green living New Year's Resolutions

The average person generates 4.9 pounds of waste each day, with more than 146 million tons of waste ending up in landfills. But each of us can help reduce waste by making changes in our everyday habits. This New Year, make a resolution to reduce waste in the coming year. We have some tips to get you started.

Although there are numerous depressing statistics regarding waste, there are also some inspiring examples of near zero-waste green living. Bea Johnson, author of the book Zero Waste Homehas lived virtually waste-free with her family since 2008. Her family of four generates a mere quart-size jar full of waste per year. In addition to helping the environment, it has been an uplifting experience for Johnson.

“Since embarking on the zero-waste lifestyle, our lives have changed for the better: We feel happier and lead more meaningful lives, based on experiences instead of stuff,” Johnson says. “My goal is to share its incredible health, financial and time-saving benefits!”

Take inspiration from Johnson and her family and start your year out right with New Year’s resolutions to reduce waste. These simple tips will get you started on the zero-waste path.

Reduce Waste Around the Kitchen

The kitchen is one of the best places to get started, as much of our waste is generated here.

1. Kick the paper towel habit

Instead of using paper towels, make cotton rags from worn-out clothing, towels, blankets, sheets, or cloth diapers. When making rags, remove zippers, hems, and other obstructions; save buttons for later use; and cut fabric into roughly 18-inch-by-18-inch pieces.

Beware of using synthetic materials such as nylon or polyester, as they are not as absorbent. These fabrics, however, may come in handy for use as rags that are too soiled to wash, from activities such as painting or auto maintenance.

TIP: To save energy, line-dry rags whenever possible.

2. Stop stocking disposable food packaging

Plastic wrap, sandwich bags, wax paper, and aluminum foil may be convenient, but they also leave a trail of waste and can be difficult to recycle. The best way to kick the habit is to stop stocking the kitchen with these items and to have a supply of jars and other reusable food containers on hand.

3. Extend the life of your kitchen sponges

Although it is not obvious, kitchen sponges are often saturated with disease-causing bacteria from uncooked eggs and meat. Many people put sponges in the dishwasher, but this isn’t highly effective in killing germs. Instead, microwave your sponges to sanitize them, thus extending their useful life.

A 2007 study found that this practice can kill 99% of living germs and bacterial spores, including E. coli. More recently, a 2020 study supported these findings.

  • To effectively kill germs, moisten the sponge and put it in the microwave on high for 2 minutes.
  • Beware of microwaving the sponge while it is dry, and exercise caution when removing the sponge from the microwave, as it can be very hot.
  • Old kitchen sponges can also be reused for less-sanitary purposes once they are no longer fit for use on dishes.

4. Bring reusable containers to stores and restaurants

When shopping, bring cloth bags, glass jars, reusable food storage containers, and reusable cloth produce bags to the store with you. Whenever is it possible, use your reusable packaging to avoid disposable packaging. Some of these cloth items can even be made from repurposed clothing, such as the easy DIY no-sew T-shirt tote bag by Mommypotamus. I even bring reusable food containers to restaurants with me to discourage overeating or ending up with wasteful leftover packaging.

5. Shop in bulk

This can mean either buying food in large quantities, such as 50-pound bags of rice and beans to reduce packaging, or shopping the bulk aisles of a store. Both strategies can dramatically reduce packaging and may save some money as well.

When shopping the bulk aisles, bring your reusable containers and indicate the tare weight on them. Don’t forget about liquid items as well, such as soy sauce, shampoo, and cleaning supplies. Johnson even has a handy app for finding bulk package-free aisles near you.

6. Compost organic waste

Cucumber mango salad
Food is a great place to start when addressing waste around the home. Image courtesy of Amarpreet K.

In my household, our compost bin easily diverts more than half of our waste from landfills. Simply chop food scraps into 1-inch pieces so they can break down more easily, and aerate your compost pile weekly with a pitchfork. Incorporate yard waste as well to help maintain the ideal brown-to-green ratio and to divert even more waste. If yard space is limited, a worm bin may work for you.

7. Make food from scratch

Prepared and processed foods often come with a lot of packaging. Making foods from scratch can dramatically reduce waste, save money, and create healthier alternatives.

Bread, yogurt, granola, ice cream, cookies, crackers, hummus, spreads, and salad dressings are all good candidates.

This strategy is especially effective when you can source your ingredients with little or no waste.

8. Use cloth napkins

Reusable cloth napkins aren’t just nicer against your skin, they’re better for the environment. They’re even more sustainable when you make them from upcycled fabric.

Reduce Waste Beyond the Kitchen

9. Make homemade cleaning supplies

Cleaning supplies
Glass cleaner, laundry powder, laundry stain remover, and natural disinfectants are all simple and good choices to make yourself. Image courtesy of Sara Stasi.

In addition to reducing the prevalence of toxins in your home and saving money, this tip can also significantly save on packaging, especially when you purchase the ingredients in bulk.

Glass cleaner, laundry powder, laundry stain remover, and natural disinfectants are all simple and good choices to make yourself. Check out these DIY recipes to get started.

10. Download media

For nostalgic types, this one might be a little hard to swallow. Instead of buying CDs, DVDs, books, and magazines, download versions of these items to reduce waste. Many libraries have digital databases for items that are available free of charge to patrons.

Bonus: Give green gifts

A zero-waste lifestyle can also embrace waste reduction in the gifts we give to others. Consider giving experiences instead of physical gifts, such as tickets to a special event or a delicious home-cooked meal. DIY items with upcycled materials can really show someone you care by adding a personal touch. Consumable items such as food or special personal care products or products with a high recycled content also have waste-saving benefits.

These 10 tips make great New Year’s resolutions to help you reduce waste. Use what you need and recycle whenever possible. Here’s to a prosperous new year filled with plenty of green living!

Originally published on January 11, 2016, this article was updated in December 2021.

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.