I recently watched an awesome documentary about a couple who have a contest to see who can produce the least amount of garbage over one year.
The winner (I won’t spoil it in case you haven’t watched it yet) ends up producing only six pounds of garbage over the course of the entire year.
Now, only six pounds of garbage for a whole year is a pretty high bar! But it got me thinking. Whether it’s six pounds or 16, the idea is to reduce whatever amount we already produce.
We only have one planet, so let’s stop trashing it and take steps toward sustainability.
Here are 12 easy tips on how we can reduce our waste and help save the environment:
1.~Use re-usable canvas bags—and bring them everywhere. Use cotton or mesh bags for produce and bulk items. And this isn’t just for groceries either—have a pocket-size bag whenever you’re going out; we never know when we might need it. Golden rule: stop using plastic bags. If you forget your fabric bag, don’t buy it or carry your goods without one.
2.~Set up your recycling in a convenient place. It sounds like a little thing—but it has a big impact! Have bins for newspaper, mixed paper, and bottles and cans next to each other in the kitchen (or the place that’s easiest to toss things). If it’s easier to do, we’re more likely to do it. Having the visual reminder close in the kitchen rather than having to walk outside or downstairs each time we want to recycle makes it easier.
Tip: Make sure they are “dry” recyclables; they should be washed clean so they won’t smell.
Bonus: Having the bins set up in the open will often get visitors to ask about your system, and you can share your recycling knowledge. And make it fun—it’s great if you have a nice set of baskets.
3. Compost! This is the single most effective way to cut our garbage output. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, roughly 40 percent of the waste in our landfills is compostable organic matter. That’s crazy! If we compost properly, composts don’t smell, and we can cut our trips to take out the smelly garbage in half.
Pro tip: We can get a small worm composter for our deck or kitchen and a bigger one for outside.
4. Always have a coffee/tea mug when out and about. And think ahead: When we’re leaving the house in the morning and don’t have a lunch with us, it’s pretty obvious we’re going to have to buy something—so grab a container and some cutlery. Give up take out containers.
Pro tip: Keep a couple “to go kits” in the car with your fabric bags. If you’re buying something simple like a piece of pizza or a muffin that you’ll eat right away, just ask for it in your hand.
5. Take shorter showers. Take showers instead of baths. Turn the tap off if you’re not using it (between brushing your teeth, when cooking). Only run the dishwasher when it’s full. Remember: water is a valuable resource; let’s not continue mindlessly letting it run down the drain.
6. Stop wasting food. In the United States alone, roughly 40 percent of the food supply is wasted, equalling more than 20 pounds of food per person per month. Organic waste is also the second highest component of landfills in America and is the largest source of methane emissions.
Be a smart shopper and think about what you’re buying and when it will be eaten. Plan meals and use shopping lists. Don’t be afraid to take leftovers home when eating out.
Pro tip: Know that best before dates are not expiry dates or ultimatums—rather they are only an indicator of suggested peak freshness, not safety. Learn more tips on reducing food waste here.
7. Buy secondhand. Besides saving money, previously loved goods don’t come with packaging. Your local secondhand store is stocked full of treasure looking for a new home. We really don’t need a brand new bread machine or a brand new frying pan when there are millions of them already out there looking for a new owner. Try Craigslist or Freecycle if you can’t find them at the local thrift shop.
8. Buy local produce. Farmers markets are gems. We won’t have to travel far to get the fruits and vegetables, and they won’t have travelled far to get to us. We’ll also be saving a lot of unnecessary packaging.
9. Opt for vegan or vegetarian food. It takes two-and-a-half gallons of water to produce every pound of beef, not to mention the 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) that are produced each year from livestock and their byproducts (51 percent of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions).
By reducing or eliminating our meat intake, we’re saving animals, making healthier choices for our bodies and the environment.
Pro tip: Learn more about the implications of animal agriculture here.
10. Bicycle. It’s better for our health, better for the environment, and better for our wallet. A triple win. If you have to go longer distances, use public transit or carpool.
11. DIY—Do It Yourself. We can make a surprising number of things ourselves (and save some serious cash at the same time). From bread, to clothing, to laundry soap, there are thousands of home-made recipes for just about anything. Do a quick internet search and see what you can find. Get creative!
12. Get educated—and spread the word! Search the internet to learn what others are doing to recycle and go waste-free for more ideas. Watch “The Story of Stuff,” an eye opening animated, short film about the cycle of waste and consumerism. Check out the Clean Bin blog for more ideas. Pass on tips to others and ask them to share widely too.
It’s easy—pick one tip to work on each month and join the competition where less is more.
And if you’re looking for some inspiration, check out “The Clean Bin Project” movie and find out who won.
Author: Michelle Amanda Jung
Image: Flickr/Alice Popkorn
Apprentice Editor: Eva Gisburne; Editor: Travis May