Cutting down on waste

Ever since Christmas this year, and especially since watching the video "The Story of Stuff" (I highly recommend watching this short but very thought-provoking video), the amount of waste that our small family of four puts out has been bothering me.

Now, since we already eat primarily from whole foods, we probably have a lot less packaging than many families. We’re also not exactly big spenders, so there’s not a lot of packaging in that area either. We don’t even use disposable diapers for our baby.

But somehow, almost mysteriously, our garbage seems to fill up every week. We’re not talking 2-3 cans or anything. Probably one large can, though. Each week. For only our family. Times that by 52 weeks each year. Sitting in a garbage dump, some of which will sit there beyond my lifetime (and maybe even my children’s!). We are talking about a whole lot of waste!

After Christmas, I got motivated to make some changes. My current goal is to cut that one can a week down to 1/2 a can, and when I reach that point (and I’m actually almost there, in only 2 months!), my goal will be to cut it down to 1/4 of a can, and ultimately, I hope to only put out a small bag of garbage every few weeks or so.

Here’s what I was already doing:

  • Washing and re-using ziploc bags for as long as possible
  • Recycling cans, bottles, and any larger boxes
  • Trying not to use very much saran wrap, tin foil, etc.
  • Cooking from scratch, which meant little packaging from processed foods
  • Buying in bulk when possible
  • Buying concentrated, natural cleaning supplies
  • Re-using plastic shopping bags
  • Using cloth diapers and cloth wipes 99% of the time

Here’s what I’ve started doing since December:

  • Regularly using my cloth shopping bags (I still forget on occasion, but I’m really trying)
  • Recycling everything I can think of- before I throw anything out, I examine it carefully to see whether it could possibly be recycled. I discovered I was throwing out many thing unnecessarily. For example, toothpaste, butter, and baking soda boxes. These small boxes add up, and take literally 5 seconds to fold down and toss in the blue bin (our recycling bin).
  • Starting a paper/cardboard recycling box underneath my desk. Out of sheer laziness, we were tossing most of our scrap papers. I recycled newspaper and larger amounts of paper, but all of those single pieces add up over time!
  • Started composting- this in itself has taken a huge chunk out of my garbage! I don’t put anything with meat or dairy in it, to avoid having unwelcome animals visit my suburban backyard, but anything else, I add to the pile. And it is sooo simple!
  • Stopped buying food wrap. I use glass jars with lids, and re-usable tupperware-type containers to store everything in the fridge (or ziplocs, which I wash and re-use until they die on me). The only struggle is brining dishes to potlucks or home group- I might need to find some good, larger containers with tight fitting lids for transporting snacks and meals.
  • Working even harder to avoid using paper towels, napkins, etc. and just use cloths instead

Here’s what I’m planning to do next:

  • Become a more conscientious shopper and check out the packaging before I buy something!
  • Look for items used on Freecycle or Craigslist before I consider buying them new (we already do this to an extent, but probably not as much as we could)
  • Research more about exactly what else I can recycle that isn’t already obvious to me
  • If I find a product with ridiculous packaging, call or email the company to let them know why I’m not buying their product (and vise verse, to call companies doing a great job and tell them so! As a bonus, these kind of calls can often result in coupons being sent as a thank you for contacting them or in an effort to get your business). Hap tip to A for this great idea.
  • Buy or make cloth napkins, to completely remove the excuse to ever need to use paper ones

One of the best bonuses of re-evaluating a lot of my buying and discarding practices is that it causes me to be more frugal at the same time. The more packaging I avoid, often the less money I am spending on unnecessary items I can make myself. The more I rely on washable items in our home (cloths, diapers, food storage containers, etc.) the less of these I have to buy! Learning to buy more items used just makes more sense, not only environmentally, but economically as well. Food and cleaners bought in bulk tend to come at a greater discount. For some people, depending on where you live, you may even save money that you would normally pay for garbage pickup!

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic and ways that you can cut down your family’s waste, here are a few links of interest:
Quick ways to reduce your trash
Reduce your trash- A Recycling Revolution (hat tip to Carrie for both of these links)
The Green Guide– check out their Tips of the Week (for going greener), their Smart Shoppers Cards, and their weekly newsletter; (their site covers many health and natural living issues as well, not just environmental ones)
Precycling- Shopping for Future Generations
Also, find your city or town’s (or possibly your state’s) website, which should include information about garbage disposal and the details of exactly what can and cannot be recycled where you live. Try googling something like "vancouver city bc" or "seattle washington" and you will usually find the official site of the city you are looking for.

What about you? What are the ways that your family is cutting down on waste (and cost)?

For more frugal fun, visit Biblical Womanhood.

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  1. Again, a great post! I’ve been pondering this as well, and I’m excited to incorporate some of those ideas! Some we’d already been doing, but some I’d never even thought of. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I got some reusable shopping bags and I feel like they are making such a big difference. The ever growing pile of plastic shopping bags in my house was starting to really bother me. I am not the most “green” person on the planet, but it doesn’t take much to do a few things. where I live recycling is made so easy for us there is really no excuse for not doing it.

  3. Those are great ideas! For the cloth napkins/paper towels I just use some old towels (rags). It works great for everyday stuff. I still buy paper towels, but use significantly less.(Mostly when I need to do a load of laundry.) I did buy some nicer cloth napkins (on clearance) for the dinner table though. If you have a shredder you can add a lot of your paper to the compost also. Great post!

  4. Great list! I’ve been doing many of the same things you are. In fact, last weekend I bought 4 sets of cloth napkins at Goodwill (4 napkins in each set). I always considered cloth napkins to be a luxury, but they make so much more sense don’t they? Why not add a little bit of luxury in our everyday lives, especially when it’s reducing waste (and I felt better buying them second-hand, too)!

  5. Gladware makes a big container – it’s 13 cups and about 8 inches square.It’s what I always use for potluck coleslaws, fruit salads, etc.

  6. As far as washing and reusing ziploc bags……I have read and heard over and over that this is not considered healthy or safe. Bag like that are not designed to reuse. The germs and impurities are soaked into the bags and just build up with reuse. This is one frugal thing I don’t do. (-;

  7. Hi, I just stumbled on your blog from Frugal Friday and wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your post and the link to the Story of Stuff. I am still sitting here in awe over what I watched. I have been thinking a lot about consuming less which has been driven mostly from a financial need, but I now see serious reasons as to why I should for an environmental need.

    Thanks for your great post- I am very inspired!

  8. I just recently purchased some canvas bags to take grocery shopping with me to replace plastic bags. I actually just posted about “going green” on my blog. (http://surrendertogodsdesign.blogspot.com) I was not rasied in a family where recycling was made a priority, so making it a part of my life is taking some retraining. My next step is to by a trash can for recyclables and start using cloth diapers.

  9. Stephanie: thanks for your comment – let me know how you like the baking soda trick! I actually read farther down on your blog and saw the entry on routine/schedule. Thanks for posting that personal information; I really needed to read that! Right now one of my biggest struggles is managing my blog time =) (ironically) But I am taking to heart the idea of a daily routine and may post one of my own soon (I’ve often tried the timed schedule idea and have been discouraged into quitting each time)

  10. Oh, cloth napkins from a thrift store- great idea! I’ll have to take a look!

    So glad this was encouraging- I know that I’ve been feeling very inspired lately to do what I can to make less of a negative impact.

    I think I felt like Kristi after I first watched The Story of Stuff… I couldn’t get it out of my head for days!

    Sarah, glad the schedule info was so helpful! And yes, I’ll let you know about the baking soda!

  11. These are all great ideas! I too, have purchased cloth bags for grocery shopping and forget them once in a while! I’ve been trying to be more purposeful in my recycling because often times I find myself throwing someing in the garbage just because it’s easier! That’s definitely not a good excuse! Thanks for this post.

  12. These are great ideas. Where did you find your information on composting. I have read many books on the subject but most talk about it on a large scale. We live in a townhouse and I would love to start composting on a small scale… any tips?
    We have cut our garbage back from 2 cans a week to one (family of 8), but I would love to go even lower.

  13. This was a great post! One of our family goals for 2008 is to be more eco-friendly and you really have some great ideas!

  14. We’ve been working on this as well. We are definitely down to 1/2 can of garbage per week now (which is good since our garbage pick-up is switching to every other week!) but we still have too many recyclables. We need to work on the “reduce” and “reuse” part of the equation now.

  15. I’ve been working on this as well!

    I am now recycling paper/paperboard, plastic and cans. We don’t have pickup for recycling in our area. We collect it all and make a trip to the recycling center once a week. This alone has brought our trash down to 1/2 of a can (or less) per week. I was amazed at the difference it made.

  16. Cloth napkins are a lot of fun to use. They are more economical, but I think they also work better, since they won’t dissolve with a sticky mess. We’ve been using them for a couple of years now at our home. I just buy them on clearance at different stores. They’re all mismatched, but that’s part of the fun. Other families that use cloth napkins say that they are a great tradition with kids because the kids end up picking their “favorite” and claiming it.
    Keeping up with cleaning dirty napkins is a breeze. I keep a little bowl on top of my dryer. Whenever we have dirty napkins, I toss them in the bowl, and the contents of the bowl go in the next load of laundry–whatever it may be. So, we always have clean napkins!

  17. I have found that after starting to recycle paper (junk mail in particular), our trash quantity went way down! Go for it!

  18. Hi Stephanie,
    I so enjoy your blog. We are on the same path.I add a link on blog to yours. I hope that was ok. I send you an invite to my blog. I look forward to having you stop by.

  19. Hi Stephanie,

    Great post. I want to know about your process of composting. I tried doing it earlier and failed miserably. I would like to try again with some tested and true method. I would appreciate if you could share your method and experiences with composting. I have a lot of kitchen garbage that could be turned into compost and a small yard that could use some organic fertilizer.

    Learning the ropes

  20. Hi!
    Just found your blog, a tip on composting-plain white (unprinted) paper towels and napkins can be composted. It takes the guilt out of using them and you will use less detergent, hot water and energy than washing cloth napkins, etc. It’s also good for the environment and goes with your using less theme..

  21. Thanks for posting this! What great ideas. You mentioned needing something reusable to take to potlucks – I love my Pyrex glass baking dishes – I bought them in a set that also had 4 small prep bowls, and all of those things have plastic lids that seal. I don’t have to stick my leftovers in anything else, dispoable or otherwise! I just pop on the lid and throw it in the fridge. I highly recommend them.

  22. I’d like to second Amy’s comment about the Pyrex dishes with plastic lids. They are great. All of mine of 4 years old and look fine. Think of all the Gladware that you would use in 4 years!! I have been using Gladware for small containers and the Pyrex for larger food needs (serving dishes, potlucks, etc.) but I recently decided to purchase smaller Pyrex dishes and eliminate the need for Gladware altogehter.

    Thanks for all the ideas!

  23. What a great list. you certainly seem determined! One of my habits is to re-use envelopes from letters that have come in the post for little ‘notelets’ as I’m always wanting to jot something down
    .-= Joy @ packaging bags and boxes´s last blog ..10 Best Seller Gifts for Christmas =-.

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