Every single day, the average American produces 4.4 pounds of garbage. In a country of more than 300 million people, that’s a lot of trash — enough to fill more than 60,000 garbage trucks. And when you consider that we’re rapidly running out of effective places to put your trash, it’s clear that we need to start making a greater effort to cut down on the amount of waste that we generate.
Fortunately, reducing household waste is not as difficult as it might sound. Even small changes to your usual household routines and habits can make a difference, and with a little practice, you’ll be surprised at how much less often you have to take out the garbage. Read on for eight simple tips that households of any size, anywhere, can take to cut down on waste production.
Track your purchases
In order to get a better handle on what’s going out of your household, it’s a good idea to take a look at what’s coming into it. Over the course of an average week, keep a careful note of all your purchases. This will help you to identify any unnecessary items that are coming into your home only to be quickly disposed of, and it will encourage you to pinpoint other changes you can make to your shopping habits in order to keep your waste levels down.
Bring your own bag
Did you know that Americans use an average of 500 plastic bags per person every year? That’s more than a bag a day, and virtually all of those bags (over 99%) end up in the landfill even though they are often recyclable. You can help to reduce this number by always taking your own bags with you when you go shopping. Cloth bags are lightweight and very small when folded, so they are easy to tuck into a purse or a pocket. Keep a couple in your car, as well, so you’re always prepared for unexpected grocery stops.
Buy in bulk
Up to 65% of household trash is comprised of packaging materials. Fortunately, more items than ever are now available in bulk, either from specialty shops or the bulk bins at major grocery stores. Bring your own reusable containers, jars, bags, and bottles and stock up on everything from flour and sugar to shampoo and dishwasher detergent. Shopping at produce stands or farmer’s markets will also help you find fresh, unpackaged fruits and vegetables.
Choose recyclable packaging
If it’s not possible to find the items you need in bulk, try to choose products that use minimal packaging or recyclable packaging wherever possible. This means avoiding most single-serve or individually wrapped products or anything packaged in a grade of plastic that is not easily recyclable. Instead, look for products packaged in cardboard or glass bottles and jars, and purchase items like dish soap or laundry detergent in concentrate form so you get a better product-to-packaging ratio.
Find new uses for old or broken items
Repurposing is a great way to reduce household waste and find inventive new uses for items that may no longer be useful in their original form, but that don’t need to go in the trash just yet. Ideas can be as simple or as creative as you like: try cutting up old clothes to make household cleaning rags; using broken dishes as garden edging; or turning broken jewelry pieces into decorative fridge magnets.
Stop your junk mail
Even in this digital age, Americans still receive a huge amount of junk mail, 44% of which goes into the landfill unopened. Junk mail is not only wasteful in terms of household trash, but also in regards to resource consumption: the annual production and transport of junk mail in the US consumes as much energy as nearly 3 million cars idling for a full year. To put a stop to your junk mail, websites such as DirectMail.com can help remove your name from commercial mailing databases. You can also call the phone numbers listed on individual mailers and ask to be taken off their lists.
Use reusable takeout containers
If you’re someone who likes to eat and drink on the go, you should get into the habit of using reusable containers rather than the disposable ones that many establishments will offer to you. Using a travel mug for your daily coffee can help save up to 500 disposable cups per year (that’s the amount used by the average American office worker), and bringing along a Tupperware container for your deli sandwich will help to reduce the amount of Styrofoam (the most common take-out container material) sent to the landfill.
Know your local recycling options
Finally, one of the best ways to cut down on your household trash is to learn as much as you can about local recycling programs. Talk to your recycling coordinator and make sure you know exactly what items they accept. This will help to ensure that you never throw away anything that could be recycled. Program coordinators may also have suggestions for alternative ways to dispose of items that they themselves don’t collect.