In today’s world, it might seem almost impossible to live without producing any trash at all. However, there are things that we all can do to minimize the amount of trash that we throw away. Just throwing away one less trash bag of garbage per week can keep thousands of pounds of garbage out of landfills over a long period!
It starts with knowing how much waste your household is producing. Then, you’ll be able to look at solutions that can reduce common waste streams such as single-use plastic and decide which ones are right for you. Here, you’ll find some crucial tips for thinking about your waste output and discovering a lower-waste lifestyle.
How to Evaluate Your Trash Output
The first question to answer is how much trash you and the other people in your home produce. There are two main ways to do this, depending on how precise you want your numbers to be.
Conducting a waste audit is the gold standard for accurately evaluating your waste. In a waste audit, you’ll create separate categories for the types of waste that you want to track. Then, you’ll dispose of those waste types in separate bins and weigh each bin or bag before taking them out. You might need something more heavy-duty than a standard bathroom scale for this.
Trash, recycling and compost are the most common categories for a waste audit. However, if you really want granular data, you can always split waste streams into sub-categories like plastic, paper, food waste, etc. (If your city has multi-stream recycling, you might already be doing this for your recycling bins!)
Try to track your waste for at least a full week. A month is even better. The bigger your data set, the more easily you can spot trends. For example, you might spot a bump in your food waste every week or two weeks as perishables from your last shopping trip go bad. That could spur you to shift your shopping habits or start freezing more food.
Counting Bags and Bins
Don’t want to go all out with a waste audit? It’s easy to get started tracking household waste by simply tallying the number of times you take out a full trash bag or recycling bin per week. This will give you a ballpark estimate of how much trash your household is producing.
There are some factors that can make this less accurate. For example, waste in trash compactor bags has typically been squeezed into a smaller but denser size by the compactor. Thus, you might think you’re creating less trash than you actually are. (Using a trash compactor can still help reduce the number of trash bags you use, however!)
Much as with a waste audit, try to track your bins and bags over a long period if you can. Don’t forget to track other forms of waste, too, such as throwing out a bag of old clothes that aren’t in thrift store condition.
How to Reduce Your Waste Footprint
1. Make sure you’re recycling everything that you can.
Many people throw items away that they don’t realize are recyclable. Hard plastic containers, for example, can usually go in your curbside recycling along with the glass and cardboard. Even items that we traditionally think of as trash, such as Styrofoam and plastic bags, can be recycled at specific drop-off points in many communities.
2. Bring reusable bags when you go shopping.
If you’re like most people, your trash can is constantly filling up with plastic shopping bags from the grocery store or other retailers. That’s why making the switch to reusable bags can be such an effective way to reduce your waste footprint. The key to this trick is to make it convenient, so leave some reusable bags by the door or even in your car to make it easy to remember them before a shopping trip.
3. Compost your food scraps and other compostable organic material.
There’s a better place for many of your food scraps than the garbage! Instead, with just a little more effort, you can turn them into compost — powerful and all-natural fertilizer made from household organic materials. Just make sure that you’re familiar with what can and can’t be put in compost. You don’t want to contaminate it or attract pests by putting the wrong things in.
4. Buy unpackaged goods whenever possible
Realizing how long trash lives for in a landfill has spurred many people to stop using single-use plastic. While it’s difficult to totally avoid individual plastic packaging, you can definitely reduce it by opting for less packaged goods. Farmers’ markets are a great place to start since much of the food you’ll find there is minimally packaged. Many natural grocery stores also have loose dry goods sections where you can purchase essentials with your own reusable package.
5. Store leftovers in reusable containers
Many of us use plastic wrap or zip-top bags to keep our leftovers fresh, but all of that plastic can add up quickly. Instead, consider getting a set of reusable food storage containers. These containers are just as easy to use as single-use plastics, and they’re much easier on the environment. They’re also great for meal preppers and/or people who pack a lunch for work.
6. Embrace the secondhand economy for items like clothes and electronics
Buying and selling secondhand is a great way to reduce the amount of waste you generate. Donate your clothes to a thrift store rather than throwing them away, and another person can wear them again. Or sell your old TV through a secondhand site rather than putting it on the curb. (For broken or obsolete electronics, make sure to take them to a designated electronics recycling drop-off.)
Every household can make a difference when it comes to lowering humanity’s collective waste footprint. Start by tracking your waste and making some small positive changes. Soon, you’ll feel more ready to take on the bigger steps if you choose to!