If you had to guess, how many pounds of garbage do you think you produce in a day? Empty cereal box. Banana peel. Junk mail. Toothbrush that has reached the three-month mark.
So, two pounds of waste? Maybe three? Close, kind of. Every day, Americans create 4.4 pounds of individual trash. And that just includes municipal waste — essentially tangible products that we throw away, recycle or compost — and not commercial garbage or even water or energy waste.
The good news is about 34 percent of that garbage is recycled or composted, totaling 87 million tons of material each year. Keeping waste out of landfills and putting it back into the “system” to make new products also reduces the need for natural resources. While this is certainly a great effort, more can always be done, especially when it comes to Mother Nature’s gifts like clean water, air and oil. Home is where the heart is, but it’s also where a lot of unnecessary waste happens.
Take action with these easy, doable steps to cut down on waste in your home — room by room.
Get Started in the Kitchen
This is a great place to launch your efforts. It’s the part of the house where we’re literally “consuming” products and then cleaning up afterward, so there are plenty of opportunities to reduce your carbon footprint.
Instead of packaged, chemical cleaning products, go au naturel. Here are some simple ideas: Place a cup of carbonated water in your refrigerator to kill the smell. Combine baking soda and vinegar to clean the stove (especially around the burners). To fight dishwasher stink, place coffee beans in the machine and keep it closed for a day. If you don’t make your own dish soap, buy it in a concentrated formula.
Keep the dishwasher on the lowest heat setting, and only run it when it’s full. Also, avoid paper plates and cups and plastic silverware at all costs. When ordering takeout, request the restaurant not include dinnerware. Opt for glass food-storage containers over plastic because they’ll last longer.
3. Food Waste
That’s a biggie in the kitchen. To minimize this, compost food scraps for fertilizer (read more under Gardening). Even if you don’t have a garden, many farmers markets and municipal dumps offer a green or organics bin. When it comes to your fresh produce, use a first-in/first-out system, store food properly and keep snackable produce in sight.
Read more: 14 Smart Ways to Cut Food Waste & Save Money
Ditch the disposable coffee filters and get the reusable type instead. Especially look out for Keurig coffee cartridges and similar single-serving coffee pods, which a city in Germany has now started prohibiting.
5. Paper Goods
Cut it out with paper towels; try fabric dishcloths instead. Got a spill? Use a sponge and designate different sponges for different surfaces — countertop, floor, dishes, etc. If you can’t kick your paper-towel habit, try rinsing and reusing it, as long as contamination isn’t a worry. Ditto with paper napkins. Invest in a bunch of new or secondhand fabric napkins that you can wash and reuse.
6. Grocery Shopping
Buy foods in bulk to avoid packaging, and use glass canning jars to store dry goods in your pantry — Le Parfait and Mason jars are great. Bring your own reusable bags, which you can use for produce and fresh herbs instead of the plastic bags provided. Especially look out for plastic packaging on produce, mesh bags for citrus and anything packaged in single servings.
Flush the Waste Out of the Bathroom
Here’s another room where a lot of waste occurs (and we’re not talking about the TMI kind). Shampoos, bodywash, toothpaste, lotions, makeup — and the list goes on and on.
Use white vinegar to clean your toilet bowl and tea tree oil to disinfect. Put the acid in citrus to work on your bathtub by using half of a grapefruit with salt to scrub the tub. Use old toothbrushes for cleaning tight nooks and crannies (like between tiles, in corners, etc.)
8. Dental Care
Tom’s of Maine toothpaste is available in recyclable tubes, or you can make your own with baking soda, peppermint oil, salt, coconut oil and water. Look for biodegradable toothbrushes with bristles and packaging that can be recycled. Xlear Bamboo and Preserve Recycled are both great toothbrush options.
Read more: 21 Safe Beauty Products That Actually Work
First, turn off the water while brushing your teeth or scrubbing your face. Shower instead of bathe, and install a low-flush toilet or a conversion kit for your current toilet. To catch “greywater” (i.e., gently used water) when you’re showering, keep a bucket inside or next to your tub. While you’re soaping up, grab the bucket and stick under the spray to catch the clean water that is otherwise going down the drain. Then you can use it to water your plants.
10. Toiletries and Beauty Products
Go green with your makeup, and look for products with minimal packaging. If you’re up for the challenge, you can also try a DIY beauty routine. For instance, you can make your own lipstick with coconut oil, shea butter, beeswax pastilles and a colored powder (beetroot or cocoa); or make your own eyeliner using cocoa powder, coconut oil and aloe.
11. Recycling Bin
Seems like a no-brainer, but add a recycling bin to the bathroom. Sometimes convenience wins, and cardboard and paper waste won’t find its way to recycling if a room doesn’t have its own designated bin.
Rethink the Bedroom and Closet
It’s not an area where you think of creating a lot of garbage, but it still offers a few chances to reduce overall waste. Since most of us don’t keep a garbage can in our closet, you’re probably thinking this space doesn’t create waste. Not true.
Choose natural, chemical-free fabrics for your bed and bedding linens — mattress, sheets, blankets and comforters. High-quality cotton can last forever when treated well. Mend and fix items as needed instead of replacing.
Shop for second-hand bedframes, nightstands and dressers. Repurposing old furniture cuts down a junk bound for the landfill and also reduces the need for natural resources to be used to manufacture new furnishings. Plus, it’s not uncommon for the older furniture to be of higher quality.
14. Your Wardrobe
Wardrobe mantra: Less is more. Really. Paring down your garb might seem daunting (or even sacrilegious), but it can be freeing. The idea of a minimalist closet has actually become a trend as of late. Get hip and “spring clean” that closet any time of year. Donate or upcycle your castoffs.
15. Clothes Shopping
Get friendly with thrift or vintage clothing stores. This is the ultimate form of recycling, but for clothes. When you must buy something off the rack, choose higher-quality clothing. While nice threads might cost a bit more, they’ll likely last longer. Look for organic and sustainable fabrics: cotton, polyester (made of out recycled plastic goods), linen and hemp — fabrics that can take a licking and keep on ticking.
16. Old Clothes
Don’t toss out socks and shirts with holes — they can be darned and mended. Did your favorite pair of jeans rip? There’s a whole industry that has popped up around fixing and preserving your favorite jeans. For other clothing tears that seem to make an item unwearable, call on a tailor or even online services that provide mending.
Live With Less in the Living Room
It may not seem like your activities in the living room produce a lot of waste, but think again. When you're not watching TV, do you turn it off and unplug it to conserve energy? Do you really need all of those holiday decorations, and, if that's your thing, are you buying ones that you plan to use for years to come?
Buy second-hand furniture. Not only does this reuse items that would normally go to the junk yard, thereby requiring less resources for new furniture, but the chemicals used to make the furniture have likely been aired out.
Turn off and unplug electronics that aren’t being used: computer, TV, stereo, etc.
Again, less is more. Don’t overdo it in the living room with extra tchotchkes and trinkets. Clutter just invites more junk. And when buying furniture or textiles, look for organic fabrics made with natural dyes.
They’re a necessity, but be sure to purchase reusable batteries — and always dispose of old batteries with care. Many grocery stores and some cities have battery-recycling programs.
Cut your mailperson a break. Just like you can unsubscribe from emails that clutter your inbox, you can unsubscribe from direct mail too. Visit Direct Marketing Association and opt out of magazine offers, catalogues, etc. It only takes two minutes of your time. Seriously.
22. Phone Books
Yes, these still exist. If you don’t use those clunky, yellow phone books that are left on your front steps, opt out of those too.
Keep It Clean in the Laundry Room
This room is all about utility, but sometimes laziness prevails and we take the easy way out in order to get our chores done.
23. Protecting Your Clothes
Turn clothes inside out to maintain the colors longer, and read the care labels to prevent damage to your clothes.
24. Dry Cleaning
Look for an eco-friendly dry cleaner or reconsider your wardrobe, opting for low-care clothing. If you do frequent a dry cleaner, return the hangers to be reused and recycle the plastic bags.
25. Energy Use
Whenever possible, air-dry clothing instead of machine drying. Buy a drying rack to make it easier to find places to hang up clothes, or simply lay them out flat. Hang or fold clothes immediately after drying to avoid the need for an iron. When buying a new washer or dryer, opt for energy-efficient models. Even if it’s more expensive, you’ll save money on utilities.
26. Laundry Supplies
Use the appropriate amount of concentrated, eco-friendly detergent. Alternatively, make your own detergent from borax, bar soap, washing soda, essential oils and an oxygen booster. You can also create your own dryer sheets out of an old T-shirt, tea tree oil, white vinegar and essential oils.
Getting the Most Out of the Garden
Using your green thumb is a great way to help cut down on overall waste. Don't forget to use that greywater you've been collecting in the bathroom to water your plants!
27. Growing Your Own Food
Even if you don’t have a generous plot for growing, some fruits, vegetables and herbs can be grown in tight, urban spaces. This cuts down on the packaging for these foods, manufacturing waste, etc.
Read more: Your Guide to Small-Space Edible Gardening
This full-circle method of using food and yard scraps helps create excellent fertilizer for gardening. It’s also a fairly simple thing to do: Get a composting bin for your kitchen along with a larger one for your garden.
29. Planting Right
Check with a nursery on the right varieties to plant in your climate zone, and make sure you sow at the appropriate time and harvest often.
30. Weeding When Necessary
Weed your garden often so that nutrients aren’t stolen from your plants. Pulling or hoeing are simple methods to remove them rather than using a weed killer. As long as they’re not invasive species, many weeds can be composted.
Remember: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Donate, sell, trade or upcycle things that you once found useful: clothes, appliances, shoes, furniture, decor, etc. You can also host a “swap party” with friends and family.
A big part of tackling the waste problem in our homes is addressing what we’re bringing into the house by questioning our purchasing practices. When buying anything, ask yourself: Do I really need this? How long will I use it? What did it take to make this product? How am I going to get rid of this — landfill, recycle, reuse? Making purchases with purpose is a great first step to keeping unnecessary items out of the house.
What Do YOU Think?
Do you try to cut down on waste? If so, how? There are so many ways to reduce waste — some easy, some more involved. What have you tried?
Read more: 12 Ways Your Home Is Making You Age Faster