Each person in the United States produces an average of about 4.9 pounds of trash every day. That’s over 1,788 pounds of trash a year per person. With a population of over 334.8 million and growing, the U.S. is producing a lot of waste. Food waste, plastic waste, e-waste … it often feels like the waste is never-ending.
Unfortunately, our consumer culture makes it easy to create waste. “Out with the old, in with the new” isn’t just a phrase — it is a way of life. Something breaks or tears? Jump in your car (or hop on the internet) and buy a new one. A new version of your favorite device was just released? You’d better go buy it so you have the best. Had a busy day? Pick up a prepackaged meal you don’t have to cook. Meanwhile, the old and broken items and all that packaging become more waste.
You’re probably already doing a lot of things to reduce waste in your home and in your community. From bringing reusable bags to the grocery store to carrying a reusable water bottle to carefully separating the recyclables and compostables from your trash, all these actions make a big difference. But there’s likely more you could do.
If you want to further reduce waste in your home, here are eight ideas you might not have tried yet.
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1. Evaluate your kitchen storage
How do you currently store food in your kitchen? Do you use disposable plastic containers and zip-top bags? Switch to reusable silicone bags and glass containers to store your food. They cost more upfront but can be reused endlessly. Mason jars and other glass food jars also work well and can often be recycled.
2. Swap paper for cloth
A lot of people have made the switch from paper napkins to cloth napkins or paper towels to unpaper towels. If you have little ones, consider cloth diapering your baby instead of using disposable diapers. If you’re a woman, switch to zero-waste period products. Another change some families make (although it’s too big of a change for many) is to switch to “family cloth” aka cloth toilet paper. The amount of waste that any of these simple changes can reduce is huge.
3. Compost kitchen scraps
Food waste is an enormous problem with a global impact. How often do you have food go bad in your kitchen before it gets eaten? If you’re like most people, it’s more often than you’d like to admit. If you don’t have backyard chickens to feed the scraps to, consider composting. There are even plenty of ways to compost in apartments and urban areas.
4. Bring your own reusable containers
If you eat out, you’re probably very familiar with the good ole’ doggy bag. While taking your leftovers home is a good practice to reduce food waste, too many restaurants and food carts still use plastic clamshells and plastic foam to-go containers, which are hard to recycle and bad for the environment. Next time, consider bringing your own reusable container for your leftovers to avoid packaging waste. And be sure to remember your own coffee mug next time you stop at your local coffee shop.
5. Prioritize minimal, recyclable packaging
When you’re shopping, do you take packaging into consideration? If not, next time you’re shopping, observe the packaging in different products and choose only those products that have either recyclable or minimal packaging. Another way to reduce packaging waste is to choose only whole foods, not packaged, processed foods. If the store allows you to bring your own containers, shopping from the bulk bins is a great way to reduce packaging waste.
6. Make your own cleaners and beauty products
Have you gotten on the DIY bandwagon yet? If not, it might be time. By making your own simple DIY cleaners and personal care products, you can reduce packaging waste. As a bonus, you have control over the ingredients, which allows you to avoid harmful ingredients that aren’t good for your family or the environment.
7. Buy used over new
From the time we’re children, advertisers are telling us we need to have the newest and greatest products on the market. It’s such a part of our consumer culture that it is easy to forget that this is simply a marketing ploy. But it’s okay to step back and choose another path. Buying used over new is becoming easier and easier. In addition to thrift and consignment stores, sites like Craigslist and Freecycle make it easy to buy and sell or give away used items to people in your city. Consider choosing used clothes (especially for children who grow so fast!), kitchenware, vehicles, toys, and anything else you seem to go through frequently. And don’t forget these websites are a great resource for finding a new home for something you can’t use anymore.
8. Fix what you already own
In many parts of the world, people don’t have the choice to buy new, so they fix the old over and over again. When we lived in Uruguay, we very rarely saw a new car. That’s because the costs were extraordinary compared to peoples’ income levels. So the people repaired everything they could. If they couldn’t get a part, they’d make one. Fixing things is becoming a lost art in the U.S. Let’s revive it. Next time something breaks, see if you (or a professional) can fix it before you run out and buy something new.
No matter how much you’re already doing to reduce waste in your household and in your community, there’s always something more that you can do. Pick one thing from this list you aren’t already doing and implement it this month. Encourage your friends and neighbors to reduce waste through your actions and friendly suggestions. If we keep taking steps forward, we can all reduce waste together.
Originally published on May 16, 2016, this article was updated in July 2022.