make your home greener and get other homeowner tips for decorating and maintaining your house.