Everything we purchase gets thrown away eventually. Even family heirlooms. Even expensive furniture. Even the houses we live in. I was recently at the British Museum, which houses some pretty remarkable stuff. However, museums hold only the merest speck of what actually existed. Where did the rest go? The clothing, the housewares, the tools, the vehicles? They’ve been thrown away.
Personally, I found the Disney movie Wall-E disturbingly prophetic. A world so covered in trash that it must be abandoned. All around us are indications that this isn’t an impossible future.
Audit your Trash
The first step to reducing your trash is finding out what’s in it. Yep. You read that right. If a $120 million soap company can dive into its own dumpsters for a trash audit, so can you. Knowing what you throw out is the first step to reducing how much you throw out.
How can we throw away less?
1. Buy Less
Logic dictates that if everything we buy is eventually trashed, buying less means trashing less. Consider if you really need that item. Will it bring lasting joy and utility, or is it just cheap? Or is it just there? We are all prone to impulse buying – and don’t retailers know it! To defend against that, don’t shop when you’re tired, hungry, or distracted. Go in with a list, and with just enough cash to cover that list. (I heard that collective “gasp” at the mention of cash. Try it. Your budget and your planet will thank you.)
2. Buy Quality
Buying quality postpones when you need to buy that item again. A high-quality vacuum cleaner may last decades and is repairable. A low-quality vacuum will break in a year or two and often can’t be fixed. Over the course of time, that’s 5 or more vacuums that will end up in the landfill, as opposed to just one. Think of the savings in dollars. Quality usually costs more up front. But over time, compare the cost of that one vacuum versus the five. This goes for clothing, furniture, and even cars.
3. Fix Things
I keep a stock of wood glue, Shoe Goo, and crazy glue. I’ve learned to use pliers, a screwdriver and a hammer, as well as a needle and thread. I know what the rip-repair stitch looks like on my sewing machine. I can’t tell you how much money this has saved me, as well as reducing trash. Learn basic sewing – re-attach a button, mend an open seam, tack a fallen hem. Have the courage to open up an appliance and see what’s wrong. (It didn’t work anyway, after all.) Before tossing something damaged, broken, or stained turn to Google and YouTube to see if it can be repaired or cleaned.
4. Buy Used
Keeps things in circulation. Not only is this friendly on the wallet, but it keeps stuff out of landfills. Kids dress clothes spring to mind. How fast do they outgrow that special Christmas outfit, with not a worn-out spot on it? Thrift stores or online resale sites are great places to find something used that you would never purchase new, like a high-end stroller or a designer coat. After a few of the plates and dishes from our everyday dishes had been broken, I found used replacement pieces online.
5. Host a Swap
Clothing swaps, accessory swaps, book swaps, decor swaps, toy swaps, game & puzzle swaps, kitchen gadget swaps, craft supply swaps… I could go on. One person’s trash is another’s treasure and all that. So gather your friends, some snacks and drinks, and have everyone bring something from the theme that they no longer use but is in good shape. You’ll swap stuff and stories and leave with something “new to you!” From swaps, I’ve gotten some great pants, an espresso machine, and a firewood basket still in use to this day.
6. Pass It On
This is the most obvious with clothing. I was so blessed by friends with older daughters who passed me their girls’ clothes when I had my daughter. She was the most well-dressed child, and I hardly bought her a thing. This holds true also with toys, furnishings, sports gear, and books. It helps my kids let something go when they know who is getting it, and they can even see it again at their cousin’s house. Donate old towels, sheets and blankets to your local animal shelter. Books can go to libraries or used book stores. Stuffed animals and baby blankets in good shape can go to children’s hospitals or disaster relief organizations. There are all sorts of charities who have good uses for your castoffs. I came across this post on Miss Minimalist with a fantastic list of what to donate where.
7. Give & Decorate with Consumables
Don’t clutter up your loved ones’ homes either. Give gifts that can be used up – tickets, flowers, lunch dates, freezer food. Your friends and family who are too busy to cook will love it if you fill up their freezer with homemade food. For short-term decorating, go with natural resources – take a nature walk and pick flowers, gather richly colored fall leaves or scented pine boughs. Dried peas, corn, beans and lentils layered in a glass bowl make a beautiful table decoration.
8. Rent or borrow
Libraries are magical places. Better than therapy, and all the books there are free! If you know you’ll be using something just once or twice – like extra chairs for a dinner party or a tool for a one-time project – or trying out a new hobby, such as camping or golf, then rent or borrow what you need instead of buying something that’ll be useless to you afterwards.
9. Avoid Single-Use
Here in California where single-use plastic bags are illegal, we’ve gotten pretty used to carrying our own grocery bags. Take it a step further – if you know you’ll be getting coffee, carry a travel mug. Water? Bring a washable water bottle. Reusable utensils come in handy pouches and are easy to fit in your purse or briefcase. At home, use cloth napkins. They’re washable, and so much more attractive.
10. Cut Food Waste
Americans toss between 14-25% of food and drink they buy, which means we’re throwing away 14-25% of the money spent to buy the food, the water and labor to grow the food, and the fuel to transport the food. Reduce that by planning your meals ahead of shopping, and then buying only what you need. Use a surplus of veggies in catchall dishes like stir frys, salads, pasta sauce, and pizza toppings (almost anything can go on a pizza!). Toss fruit into smoothies or frozen yogurts. Freeze for later use: bananas for smoothies or breads; sliced apples for pies or applesauce; pureed tomatoes for sauces; blanched green veggies for soups or steaming; stale bread for croutons or breadcrumbs. And don’t discount those onion skins and carrot tops! Collect and freeze veggie scraps to make broth. Fruit peels, cores and citrus rinds make simmering stovetop potpourri. Compost the rest to start the food cycle over again.
11. Recycle Electronics
I don’t start my list with recycling because it takes a mountain of resources and should never be the first alternative to the landfill. However, when it comes to dead old technology, many pieces contain reusable parts and materials. Look for E-recycling events usually hosted by nonprofits and schools. Then it will get to organizations that know how to make something new and useful with it.
These are only a beginning of the ideas out there to cut down what we throw away. Share in the Comments what works for you in reducing your waste!