7 Seriously Easy Ways to Stop Making So Much Trash

We all make a lot of trash. Here are seven easy ways to live a more waste-free life.

Woman Standing In Kitchen Emptying Waste BinShutterstock / Monkey Business Images

There are some crazy stories out there about people who throw away only one mason jar (of course it would be a mason jar) of trash in an entire year. My question is, where are they hiding the rest of it? Is it like in Shawshank Redemption where they just drop pieces of it out of their pockets every time they take a walk?

One of our editors tried cutting out plastic. Here’s how it went.

That kind of waste-free life is admirable, but let’s be honest—we don’t all wrap gifts in recycled scarves and most of us are stockpiling paper towels because life is sticky. On the other hand, there are ways we can make a dent in our contribution to the Great Pacific garbage patch (it’s currently 270,000 square miles or roughly a Texas-sized floating island of trash). Below, seven ways to live a slightly more waste-free life.

1. Store Smartly.

Every time you reach for a resealable plastic bag to store the other half of that apple you can’t finish, take a beat. Can you use something that’s reusable, like a glass container or a dish towel? Want to cover the leftovers of that casserole? Use a baking sheet in place of aluminum foil, recommends Amelia Barnes, creator of PranaVidaStyle and a proponent of waste-free living. Freeze leftovers in glass containers instead of bags (just leave room for expansion), or freeze things without any packaging at all—frozen lemons can easily be zested anytime you need them, frozen peaches or tomatoes can be thrown in whole and easily peeled once defrosted.

2. Bring Home Less Plastic.

Hopefully, many of us have hopped on the reusable grocery bag bandwagon by now, but what about all the other packaging that we acquire when heading to the supermarket? For starters, no, you don’t need to bag produce that comes in its own protective container, such as bananas or melons. For produce you do want to bag, BYOBs. You can get a five-pack of reusable mesh produce bags on Amazon for only $4.99. If you shop at farmers markets, you can bring back egg cartons or berry baskets back for reuse, recommends Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home (her family accumulated one mason jar full of trash in 2017). Plus, produce at farmer’s markets won’t come with those little paper stickers attached (more waste!).

3. Buy in Bulk.

By the pound or the scoop, find stores that let you buy foods from bulk bins, recommends Barnes. Bring your own jars or reusable containers and fill them up with things like flour, sugar, nuts, cereal, dried fruit or other ingredients that you’d typically buy prepackaged. The bonus of this is these foods are often less expensive and you only need to buy what you need. Here are 12 Homemade Baking Mixes that you can make instead of buying pre-made ones.

Psst: Here are our favorite things to buy in bulk.

4. Cook a Little Extra.

Using less starts with buying less. So instead of running out to buy a pre-packed salad every day for lunch, double your dinner recipe the night before so you have leftovers ready to go. Same goes for prepackaged snacks—consider what you can make at home to nix the packaging (using your previously bought bulk ingredients). Here are 14 Recipes for Cereal Bars to start with.

5. What Can You Swap?

Consider what other small changes you can make to go from disposable to reusable. For instance, you can swap parchment paper for a silicon mat, paper coffee filters for a reusable one, kitchen sponges for a silicone scrubber, paper straws for reusable stainless steel ones, and paper napkins for cloth napkins. (Worried about more laundry? Attests Barnes, “Extra cloths take up very little space so I don’t find I do any more laundry than I normally would.”)

While you’ll spend a little money up front to purchase some of these things, you’ll wind up saving much more in the long run.

6. Clean Green.

Those cleaning products are also producing a lot of wasted plastic. Many of us have forgotten when cleaning products were all homemade using just a few ingredients. All you really need is one plastic spray bottle, a reusable cloth, some vinegar, baking soda and this list: 50 Clever Ways to Clean with Baking Soda.

7. Outsource Your Composting.

Some people swear by composting—you take your food scraps and yard waste and feed it all to a lucky worm family that you keep in a bucket or a bin (if you’re brave enough to do it indoors), or in an outdoor compost heap, and over time you get this amazingly rich, fertile soil that will yield six-foot-tall carrots and watermelons the size of Dubuque. (Start with these 8 Composting Tips.)

But if all this seems a little out of your league, there is an amazing new trend of composting services that will either come and pick up your compost material or allow you to drop it off, and they will turn it into the magical soil. You get to keep a fair distance from the worms and still earn extra Earth points. Search for one in your area.

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Amanda Kippert
Amanda Kippert has been an award-winning freelance journalist for nearly two decades. She is based in Tucson, Arizona and specializes in food, health, fitness, parenting and humor, as well as social issues. She is the content editor of the domestic violence nonprofit DomesticShelters.org.