12 Ways to Reduce Your Household Waste

prepared meals in plastic containers
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We’ve all heard the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle,” and most of us have implemented some ideas for how to reduce waste in our daily lives.

Finding ways to reduce waste at home isn’t as difficult as you might think. And even if you’re stellar at recycling or have mastered waste-free gift wrap, there are other things you can do to reduce your household waste, perhaps even driving towards a zero-waste lifestyle.

Check out some great waste reduction methods to cut down on junk and get the most out of your materials.

1. How to Reduce Food Waste

Plan And/or Prep Your Meals

The most effective way to reduce food waste is to have a detailed weekly plan for your meals. This eliminates unnecessary purchases at the grocery store and minimizes food being thrown out.

When you do catch produce fading in the fridge, freeze it or throw it into a soup. Compost any produce that goes bad, or add it to your yard debris cart if allowed in your area.

Avoid Buying Prepackaged Food

Waste reduction really starts while shopping. You can reduce packaging waste by bringing your own containers and bags to the store with you.

Move past the prepackaged lettuce, bags of apples and potatoes, and grapes. While the plastic bags can likely be recycled along with the plastic film, the bubble packs that fruit and other items come in are rarely recyclable in any way.

When possible, order meat from a local butcher or farm. This meat is typically packaged without the plastic wrap and foam tray used in supermarkets.

The meat counter at the grocery store often wraps meat and fish in paper, so that’s another option to consider.

Of course, creating a plant-based lifestyle, or even a few vegetarian meals each week, naturally results in little waste.

Cook Meals at Home

With a meal plan, it’s also beneficial to make foods from scratch as much as possible. Most food waste comes from packaged goods, but you can avoid that waste by making your own.

Bake bread fresh or buy it in paper bags. Make cookies and skip the plastic containers. Put together your own potato salad, sauces, dressings, and salsas. Make a salad from fresh greens instead of a bag.

Have the kids help bake pies. Use homemade whipping cream rather than buying it in a can. The idea is to give some thought to each item you buy and evaluate how much of it will end up in the landfill.

2. Make Your Own Household Cleaners

vinegar near spray bottle and sponge

Chemicals we use around the house and yard leach into the soil, drain into our waterways, and float in the air we breathe.

It’s likely you already have some nasty toxins around the house. If so, start by properly disposing of them through your local disposal company.

Most areas have special hazardous waste disposal units run by folks who know how to manage hazardous waste. Use these places to drop off items such as unused household cleaners, fluorescent bulbs, batteries, pesticides, herbicides, sealants, polish, paint thinner, solvents, varnish, and oil-based paints.

Replace commercial household cleaners and reduce toxic waste with natural cleaners you can make yourself. They're easy to whip up with ingredients you already have around the house, like white vinegar, lemon, and baking soda.

Household cleaner recipes provide options for laundry, dishes, counters, bathrooms, windows, and more. You’ll feel much better about these ingredients heading down the drain.

3. Compost Your Own Fertilizer

food waste in compost

In the garden, skip the commercial fertilizers and make your own from a combination of household items.

An effective compost helps eliminate the need for weed killers and pesticides (but there are many natural ways to battle pests too). Composting is easy and rewarding.

Simply combine equal portions of produce food scraps with green materials such as grass clippings, and brown materials, such as small branches and paper bags.

For your yard, select native plants wherever possible since they require fewer resources and perform better in your environment. This means less reliance on fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides, and water.

When choosing stains and paints, reach for the water-based options and select those with low VOC.

Skip the highly toxic drain cleaners and use alternatives such as a sewer snake or a plunger to unclog drains. You can also prevent clogging by using a strainer and by pouring boiling water down the drain three to four times a month.

There are even natural alternatives for those chemical-filled floor and metal polishes. Use lemon oil or olive oil in combination with vinegar or lemon juice to polish furniture. You can polish metals with baking soda or vinegar and salt.

4. Reduce Plastic Use

Plastic is a petroleum-based product that has become ubiquitous in our society. Think back a century and you’ll see it’s quite possible to live in a way that doesn’t rely on plastic.

The problem with plastic is not only that it requires pumping fossil fuels out of the ground, but that plastic never biodegrades. It breaks down and contaminates water and soil, but it only gets increasingly smaller.

These microplastics, as they are called, are now found in every living organism, from the fish we eat to baby food.

Eliminate plastic starting at the grocery store. As mentioned, bring your own containers and refill them from the bulk department. Skip plastic bags by bringing your own reusable cloth produce and shopping bags.

When buying any product, consider whether there is a metal, paper, or glass alternative instead of plastic.

Bioplastic is increasing in popularity and is found in many everyday products. It’s a type of plastic made from plant-based materials instead of petroleum, so it naturally decomposes without harming the planet. Watch for it when considering your purchases.

If you can’t avoid plastic, be vigilant about recycling it. Only about 10% of the plastic in the world is properly recycled; the rest will be floating around the environment for hundreds of years.

What and how to recycle varies widely across the country and around the world. The majority of municipal recycling centers, however, accept cardboard, nearly every type of paper, aluminum cans, glass, and plastic jugs.

Many grocery stores have a return spot for plastic bags. Typically it’s near the entrance. Most people don’t know, however, that they can recycle much more than just bags.

The product is known as plastic film and includes things like bread bags, the shrink wrap around multi-roll toilet paper and napkin packs, dry-cleaning bags, produce bags, cereal box liners, Ziploc-type storage bags. It also appears in plastic envelopes, air pillows, and bubble wrap.

Be sure to deflate the air pillows and all items need to be clean and dry before drop-off. Check out PlasticFilmRecycling.org for more information.

5. Pick Recyclable Packaging

recyclable packaging materials

Only about 9% of plastic ends up getting recycled. Whenever possible, try to avoid purchasing products wrapped in plastic and styrofoam.

The best packaging is paper-based and easily recyclable. Fortunately, many companies are finally incorporating greener options into their packaging. You can support this by rewarding merchants who proudly promote their sustainability practices.

If you do end up with plastic foam or bubble wrap, take it to a recycling center. Packing peanuts are often accepted at shipping stores such as UPS and FedEx.

6. Buy Only What You Need

There’s an undeniable connection between the amount you buy and the amount of waste produced. If you’re looking to reduce the latter, start by evaluating the former.

If you find you need rarely-used items such as a roasting pan, a serving platter, medical aids such as a walker or wheelchair, an auger, or a soil tamper, consider buying from a second-hand store or borrowing from a friend instead of buying a new one.

Simply purchasing fewer things guarantees a reduction in waste.

7. Give DIY Gifts

hand making fabric heart on wood

For gift giving, dive into DIY by making your own spirits, oils, baked goods, jams, canned goods, vinegars, heat pads, quilts, woodworking projects, and washcloths.

You can get online and provide an electronic gift card instead of purchasing a plastic one at the store.

When it’s time for wrapping, consider the waste too. Look around after any gift-giving events and you’ll find an abundance of discarded wrapping paper, gift bags, ribbons, bows, tissue paper, boxes, and other debris.

Thinking ahead will greatly reduce the task of cleaning up and the amount of waste that ends up in the trash.

Basic wrapping paper that is void of sparkles, glitter, sequins, foil, artificial texture, sticky gift labels, or plastic is completely recyclable so pay attention when making your selection.

Alternatively, use the Sunday comics, magazine pages, maps, or other paper sources.

For ribbons, skip the plastic curling ribbon and prefabbed plastic bows. Instead, grab a roll of real ribbon from the craft store and reuse it year after year.

Similarly, you can avoid plastic ribbon waste by using natural materials such as jute, twine, burlap, fabric, or cotton. They are also reusable but will biodegrade once disposed of. Similarly, use paper gift bags that can be reused or recycled.

Avoid the waste altogether (even the recyclable kind) by using a scarf, piece of fabric, or cloth napkins to wrap gifts. Make the wrapping part of the gift by using a photo box, basket, beach bag, crate, or jar.

Better yet, eliminate the need for wrapping with the gift of experiences by taking your friend to a concert, play, or out for a meal.

8. Reduce Holiday Decor

Decorating for a holiday should be fun, and there are many ways to incorporate meaningful and eco-friendly decor options. Go for a natural centerpiece such as a pine bough from your tree clippings or use gourds to embellish instead.

Rely on the classics like candles or flowers too. Avoid balloons, decorations with the year printed on them you will never use again, and single-use plastic table cloths.

9. Use Real Dishware

A plethora of garbage, especially during holidays and celebrations, comes from single-use plates, silverware, cups, and napkins.

Although it involves doing the dishes once the party wraps up, using real dishware is one of the easiest ways to avoid a full garbage can. Dig out the good China or use everyday plates. Skip the red Solo cups in favor of regular glassware.

It doesn't have to be fancy! You can pick up plenty of plates and cups from thrift stores like Goodwill for very little money.

10. Reuse Materials

patio lounge chairs made from wood pallets

Think about ways you can get multiple uses out of what might otherwise look like garbage.

For example, thick shipping envelopes that can’t be recycled make a sturdy bag for scooped kitty litter. Use an old tire as a flowerbed. Turn a boot into a planter. Convert the materials from a torn-down shed into shabby chic porch furniture.

11. Join a Buy Nothing Community

The Buy Nothing Project was started by two friends in 2013. Rebecca Rockefeller and Liesl Clark wanted to create a gift economy, basically defined as giving away items one no longer wants or needs.

The Buy Nothing Movement spread through regional areas and across social media, connecting people wanting to give away household goods, garden-fresh food, vehicles, and anything else they had in abundance or no longer needed.

According to their website, “As of July 2021, the Buy Nothing Project has at least 4.25 million participants in 44 countries, with over 6,500 communities led by more than 13,000 volunteers.”

This is a grass-roots movement with no financial backing, run completely by volunteers. That means over four million people are committed to following the guidelines of the Buy Nothing Project.

This includes keeping groups hyper-local with strict geographical limitations in regards to who can join. Another principle is the belief in abundance. It’s a mindset that generates generosity.

Every member must agree to be respectful, honest, inclusive, and interact with integrity. Furthermore, gifting is at the foundation of the movement, so there is no buying, selling, trading, or bartering allowed.

If there’s not already a group at your local level, start one! It’s a great way to connect with your neighbors in the spirit of giving, and it keeps countless items out of the landfill.

12. Stop Junk Mail

Contact companies sending product catalogs and request removal from the list. Similarly, eliminate credit card and insurance offers by visiting sites like OptOut or calling 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688).

Reducing your carbon footprint through more sustainable living means a healthier environment for us all. For another way to cut down on waste, check out our ideas about turning food scraps into snacks!