One Tree Planted

How to Reduce Waste: 21 Ideas for Zero Waste Living

Meaghan Weeden | August 10  2020 | 5 min read

Want to Create Less Waste? Here's How

Every day, Americans collectively generate 700,000 tons of trash. Reducing waste may seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. You may not have the time or resources to do it perfectly, but don’t let that stop you! There are endless ways, big and small, to reduce your waste impact — and we’re sharing a collection of 21 zero waste tips to get you started. No pressure, no judgment. Just try a few and see what works for you.

And remember: the world needs millions of people doing zero-waste imperfectly, not a handful doing it perfectly.

21 Ideas to Help You Reduce Waste at Home

Bulk grains

1. BUY IN BULK

Consider buying staples in bulk and storing them in reusable containers like mason jars or cloth bags. Because you can control the amount, you'll be able to get exactly what you need. And as an added bonus, you should notice a difference in your bank account, as pre-packaged goods tend to come with a hefty price tag. To save even more, consider joining a food buying club — or start one!

discarded plastic waster bottle on the beach

2. NO Plastic Bottles

Did you know that approximately 40% of bottled water sold is actually tap water? Instead of getting duped by clever marketing, invest in a good quality water filter and a sweet reusable water bottle. We love glass, but there are plenty of other sustainable options! And while you’re at it, grab a thermos for your coffee or tea. You’ll be able to make it exactly the way you like it — and save a money, too.

Reusable cloth bag for fruits and vegetables

3. Invest In a Set of Cloth Produce Bags

You know those flimsy plastic bags in the produce department? Super wasteful. We touched on this in our first tip, but investing in (and remembering to bring) a set of cloth produce bags will protect your purchases and prevent more plastic from ending up in the ocean and the bodies of aquatic wildlife. These bags are great for transporting bulk goods, too!

Fruits and veggies wrapped in plastic

4. Avoid produce wrapped in plastic

This is a tough one, because many supermarkets — in a well-meaning gesture — shrink-wrap every loose piece of produce they can get their hands on, whether it needs it or not. Shrink-wrapped mangos, anyone? But, that brings us to our next tip!

Farmer's market

5. Support Your Local Farmer

The food will be fresher, tastier, more sustainable, and way more nutritious — and by supporting local farmers, you’ll add your dollars to your local economy. Alternatively, you can join a CSA or sign up for a local food delivery service.

Disposable plastic utensils

6. Avoid Single-Use Plastics

Plastic cutlery, straws, plates, and cups clog our landfills and end up in the bellies of sea turtles. So get yourself a set of reusable cutlery, stainless steel straws, and reusable containers to keep in your car or bag while you’re out and about.

recycling bins color coded

7. Recycle, Recycle, Recycle

Let's face it: despite our best intentions, waste happens. Perhaps you forgot to pack lunch and had to grab food to go. Or maybe your local store doesn’t yet offer bulk bins. Whatever the reason, if you do end up with recyclables, be sure you know how to recycle properly.Check with your municipal waste treatment facility and follow their guidelines so that your "recyclables" get sorted correctly.

Single use teabags

8. Ditch the tea bags

Most tea bags are loaded with micro plastics that are bad for you and the environment. But have no fear: loose-leaf tea is here!  Grab an in-mug strainer or a set of reusable cloth tea bags and you’ll be on your way in no time! And if you’re feeling adventurous, try mixing up some of your own tea blends — you’ll be able to have your cuppa exactly the way you like it — and as a bonus, custom blends make wonderful gifts.

Closet

9. Green Up Your Closet

Buy exclusively from sustainable clothing brands or hit up your local thrift or consignment shop. Often you'll find unique, gently worn (or even brand new) stuff at a fraction of the original price. Get used to people asking “where did you get that?” And while you’re there, take some inspiration from Marie Kondo and donate that pair of jeans you haven't been able to get on in years. We promise you'll feel better!

Meal planning containers

10. PLAN YOUR MEALS

Meal planning can really help streamline your grocery trips, trim food costs, and reduce waste by ensuring that you'll use everything you purchase. It will also save you from the question everyone dreads after a long day at work: “what’s for dinner tonight?” And who knows? It may just give you a little more "you" time on busy weeknights.

sustainable clothing on rack at clothing store

11. Shop More Sustainably

In a perfect zero-waste world, everyone would go vegan and consign the destructive, abusive practice of factory farming to history. But if you aren’t ready or able to give up meat, choose local, humanely raised meat. And consider making Meatless Monday a new tradition at your house. You might just be pleasantly surprised at how satisfying and delicious plant-based meals can be.

Compost bin

12. Compost Your Food Scraps

The reality is clear: sustained recovery of our economy and jobs will require bold action — and what better action to take than to rebuild our infrastructure with green technology?
Check out our recent article about the need for a modern day Civilian Conservation Corps to see what that could look like!

Plastic wrap

13. Replace Plastic Wrap With Bees Wrap

Made with beeswax, cloth, oil, and pine resin, they’re like plastic wrap’s fun, eco-friendly cousin. Sold in a variety of shapes, sizes, and patterns, you’ll be sure to find one you like. They’re reusable, work surprisingly well, and save a heck of a lot of plastic waste. They’re also relatively easy to make and can be a great gift!

Menstrual cups

14. Green Up Your Period

Yes, that one! Give (BPA-free) menstrual cups, period underwear, and reusable cotton pads a try. This will keep the 10,000 tampons that the average woman uses in her lifetime out of our landfills — and think of all the things you can buy with the money you’ll save. Fair trade chocolate, anyone?

Menstrual cups

15. Give Ugly Veggies and Dented Cans a Chance

When shopping for produce, we tend to expect that everything will be shiny and unblemished — which happens to create a LOT of waste. Check out the “last chance” shelf at your local supermarket. You’ll save these items from the dumpster and get great deals on the things you need.

GET OUR SUSTAINABILITY GUIDE
Box of old clothes

16. Give Old Clothes New Life

Make cloth rags out of old, un-donateable clothes and use them in place of paper towels for deep cleaning projects around the house.  If you go through a lot, some thrift stores even make and sell bulk rags from un-salable donations. Or if a t-shirt just doesn't fit you anymore, turn it into a reusable bag! 

Soap bar

17. Replace Your Soap Bottles With Bars

Not that kind! Give plastic shampoo, conditioner, and soap bottles the boot. Bars are concentrated and last longer than bottled products, so you’ll save money, too. Or if you’re feeling ambitious, try handcrafting your own homemade beauty products. Another gift-worthy skill!

Homemade lemon cleaning spray

18. Make Your Own Cleaning Products

Did you know that conventional cleaning products are full of harmful endocrine disruptors and other chemicals that leach into our sewage systems, waterways, and bodies? Luckily, it's pretty easy to make your own: try combining baking soda with lemon juice and vinegar to clean your counter-tops, showers, toilets, and floors.

Air pollution from cars

19. Check the Air Filter in Your Car

A dirty air filter can decrease your fuel economy by up to 10%. Read your car’s user manual to figure out what type of filter you need, and how to change it out. And don’t be intimidated! This is a quick fix that anyone can do!

Pile of used tires for recycling

20. Get Rid of That Spare Tire

Most landfills won’t accept tires, but retailers that recycle them will be happy to take them off of your hands. Some tire shops will also recycle them, but for a fee. You could also get creative and upcycle them into tire swings, dog beds, and more.

paper waste

21. Give Your Printer a Break

Switch to digital documents to save on paper and ink. And while you’re at it, get yourself off of those junk mail lists, ask for paperless bills, and always opt for digital receipts. Receipt paper is often coated with toxic BPA and BPS, so you’ll avoid unnecessary chemical exposure, too.

So there you have it! By no means are we suggesting that you do everything on this list right away, but if anything resonates with you or feels particularly doable, start there and build your way up. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but with a little time and patience, you can absolutely reduce your impact. We hope that after reading this, you’re feeling more confident in your ability to create less waste!

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