Guest post by
Paige A. Mitchell
Humans are wasteful creatures. Each American alone produces more than four pounds of waste every day while global statistics have hit a gross amount of 1,500 million tons of waste per year. Our bad habits always have a way of coming back to us though. The trash that doesn’t degrade in landfills will leach toxins into the ground, water, and air. So, Mother Nature believes in karma after all. Let’s revisit elementary school and jog our minds about the three Rs (reduce, reuse, and recycle), and learn five ways you can minimize waste today.
1. Clean up cleaning supplies
Cleaning products are full of harsh chemicals that can irritate our skin and wreak havoc on our lungs. We also have a tendency to over-sanitize, which can make our immune systems (especially our children’s) especially vulnerable when it does come in contact with bacteria. Instead of store-bought cleaners, try baking soda and white vinegar. Lemon juice, tea tree oil, and hydrogen peroxide also work wonders. These natural solutions that are not only homemade, but they’re also cheap!
2. Ditch plastic
In the past year or two, anti-plastic programs have started to raise awareness of our global pollution problem. Some companies, like Starbucks, and some cities, like Los Angeles, have made strides toward a straw-free state of mind, but straws are just the beginning. Each and every one of us can practice the following ten tiny things to do our part in solving the plastic problem:
- Bring reusable grocery bags
- Stop wrapping produce in plastic
- Opt for products that are packaged in cardboard or glass
- Store leftovers in glass containers rather than Ziploc bags and plastic Tupperware
- Replace the filter in your refrigerator, so you can stop buying bottled water
- Buy a SodaStream for the price of a month’s worth of Coca-Cola
- Minimize paper towel use with washable hand towels
- Ask your take-out delivery person to keep the plastic utensils
- Swap bottled soap for bar soap
- Buy cloth toys for your kids and pets instead of plastic
3. Ditch paper too
We all hate the large piles of junk mail we receive on a daily basis. Two-thirds of it we never even open. There are three major ways to minimize the amount of paper we waste. First, enroll in online billing. That will cut down on at least three pieces of mail a month. Second, switch to digital subscriptions. You spend nearly half of your day online anyway. Finally, unsubscribe from all credit card offers, catalogs, and unsolicited mail. The New York Times has all the links to unsubscribe here. And, if you really feel passionately against tossing paper, you can even write “Return to sender” on each piece of junk mail you receive that’s labeled “Current Resident” and put it back in the mailbox.
4. Repair, don’t replace
To really comprehend the toxicity of today’s landfills, imagine the number of electronic appliances, hard metals, and acidic batteries that are deteriorating there and leaching into the same soil we grow crops from, the same water we bathe in, and the same air we breathe every second of the day.
If you have an appliance that’s starting to break down, consider fixing it before throwing it away. Making repairs may be more time-consuming, sure, but these items—especially the larger ones, like refrigerators—are often improperly disposed of or even illegally dumped.
Of course, there’s another environmental case for replacing an old machine with a new, more efficient one. New appliances save energy and water. If you’ve weighed the pros and cons of repair versus replacing, just pledge to do your best in disposing of it correctly. Call your city, trash collector, or home warranty company to explore your options. For battery-operated devices, invest in reusable batteries.
5. Take inventory
Let’s face it. There are two types of people in the world. The ones who grew up with or as a picky eater and whose family was perfectly OK with throwing a few uneaten scraps away. And then there are the ones who were raised to be ridden with guilt at the sight of a half-eaten meal sitting in the trash.
No matter which end of the spectrum you identify with, realizing how much food that’s wasted every day is a hard pill to swallow. We can all do our part to prevent this with a little more effort.
First, know that there is real power in meal prepping. It might feel trendy—like a fad diet in itself—right now, but it’s popular for good reason. Taking a few hours each Sunday or Monday to plan what you and your family will be eating that week is time well spent. To start your weekly meal plan, take inventory of the kitchen. Which ingredients are close to expiring that you should use this week? Which ingredients do you have plenty of?
Somewhere in your weekly meal plan, reserve a day for leftovers. Leftovers can even be … dare I say … fun. You can set your smorgasboard out as a buffet, or depending on what’s left, you can put it altogether and make a totally yummy casserole. You could crack an egg on top and make it a hash or toss it as a salad. Voila!
This process will inform your menu and expedite grocery shopping. How much time have you wasted debating what to have for dinner? How about the amount of time it takes to walk down every single aisle only to reach the car and realize you forgot the only ingredient that you came for?