Reduce your Household Waste

Easy steps to reduce your household trash

Let’s face it: we throw away too much stuff. I don’t think I’ll get any argument there. Disposable products, packaging, electronics that seem to define planned obsolescence, it all ends up in the landfill.

Shop Smart.

The first and most obvious way to stop throwing away so much trash is to stop bringing it into your house in the first place. If it has a package, consider other alternatives. Can you make it yourself (bread, ice)? Can you choose a different product with better packaging (loose tomatoes instead of those in plastic packages or spaghetti sauce in glass rather than plastic)? Can you do without or get it second hand?

Compost.

If you’re not composting yet, consider this the nudge you need to do so. Divert your kitchen scraps from the landfill and make garden gold. You can compost if you’re lazy. You can compost with worms. You can compost with your blender. Figure out what works and do it.

Donate items you don’t need.

I once worked for a woman who threw her toddler daughter’s outgrown clothes away. Like, in the garbage. I doubt anyone here is doing that, but think about what you toss. The local preschool might be able to use some of those obscure packages in craft projects. Your friend with chickens might appreciate your egg cartons. A local business might like that bubble wrap that your birthday gift came in.

Cook from scratch.

Buying a pre-made salad at the deli counter is fast, but leaves you with the hard plastic clam shell packaging to throw away. Instead, buy a head of lettuce, use your cloth produce bags, and top with whatever veggies are in season. Skip the canned soups and make your own. Or learn to replace one of your favorite supermarket “crutch foods” with a homemade version.

Recycle.

In my mind, it’s more important to reduce the amount of recyclable items that we use first, but if you must use them then please recycle.

In this household, we fill about one kitchen trash can every two weeks. It’s primarily filled with plastic: Toilet paper wrappers, the plastic safety bands from supplement bottles, tortilla packages. I’m sure that’s a lot less than some of you, and more than others. In any case, it makes me cringe every time we fling our trash over the edge at the transfer station. I’m certainly not aspiring to zero-waste like this family, but less trash? Absolutely.

So. Will you come clean and tell us how many bags of trash you go through a week? And what are you willing to do to reduce that amount?

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  • Nicola ,

    We also have one rubbish bags a week, sometimes two. Its my resolution this year to cut down on our waste. Thanks for the tips.

    • Kris Bordessa ,

      You’re welcome! And welcome to the club. ;)

  • This is a great challenge! I’m looking forward to thinking more about the packaging we throw away. Lately I’ve been hankering to get cloth produce bags, so maybe this will be the excuse I need to break out my never-before-used sewing machine. We also use about one kitchen garbage bag per week; often it contains meat scraps, and I would love to get ideas for how to cut down on the smell. I know I can cover it with baking soda, but that feels wasteful.

    • Kris Bordessa ,

      Justine, a couple of thoughts. If you have chickens, they LOVE meat scraps. If you have outdoor space, you can dig a hole and bury the meat scraps and let the worms dispose of it.

      And yes, those bags are SO easy. Do it!

      • Karen ,

        Hi there,
        Are you saying cloth produce bags to bring your food home or for the store to weigh your veggies in? I did not think they would do that…unless too awkward for the cashier I don’t use the plastic when possible. I got a dirty look though when the cashier pricked herself on an artichoke! I wish I could take in my mason jars and fill directly with dried beans etc.. instead of using plastic. I think if they got the weight of the jars in advance it would be so good.Thanks for any input!

    • bkrnurs ,

      Do you have friends with dogs? Because if I had a friend or neighbor who gave me meat scraps for my dogs, I’d be very happy and so would my dogs… If you kept the meat scraps in a covered container in the fridge or freezer until it was time to give them away (max a week in the fridge, months in the freezer), you wouldn’t have any smell, because they wouldn’t spoil, would they?

      I bake “cookies” for my dogs out of scraps and leftover vegetables and grease/fats from roasted or sauteed meats — I chop everything up, add a handful of nutritional yeast and a little water, then mix in enough flour/oats to make a soft dough to pat out thinly on a cookie sheet and then baked at 325 or so (I cut this into squares half-way through the baking, turn them all over when brownish, and leave in the oven with the pilot light on to dry out overnight). Uses up leftovers and trimmings and used grease, makes for happy and well-behaved dogs…

    • bkrnurs ,

      Do you have friends with dogs? Because if I had a friend or neighbor who gave me meat scraps for my dogs, I’d be very happy and so would my dogs… If you kept the meat scraps in a covered container in the fridge or freezer until it was time to give them away (max a week in the fridge, months in the freezer), you wouldn’t have any smell, because they wouldn’t spoil, would they?

      I bake “cookies” for my dogs out of scraps and leftover vegetables and grease/fats from roasted or sauteed meats — I chop everything up, add a handful of nutritional yeast and a little water, then mix in enough flour/oats to make a soft dough to pat out thinly on a cookie sheet and then baked at 325 or so (I cut this into squares half-way through the baking, turn them all over when brownish, and leave in the oven with the pilot light on to dry out overnight). Uses up leftovers and trimmings and used grease, makes for happy and well-behaved dogs…

  • We fill one kitchen trash can every 4-6 weeks. With composting, recycling and very little pre-packaged food, we just don’t have much to throw away. We keep the large kitchen trash can out in the garage and have double teeny tiny built in trash cans in the kitchen behind a drawer face that has containers that can use grocery store bags as a liner, if you are so inclined. The front one we use for trash, the back one we use for paper/cardboard recycling.

    We have a sealing compost container on the kitchen counter that we empty into the compost as needed-usually every day. Other recycling items are taken out to the recycling bins as they are cleaned and made ready.

    • Kris Bordessa ,

      Thanks for chatting with me on Facebook about this. It sounds like your built in cans are roughly the same size as the office can we use. Maybe a bit smaller.

    • Adrienne ,

      It sounds like you have a good system that works for your family. I will mention though, that for most people at home, in the office, and especially in schools the best way to decrease solid waste is to move the recycling containers to the easiest most accessible place. If you have to walk by the trash to get to the recycling it is just logical that you will throw away more and recycle and compost less.

  • This is a great post! We took the compost plunge about a year and a half ago, and I’m thrilled with how much it reduced our trash and enhanced our garden.

    We also recycle a TON, though I’m still concerned that not all of it actually gets recycled and that some of the recycling processes are wasteful.

    • Kris Bordessa ,

      Colleen, I feel the same way about recycling. We recycle LOTS but sometimes I wonder if the fuel needed to ship it around *really makes it a better option. That’s why I’m working so hard to eliminate even the items that I can recycle by making my own food stuffs.

    • Adrienne ,

      Plastics are especially difficult to recycle. It’s best to avoid them whenever possible, and realize that #1 and #2 bottles are the only plastics readily recycled into lesser products (downcycled, because they degrade with each recycling) A lot of people who purport to be “greenies” are advocating for the use of bio-plastics (usually corn rather than petroleum based) but these are a big contaminant in the recycling of plastics, and the biodegradability of this packaging and utensils, etcetera is greatly exaggerated: many of them don’t break down unless they are in “ideal conditions” in est, buried in a mountain of hot compost. The biodegradability formula info is a bit dry, but the basics of it are that manufacturers claim “biodegradability” based on the timeframe when items break down most quickly, then they stagnate and don’t break down quickly or at all after that. Reusing glass containers is far preferable if you can.

  • Evan ,

    I’m in!

  • noodlegirl ,

    We are down to one large kitchen bag a week sometimes just under a week. Would love it to be less! Our town has easy recycling and provides a compost bin for home use.

    • @noodlegirl It makes such a difference to get the compostable stuff out of the trash, doesn’t it?

    • Adrienne ,

      National rates have compostable foodstuffs as the second largest material by weight that is still going into the solid waste stream. Paper can be up to 70% by volume, and so many products now have recycled content. Home composting is great, and removes the yucky and the stinky from your garbage altogether, plus you get the black-gold compost for your garden! Win-win!

  • Attainable Sustainable ,

    The earlier conversation on Facebook has a number of other ideas, too: http://www.facebook.com/attainablesustainable/posts/336486986382607?notif_t=feed_comment

  • Anne of Green Gardens ,

    wow, using a blender is a great idea!Admirable camera work too. ;-)

  • bkrnurs ,

    we have one to one-and-a-half kitchen trash bags of rubbish a week… all of our paper trash we burn (sometimes this fire is used to kill a tree stump for double duty), but we’re lucky enough to live in the country where we can do that (it’s our “shredder” for paper info, too). we recycle cans, glass, and plastic bottles (we do NOT buy water, thank you). our “composting” is done by tossing the compostables into the top of the gully, where they break down or feed wildlife, and when it rains the good stuff washes down the whole gully where we have planted oodles of food: bananas, sugar cane, taro, and other stuff. where do you order your meat from, Kris? I’m in Hilo, so I want to know! ;-)

    • @bkrnurs Aloha! When you started mentioning gullies, bananas, and sugar cane I thought you might be nearby. I get my meat from JJ’s in Honoka‘a. I’m nearby, so just pick it up at the store, but they do once a week deliveries to Hilo (and Kona) I believe.

  • Jasmin Pike ,

    We started composting again this month, after a few-month hiatus. It makes a HUGE difference in our outgoing garbage. I’ve also been reusing a lot more things for arts/crafts and in prep for seeds/gardening. I feel good about the liitle things I can do in my kitchen to help make a difference :)

  • Attainable Sustainable ,

    Jasmin Pike: Bravo! Little steps DO make a difference!

  • Melissa L. Metcalf ,

    One, if that, with three people. And I cook…

  • Salt of the Earth Urban Farm ,

    We live in Portland, OR – we only have garbage service every other week, and our family of 6 uses a microcan (that’s about 3 bags of garbage/month, thanks to cloth diapers and whole, unprocessed foods (less packaging). All food waste is composted or fed to the poultryl, and our 40 gal recycle can is filled weekly.

  • Anna W ,

    A girl that I had in my daycare her mom told me that she throws away her daughters outgrown clothes too! My reaction – noooooo! Give them to me, my daughter needs clothes haha! I appreciate the article, every tip I can cram in to my head I do!

  • Josh ,

    We have a trash compactor, and three recycle bins along with our own three bin recycling system. Lets us use about one bag of landfill waste a week.

  • Claire ,

    We go through one bag of trash every 2 weeks or so. You’re right that most of it is old food or partial dinners. Did you know that Kroger will take any kind of wrapping plastic in their “plastic bag” bin? Anything without food on it. So shake out those tortilla wrappers. Wad up that toilet paper plastic. Save it all in a reusable bag, and next time you go to the grocery, you’ll recycle what’s in the bag, and use the bag to shop. It helps me to remember to bring my cloth bags into the store.

    • Adrienne ,

      Make sure you check the code, usually it’s #4 LDPE, and make sure they are as clean as possible because “contaminants” can cause large amounts of material to be discarded without actually being recycled. SO glad you pointed out this great recycling resource, most recycling centers do not have the machines and resources to be able to compact and recycle these bags but the manufacturers provide them to grocery stores at low cost because fo sheer volume and because they buy back the recycled bag products.

  • robin ,

    Family of 4, a bag a week or one 50 gallon garbage can to the dump a month.  We recycle all that can be recycled in our area; there are nine 50 gallon recycling cans/bins in our garage, plus we compost and have chickens, among other animals. Plus there is battery recycling at a few of our stores in town. I reuse all of the plastic grocery bags I do get and when I have enough to last a while, I use cloth grocery bags.

  • lynne ,

    And let’s all ask the shops and supermarkets to rethink packaging!

  • Kathy Francis ,

    I toss out one regular size plastic, grocery, saddle bag per week.  But it’s only me and my cat so I might could do better.

  • Adrienne ,

    Our family of four makes one (15 gallon) bag of trash about every 3-5 weeks. I expect that to drop when my toddler is finally potty-trained, we mostly use cloth diapers, but overnight we use a disposable to prevent her waking from wetness and developing a rash. Full disclosure, I manage a recycling center, so I am constantly evaluating what we buy versus what I know can actually be recycled. We do aspire to be zero waste, and find Bea Johnson’s page and blog inspiring. Searching out package-free foodstuffs and making your own cleaning products from non-toxic ingredients are a great way to start! Even communicating to your local grocery or market that you wish to buy less packaging and asking them to carry more loose produce can have a significant impact. Thank you for the article promoting this lifestyle!

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