A few months ago I was talking with a friend of mine about garbage. She owns our city’s garbage company and knows all about it. Want an enthralling conversation about waste management? She’s your woman.
Anyway, I mentioned that I was thinking about switching to having our trash picked up every two weeks instead of every week. We already use the smallest can they have and we don’t always have enough garbage to justify a pickup. Also, twice a month recycling pickup vs. once would be great, too, since we usually end up going to recycling center once a month. (One of the side effects of owning a shop – so. much. cardboard.)
After telling me that I could call the office and get something setup that would suit our needs (these are seriously great people), she said that our lack of garbage was impressive, especially as a family of six.
Why thank you, thank you very much.
When I became more mindful about our spending all those years ago, I quickly saw that we could save lots of money by reducing our waste. Since then, it’s been a bit of a game to see how little we could throw away. We are nowhere near being a zero waste home, but we seem to be on the right track.
And today I wanted to share some of my favorite tips for reducing waste in case you want to give this a try.
Get quick wins
As soon as I realized we were paying more than we needed to for garbage service all those years ago, I was on a mission to reduce waste. Fast. So I tried a bunch of things that first month that produced some quick wins. Nothing like instant gratification to reinforce a new habit.
Here are some things I tried:
- Starting a recycle pile. I took some big rubbermaid totes we weren’t using and made them our recycle boxes. We didn’t have recycle service where we lived then but taking recycling in once a month was no biggie, especially on days we were already running errands. I saw very quickly that a lot of our garbage was actually recyclable.
- Using more resuable items. More on that in a minute.
- Buying recyclable items. If I had to buy something that wasn’t reusable, I made sure I could recycle it. (Not all facilities recycle everything, so I bought stuff ours accepted.)
- Composting. I quickly saw that a lot of our garbage was food waste. So we started composting what we could.
- Cooking smarter. Because that was way too much food waste. I made more foods everyone would eat and made an effort to eat leftovers before they went bad. This also helped our food budget. Win.
- Shopping smarter. I bought from bulk bins whenever possible and just brought in my own bags to use for those items. I bought food with little to no packaging. I carried out items instead of getting a plastic bag if I forgot reusable bags.
Within a month I was able to ask for a smaller garbage can and cut our bill.
Buy reusable items
There are so many items you can buy that can be used over and over and over again. Some of our biggest savings came from using cloth diapers. We had four kids in five years and we would have spent thousands of dollars on diapers had we not made the switch to cloth after our second was born.
You know what else costs a lot of money? Feminine products. Think about it. We need these items every month. And every month, that’s more garbage you’re paying to throw away.
I made the switch to a resusable cup several years ago and it’s been one of the best investments I’ve ever made. The one-time purchase lasts up to ten years (depending on the brand) and produces zero waste. ZERO. Plus there are no harmful chemicals and it’s way more comfortable.
One of the biggest arguments I’ve gotten against is from people saying it’s gross. Because of, you know, how it’s used. My (loving) advice? Put on your big girl panties and get over it. It’s just a vagina.
*puts away soapbox*
Here are some more reusable items to try:
- Dish towels instead of paper towels
- Cloth napkins
- Cloth pads (if the cup just isn’t for you)
- Travel coffee mug for the car in case you need coffee while you’re on the go
- Reusable grocery bags
- Reusable produce bags (I love these)
- Bees’s Wrap instead of plastic (and it can be composted)
- Glass jars for all sorts of stuff
Buy less in general
At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, I want to point out that buying less in general is one of the best ways to reduce waste and save you money. But I need to say it. Why? Because most of us shop on autopilot.
We’re bored, so we go to the store. Or we need one little thing for dinner, so off to the store we go.
(I tend to go when I’m bored and hope I run into someone I know. Or make a new friend.)
And then we come home with things we don’t need, often in packaging that adds unnecessary volume to the garbage can. Forget your reusable grocery bags and there’s even more stuff to dispose of.
So how can you keep yourself out of the store? Here are a few ideas:
- Don’t go to the store until you have 10 items or more on your list. If you need something for a meal, get creative. What can you substitute?
- Go on a walk instead. If you’re going because you’re bored.
- Make a meal plan for the month and shop for the whole month at once. Set a time in the middle to restock on produce.
- Set a time limit for online shopping. A short one. Because that sucks up a bunch of time, too. Amazon Prime just makes it too easy.
- Grow your own food. Or try to buy stuff from local food producers.