The average person generates 4.9 pounds of waste each day, with more than 146 million tons of waste ending up in landfills. Although there are numerous depressing statistics regarding waste, there are also some inspiring examples of near zero-waste green living.
Green living resolutions make sense
Bea Johnson, author of the book Zero Waste Home, has lived 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!”
Check out “Home Sweet Home: A Sit Down With Zero Waste Home’s Bea Johnson.” After that, follow these 10 green living tips and you’ll be well on the zero-waste path for 2016.
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. Purge the kitchen of 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 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 sponges to sanitize sponges, thus extending their useful life.
A 2007 study found that this practice can kill 99 percent of living germs and bacterial spores, including E. Coli.
- 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 to avoid disposable packaging, use your reusable packaging instead. 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 bulky 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 packing, 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 own 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
In my household, our compost bin easily diverts more than half of our waste from landfills. If yard space is limited, a worm bin may also be an option. 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.
7. Make food from scratch
Many packaged foods contain a lot of packaging. Making these foods from scratch can dramatically reduce waste, save money and create healthier alternatives.
- Bread, yogurt, ice cream, cookies, crackers, hummus, spreads and salad dressings are all good candidates.
This strategy is especially effective when ingredients can be sourced with little or no waste.
Beyond the Kitchen
8. Make homemade cleaning supplies
In addition to reducing the prevalence of toxins in your home and saving money, this tip can also significantly save on packaging, especially when the ingredients are bought 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.
9. Ditch the dry cleaner
The EPA listed tetrachloroethylene, or PERC, a chemical commonly used by the dry-cleaning industry, as a likely human carcinogen. Unfortunately, most dry cleaners use PERC, which is known to leave a residue on clothes and off-gas into our homes, in addition to wrapping clothes in large plastic liners. Thankfully, there is an alternative.
Wet cleaning is considered to be a safe, effective alternative that uses less energy than traditional dry cleaning. The method uses water as a solvent instead of chemicals.
TIP: Ask your dry cleaner if they use PERC or find a PERC-free dry cleaner near you. Some dry cleaners even use reusable liners instead of disposable ones.
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 will help you on your path toward waste reduction. Use what you need and recycle whenever possible. Here’s to a prosperous new year filled with plenty of green living!
Feature image courtesy of Sal