I hate waste, whether it’s time, money, or food. If you’re also looking for simple ways to reduce waste at home, check out these tips for reducing waste at home
1. Reduce Food Waste With Meal Planning.
By knowing what we’re going to eat 6-7 days of the week as well as how much food we typically go through in a meal, we rarely end up with random vegetables disappearing into the crisper drawer abyss or food sitting around in the pantry until it expires.
It took us years to get to this point. But now we make a meal plan every week on Saturday morning, then make a grocery run. We both know what’s planned for dinner every night and we know we have all of the ingredients ready to go. If we do end up having to change our plans, then we adjust the plan for the rest of the week and freeze the extra meat or vegetables for later.
This reduces waste from unused food but it also reduces waste from extra trips to the grocery store or restaurants. And it’s more economical than relying on take-out, delivery or eating out, so it will reduce your financial waste, too.
2. Save and Reuse Packaging to Reduce Waste from Products
When I was a kid, both grandmothers kept every single Cool Whip or margarine tub they ever bought. While there is a certain amount of diminishing returns in keeping more containers than you can possibly use, consider the packing your food comes in. Can you wash and use salsa jars to store leftovers (they’re great for small amounts of sauce or soup!) What about using plastic clamshells to start seeds in?
I re-use glass jars for small amount of dried beans or rice after I open a bag, for storing my dried herbs from the garden or for keeping cut herbs fresh in the fridge. I use the plastic container our mushrooms come in as a place to start seeds or transplant volunteer seedlings (be sure to poke holes in the bottom!). As you can see in the photo, I use the lid of paper egg cartons to dry flowers and herbs in. Once dried, I store them in pickle and olive jars.
Here’s Five Ways to Reuse Packaging to give you some more ideas.
You might not be able to reuse or re-purpose everything that comes into your house, but if you start looking at items with a mind to making them multi-use instead of disposable, it can make a difference. You’ll save money by not buying storage container and you’ll contribute less garbage to the landfills – it’s a win-win!
Composting Reduces Waste AND Improves Your Soil.
Do you have house plants or a garden? Then you can use compost. Even if you don’t grow anything, consider starting a small compost bed. You can sell or donate compost, believe it or not. Lots of gardeners need more compost than their own beds can generate and they’ll happily buy yours. Or you can see if your local community garden will take it as a donation.
Composting is a great way to use up many food scraps (skip composting meats, fish, fats, or things that are very oily). Put a small composter under your sink or in another discreet location and toss your food scraps into it. If you don’t want to compost food, or if you’re not in a place where food scrap composting makes sense, you can still compost. Things like paper egg cartons, paper junk mail, small pieces of cardboard and paper towels can be added to grass clippings or other organic matter to decompose and turn to fertilizer.
While it can be handy to purchase a special compost container like this bucket, you can make do with just a pile outside or a sealed plastic container under the sink or in the back of the fridge. I compost food scraps by feeding them to my worm farm. Our house is on an alley, so an outdoor compost pile with food scraps runs too much risk of attracting rodents. I have backyard chicken and I feed the girls some of our food scraps, too.
If you garden composting food and other biodegradable waste saves you money by reducing the amount of compost you need to buy, too.
Grow Food or Herbs.
Growing vegetables or even a few herbs reduces waste in two ways. First, you’re picking plants at home instead of driving to the store to buy plants that have been transported by truck, train or plane. Second, cutting your own herbs means no single-use plastic packaging.
If you have the space and inclination to garden, you can feed yourself delicious, fresh food and shorten your food supply chain. Consider, too, if you can store some of your harvest for later. Freezing or canning tomatoes or fruit in summer means you’ll buy less in the winter, again reducing your carbon footprint and your packaging use AND stretching your grocery budget. Pickling cucumbers or jalapenos means you can reuse canning jars instead of buying those items in single-use jars. Putting up food you grow yourself or purchase locally in season can save you grocery money in the winter, in addition to reducing trips to the store. And it’s so much tastier!
If you can’t plant a garden, or just don’t want to deal with it, you can always buy produce at the farmer’s market and can, pickle or freeze it, too! It’s generally cheaper to buy produce during the growing season and you’ll still reduce your consumption of single-use packaging.
Avoid Single-use Items.
It’s super basic, but it’s also super effective. It’s never been easier to find reusable grocery bags, reusable produce bags, reusable plastic bags, and even reusable cling wrap. You can slowly add these to your household either as you run out of the disposable versions or piece by piece.
In addition, buy products with minimal packaging whenever you can or buy larger quantities. Avoid buying individually wrapped servings if possible. For example, I love string cheese but once I realized I could just buy a brick of mozzarella and cut it into portions, I never looked back. Sure, I miss the stringing, but I love saving money and not throwing the plastic packaging into landfills. I cut the brick into 1-ounce chunks, which I store in a reusable container. It’s easy to just grab my cheese chunk when I’m putting the rest of my lunch or snack together.
Another example – I buy rice in a big bag and store most of it in a canister in the kitchen for easy use. The rest gets stored in glass salsa or pickle jars, or in a Mason jar. That keeps it sealed but still easy to use. And the larger bag is generally cheaper per serving.
If this list seems overwhelming, start small. Pick one or two things that seem easy and go from there. And it’s not a zero-sum game. It’s ok to “break the rules” sometimes, but pick back up when you can. The important thing is to make sure the changes you make work for you and your home and life. If you love getting take out, then trying to cut it out cold turkey probably won’t work well for you, and that’s ok. Look at ways you can make take-out less wasteful environmentally or consider ordering enough for multiple meals.
Even small changes can reduce the amount of money, time or materials your household wastes. It’s worth considering these ideas to see if any of them will help you!
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