This post is a long time coming. And here it finally is! I was inspired when I was planning out my holiday content calendar a month or two ago, thinking about gift wrapping and how much general waste we produce around the holidays. I am by no means perfect, or even close to it, but I wanted to share some of my favorite tips for reducing waste and plastic use. We can always strive to be better and even just adopting one of these tips into your routine and consciousness is a great step in the right direction.
If you’re interested in learning more about the zero-waste movement, here are some of my favorite bloggers + resources:
- Kathryn Kellogg’s website and blog, Going Zero Waste
- Trash is for Tossers
Without further ado, here are my top 10 tips for reducing waste and plastic use:
Become aware of your habits
By starting to become aware of what and how much plastic and waste you are producing each day/week/month is a great first step in working towards changing your habits. Try to pay attention to any patterns that result in unnecessary waste, areas that you want to work on improving and think of ways that you might be able to cut back. Becoming aware is a powerful first step in any practice. Remember not to be too hard on yourself. You can’t completely change overnight. But if you focus your attention on being better, each day/week/month your old habits will start to change.
Jars for bulk items
Rather than using the plastic bags at the grocery store for your bulk items, use glass jars (bonus points if you use reusable ones like cleaned out marinara or apple sauce jars). I like to keep my bulk foods in large mason jars at home. This way, it’s easy for me to take the jars with me to the grocery store to refill. I can see how much of each pantry item I have and when they’re getting low I pop them in my market basket to take with me to the grocery store. When you get to the bulk aisle, you first need to find the tare weight of your jars, which just means using the scale to write down the amount they weigh before you’ve filled them with food. Mark this weight on top of your jar with a marker or write it in a note on your phone. If there’s no scale available, tell an employee that you want to fill your containers from home and ask if they can tare them for you. Next, fill your containers and record the PLU code for each type of food so the cashier can easily ring you up.
Reusable drink containers
Using a reusable coffee mug and water bottle are two of the easiest ways to cut down your waste. If you buy a cup of coffee every day in a disposable cup, you’ll create about 23 pounds of waste in just one year. Using a reusable glass or stainless steel water bottle instead of buying plastic water bottles is also an easy switch to make. I’m obsessed with my 1-liter BKR bottle. Unfortunately only 1 in 5 plastic bottles are recycled, and recycled plastic water bottles can take between 400 to 1,000 years to decompose. Try to always remember to bring a reusable mug and water bottle with you when you’re traveling. If you like to use straws with your beverages, buy a reusable stainless steel straw and bring that with you too.
Cloth bags for grocery shopping
Instead of using paper or plastic bags at grocery stores, bring your own reusable cloth bags with you to the store. I like to keep mine both in my kitchen and back ups in my car so I always remember to bring them to the store with me. Invest in a pack of mesh produce bags, which you can also purchase at your local grocery store, Target or Whole Foods. You’ll be surprised by how much using these will cut down on your plastic bag use at the grocery store!
Using a compost bin is a great way to reduce food waste on a daily basis. I keep my compost bin under my sink so that’s it convenient to use and doesn’t smell up the kitchen. If your city doesn’t collect compost like Portland does (Yay Portland!), see if there are people in your community that would want your compost, such a local farm or urban garden. Many large cities also have composting services that will pick up your compost for you and provide you with a compost bin, such as Vokashi in New York City.
Purchasing from local stores is a great way to reduce waste. It reduces packaging, since shipping often wastes a lot of unnecessary plastic, packing peanuts, cardboard, etc., etc.. On a side note, buying locally also fuels and supports your local community. If you can only get certain products online, try to be conscious about who you’re buying from and try to support companies that are using conscious packaging practices if there’s a choice.
Bathroom products tend to be a big source of waste. Use recycled and unbleached toilet paper, recyclable plastic or bamboo toothbrushes and use cloth towels instead of paper towels (a great tip for the kitchen too). If you do need to use paper towels, always purchase the recycled and unbleached versions and compost them with your food scraps. When possible, buy your bath products in glass bottles and if you can try refilling your shampoo, conditioner and soap in bulk at your local grocery store or coop. If this isn’t an option, try to buy the biggest size bottle of whatever product you need in order to reduce your plastic waste.
Reducing waste around the holidays
With the holidays right around the corner, it’s a great time to start thinking about how we can reduce waste when giving gifts. Instead of using paper when wrapping presents, try turning any brown paper grocery bags you have lying around inside out, use fabric or cloth wrapping bags, or wrap your gifts in cute tea towels (bonus the tea towel is a gift too!). If you choose to using paper wrapping, try to save after opening and reuse the paper for next year and/or buy recyclable wrapping paper. Reusing ribbons and gift tags are also easy ways to reduce your waste this holiday season. Another great way to alleviate holiday waste is by giving your friends and loved ones experience gifts. Take them to a musical or concert, make them an extra fancy dinner, treat them to a deep tissue massage or buy them a package of yoga classes.
I try to not only use glass tupperware at home for storing food and leftovers, but also when I’m at a grocery store or restaurant. I try to leave clean glass tupperware in my car for those situations. This way you can use your own glass containers for deli items at grocery store and for leftovers when eating out. If you’re at a grocery store deli bar and are eating in the store, opt for a reusable ceramic plate instead of the plastic to go containers. Using glass tupperware also helps eliminate saran wrap in the kitchen. I also love using these silicon airtight bowl toppers for leftovers instead of plastic wrap or foil.
When you can, make it yourself
Making your own broths, nut milks and nut butters saves on wasted Tetra Pak and plastic containers. If you do purchase nut butters from the store, opt for brands that use glass containers over plastic. That way you can reuse the jars for your bulk food items. Cooking your own food is a fun, healthy and sustainable way to consciously reduce your waste.
Love all these ideas!! I need to try out jars for my bulk food items and make my own PB!!
Helpful things I have done in regards to paper I use bamboo toilet paper(amazon)and also no longer use paper towels!! Bought some organic bar mop towels in bulk, white is for kitchen blue is for bathroom. Also have a water purification system being installed next week, so bye bye to plastic water bottles!!!. Purchased glass water bottles set of 12 from Amazon. Cant wait for that!
Also for any mom’s who pack their kids lunch or adult who packs their l lunch, I use Stasher bags (amazon) so I don’t use any Zip lock bags for my son’s lunch! I was using like 3-4 per day!!! Terrible!!
Never too late to start going GREEN!!
Oh Alison I’m so glad you published this article!
As a Portland-based zero-waste advocate, I’m so happy to read about your plastic-reducing tips.
I actually published my own Zero Waste Guide for Portland (including an interactive map), if you’re ever interested in having a look. Here it is: http://consciousbychloe.com/zero-waste-pdx/
My latest experiments include curbing my milk-based products and making my own cashew cheese. I’m obsessed!
Thank you so much for spreading the word about eco-conscious living!
seeing tips to reduce waste always gets me excited 🙂 sometimes for gits I wrap it up with newspapers lying around but make sure that a picture is facing upwards that the receiver will enjoy!
Your tips are spot-on. It’s so great that Portland offers citywide compost collection! Jealous over here in Chicago… 🙂
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