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Five Easy – Even Effortless – Ways to Reduce Household Waste

As I begin this entry — a look at five easy ways to reduce household waste without even realizing it — I wonder if readers see me as yet another voice preaching an occasional “Go Green” message as the new fashionable “it” thing.

I hope not, and here’s why…

I don’t really see myself as “Green,” but simply practical. I choose items for our home that are built to last, and then try to make them last, and I use many reusable products over disposable ones. This not only cuts down on household waste, it ultimately saves money. We also reduce waste by participating in our curbside recycling program. Neither of these things are hard to do, and we were doing them well before it was “the thing” to do.

A good example of “built to last” are my casual and outdoor plastic dishes. I did not buy cheap seasonal “top rack dishwasher safe” acrylic plates with the expectation that I’d wash them however I want and just trash them when they looked bad (which they eventually will), then buy more. Instead, I bought tougher commercial dishwasher-safe plastic dishes, and five years later, they’re still going strong. That’s certainly 2-3 fewer sets of dishes being thrown out by our household in five years’ time.

Another area where I’m sure to save at least 10 bags of waste each year is paper towels. Before Christmas, I bought a 12-pack of paper towels for our home. Today, May second, I opened our third roll. While they’re unquestionably necessary for some things (say, ribs!), I rarely – if ever – use them for daily spills or cleaning. I reach for an old standard — cotton floursack towels. Soft, absorbent and strong, these are the absolute best towels for the kitchen and I use them for everything, from cleaning counter tops to dusting. Then I just toss them into the laundry. Painless, cheaper and certainly “greener”!

When it comes to food, I find the old adage — the less packaging to food has, the better it is for you — is usually true, and this thinking can be applied to the waste stream and environment. Fresh foods require far less energy to create than processed foods, and the “packaging” can go right back to nature. Amazingly, almost 30% of residential waste is kitchen waste, and much can be reduced through composting. Now, I am no gardener, much less a farmer, but this is possible even in our small suburban yard, and the roses love it. See how to do it easily on the City Farmer Website, and get the kids involved… it’s actually fun!

Reducing packaging waste in general is not hard to do. Cardboard and chipboard recycling collection has grown quite a bit in recent years. Some curbside collections now take flattened cereal and food boxes, and some even take corrugated cardboard. Don’t have a curbside collection? Check with your local elementary school.  A nationwide paper collection program, Paper Retriever, places large collection bins at schools to collect virtually all paper and cardboard products — with the added bonus that the school makes money off the recyclable waste.

My last “effortless” way to reduce household waste is my personal challenge this year, and others already have adopted it with ease… switching to reusable shopping bags. One weekly trip to the grocery store for a family of four can generate at least a dozen grocery sacks. Even though paper and plastic sacks can be reused for various purposes, they do stack up and add to clutter. I struggled with this switch, and admittedly ditched the idea for a while, but I finally found a practically effortless solution. I have two complete “sets” of washable bags – each set is enough for my weekly shopping trip. After washing a set in the laundry, into my car they go, ready when I need them. Sure, when I pop in a store for an item or two, I get a plastic sack. But on the big trips, I save 12 + bags each time. Plus, the handles don’t break – that in itself is worth the effort!

With easy, common-sense waste reduction efforts, our household of three typically generates only one partially-full kitchen size trash bag per week. I’m always amazed when I drive through our neighborhood on trash day to see many homes regularly put out two trashcans – or more – but no recycling bin. Hopefully these, and others’ simple, effective waste reduction ideas will eventually circulate, be adopted, and become commonplace — not “the thing to do” but rather, the thing we all do.

I’m certainly proof that it can be done, and that it doesn’t take any extra effort to do it.

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