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11 Ways to Reduce Your Garbage

11 Ways to Reduce Your Garbage

If you pay for garbage service, getting that monthly bill can sting, especially with prices rising across the US in response to rising costs for handling fees and programs intended to encourage people to cut down on their waste production. The agony is even worse when you don’t just pay for it: you’re also the one who takes your trash to the dump. Even if you don’t pay for garbage service, reducing the amount of waste you generate ought to perk up your ears, because it makes a big difference to the environment.

Fortunately, those of us with years of rural living experience have some skills we can bequeath to you when it comes to the garbage reduction department, because there are few things we enjoy less than taking a load of trash to the dump. Not only is it majorly gross, it’s a sober reminder of exactly how much waste we generate on an annual basis (4.4 pounds per person per day in 2011!).

So, how can you get your trash habit under control?

1. Bring home less stuff

This might seem obvious, but it bears repeating. Everything you bring into your home needs to be processed in one way or another; if it can’t be used up, recycled, or repurposed, where does it end up? The garbage.

Thus, buying jam in jars can be a good decision, because the jars can be sterilized and used for home canning, used as storage containers, or turned to all kinds of creative crafting uses. Buying meat packed on a styrofoam tray? Not such a good call, because all that shrink wrap and styrofoam is ending up in one place: the trash.

Think about what you need and how you plan to use it before you buy, and try to avoid unneccesary products and packaging. You may also want to consider the waste stream of the products you’re buying. Some industries are notorious for generating high amounts of waste (for example, bleached virgin paper involves substantial resources to fell trees, process timber, pulp it, and bleach it to give your paper that gorgeous white color) and you might want to consider turning to alternate sources, like post-consumer products that use recycled components.

Photo: Andrew King on Flickr.

2. Compost

There’s no reason food scraps should be going in the trash (although composting fish, meat, and dairy can get complex and isn’t recommended unless you’re an advanced composter). And yard trimmings should be getting composted too. But did you know there are a ton of other things that can totally get composted? Paper, cardboard, and fiberboard scraps, dust bunnies, hair, pet food, cupcake cups, and more can all be appropriately disposed of in the compost bin.

Scared of compost, or don’t have the room? Lots of cities, like Portland, offer curbside compost pickup and take greenwaste to a central processing facility. Others provide compost containers free or at low cost, along with a quick orientation, to residents who want to take up composting. Ask about composting programs in your area.

Photo: matei/morguefile.com

3. Recycle

Another one that might seem obvious in a recycling-heavy world, but hang on a minute. First of all, the number of recyclable things is a lot larger than you might think, and you might actually be able to get money for your recycling. In addition to curbside pickup, most cities have a transfer station that provides buyback and redemption credit for residents who bring recycling with the right markings, including glass bottles and some types of cans.

8 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Recycle

Not only that, but mandatory buyback and takeback programs for lots of products are also in place in a number of states. That means that instead of throwing something away, you can not only return it for recycling and processing, but get some cash for it. Pretty cool, eh? If a required takeback program doesn’t apply, a product might still have one through a manufacturer, dealer, or support organization; for example, old cell phones can often be given to domestic violence organizations, who use them to provide survivors with phones they can use to place emergency calls (you can dial 911 from a cellphone even if it’s not connected with an active network).

Photo: Brian Holland/Flickr.

4. Reuse

Obviously, the most fun of all. It’s easy to turn trash to treasure if you’re motivated, and a lot of products can find new life as something else, or as a component of another thing you’re using around the house. Before throwing something out, assess why you’re tossing it, and think about potential alternative uses.

For example, holey old socks are terrible for wearing, but they actually make great dust mitts. Slip one over your hand and run it along hard-to-dust surfaces, and watch the grime lift away! Likewise, ragged tees and other clothes can be cut up into household rags for cleaning, used in rag-rugs, and added to the stuffing of pet toys, allowing them to bypass the dreaded trashcan.

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr.

5. Compression central

Inevitably, you’re going to generate some garbage. Give yourself some motivation by downscaling your trash service to the smallest possible container, so you’ll be limited each week. If you end up with extra because of a special situation (like when you’re moving), take the extra trash to the dump or consider asking for an extra can for just that week.

At the same time, compress your trash. Tightly-compacted trash fills a can more slowly, obviously, and allows you to waste less space. Turn dump trips to an every six months endeavor instead of every month, and prevent constant overflows from your trash bin every week.

Photo: sideshowmom/morguefile.com

6. Say no to rats (and other pests)

If there’s one thing we all know about garbage, it’s that it tends to attract unsavory elements. By keeping a lot of waste out of your can, you’ll make your garbage much less interesting to visitors like Norway rats. It’s especially important to make sure food waste and trash contaminated with food never ends up in the can, because if it does, it will appeal to raccoons, skunks, rats, cockroaches, and other creatures you definitely do not want stopping by. Remember that insects can show up anywhere, but they especially love old, established cities with a rich history; if you’re enjoying a handsome pre-war home in Hyde Park, for example, you might need a Chicago exterminator to help you eliminate cockroaches and start with a clean slate.

A skilled handyman can help you build a trash enclosure that also doubles as a sorting facility, giving you a chance to engage in last-minute interventions to keep things that don’t belong in the trash out of it. Your enclosure should have high fences and locking doors to ensure animals can’t get in and knock your cans over to get at the trash. If repeat pests are a problem, tie or lock the lids down to keep animals out.

Photo: Andy Roberts/Flickr.

7. Think outside the box

Many of us use specialty products in our lives that tend to generate a lot of waste in the form of packaging and other components, even though we don’t really need to. For example, it’s not uncommon for people to maintain a huge array of cleaning products with separate types for windows, counters, tubs and tile, and so forth. Did you know that you can use an all-purpose cleaner, including one you make yourself, instead? A jug of vinegar will meet a lot of cleaning needs, with a lot less waste.

How to Make a Non-Toxic Cleaning Kit

You might be able to think of other ways you can cut down in your life, making fundamental lifestyle changes that reduce your impact on the environment. This won’t just keep things out of your trash. It’ll also reduce for ecological footprint and lighten the burden on the Earth.

Photo: Judit Klein/Flickr.

8. Get out of the disposable mindset

Get things made to last, or to be recycled. That goes for products varying from fashion (so-called “fast fashion” is a huge industry for people who want cheap clothes, but these products tend to be poorly made and don’t weather time well) to electronic components. While the up-front cost is higher, the long-term costs are much lower, and your choice will definitely be better for the planet, too.

Think about the little things: buy a reusable mug to use for your morning coffee drink (most baristas are happy to take mugs from home!), acquire handkerchiefs instead of tissues, and pack silverware so you don’t have to use disposables.

Photo: KellyP42/morguefile.com.

9. Get by with a little help from your friends

Ever need something for a project, but know you’ll never need it again? Or find yourself wishing you had a somewhat expensive item that you can’t really justify, but you could legitimately really use for a few days? Stop thinking that the only things you can use are the ones you own: expand into renting and borrowing.

Many communities have tool libraries, which offer free and low-cost loans of tools and other supplies. It’s possible to rent products ranging from bicycles to tablesaws, along with smaller things you might need for projects. Your neighbors might also have something you could borrow, or they could be willing to pitch in on a purchase of a shared item; everyone on your road doesn’t need a lawnmower, for example, if you can agree to split the maintenance and upkeep.

Photo: mcconnors/morguefile.com.

10. Maintain and repair

A lot of products fail because they weren’t given the routine maintenance they needed. Give the things in your house a break by following product maintenance recommendations (like that 10,000 mile service for your car you’ve been putting off for 2,000 miles) and staying on top of painting, replacement of leaking faucets, and other chores. Preventative maintenance helps extend the life of your belongings and it also limits the risk of a costly repair…

…but if something does break, repair it! Resole your shoes, have a technician take a look at your computer, and reupholster that gross couch instead of kicking it to the curb. Repairing helps keep things in use and takes trash out of circulation, which is good for everyone.

Photo: r0sss/Flickr.

11. Buy used, sell used, and donate used

If you can, consider buying something used. It won’t directly control the contents of your trash can, but it will help keep things out of the waste stream. Likewise, you in turn can sell your own used goods to collect extra cash and keep them out of the trash. If you can’t sell an item, consider donating it to a thrift store or similar organization. Your donations can make a big difference for someone else.

Did I mention they’re tax-deductible?

By s.e. smith for Networx.com.

Read more: Eco-friendly tips, Green, Home, Household Hints, Reduce, Recycle & Reuse, , , ,

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112 comments

+ add your own
12:00PM PST on Nov 8, 2013

bingo! and bookmarked for later reference.

8:16AM PST on Nov 8, 2013

These were some really great suggestions and reminders. Thanks for sharing!

6:39PM PDT on Sep 10, 2013

thanks

4:04PM PDT on Sep 7, 2013

I get some weird looks when I roll into the store with my two bags full of containers or when I line them all up on the checkout belt, but I really could care less. I love not buying packaging!

I use glass dishes with plastic lids when I buy meat. The butcher just weighs the dish first, then fills it up for me. I can pop it straight in the fridge or freezer, super easy.

I save food containers, especially wide-mouth glass jars, and fill them up at the bulk section. Food grade buckets are good for getting large amounts of things like oats or flour. I buy beans and rice by the 25 lb bag. Those big bags are good garbage bags once they're empty.

Old squeeze containers get reused as liquid soap dispensers. I buy soap by the gallon to refill the soap bottles.

There are a lot of chicken owners in my area so my empty egg cartons go back to them. Local brewers take back empty beer bottles.

Our milk comes in glass deposit jars that we clean and return to the store.

Really thick plastic or cloth bags are good to reuse for produce, especially potatoes, instead of the thin stuff they offer in the produce section. So many of those bags are used every day!

8:16AM PDT on Sep 6, 2013

Thank you Chaya, for Sharing this!

6:33PM PDT on Sep 1, 2013

I make small rags out of most anything cloth and keep them in an old tissue box on the kitchen counter. I use them for anything you would use a paper towel for, Old towel material is good when you need absorbency, but bed sheets can be quick pick ups for spills, splatters, wipeing grease out of pans or dishes before washing. Then I put them in a used bread bag and when thats part full, stuff it in a clean used yogurt carton since they aren't recycleable, and at last into the garbage they go, all sealed and compact, and fairly oder free. Light weight cotton makes good handkerchiefs, especially if you layer them in a ceramic canister and spay them with vinagar water with eucalyptus, or lavendar oil. They also can serve as disposable napkins to keep in the car.

5:50AM PDT on Sep 1, 2013

thanks for sharing :)

8:12AM PDT on Aug 27, 2013

Yes, I have stopped buying tea made with bags. These you cannot compost as they contain plastic. I use tea leaves and what a difference in taste (yummy!). My City is now proposing composters. So we are going to be dinged with composting fee, garbage collecting fee (this used to be included in our property taxes) and recycling. I am getting "fee'd" out!! I have been recycling before this became "popular". I wish products like swiffer, disposable diapers, coffee, etc. would not be allowed to exist any more. They are horrible! Just think how many humans are being born, and diapers being disposed in our landfills. Gone are the days when moms used washable diapers. They should be forced to use these. I know it is digusting, but there are diaper services available if need be! There are more and more companies coming out with disposible products. Why is this, and how is this allowed?

4:33AM PDT on Aug 27, 2013

TY.

2:22AM PDT on Aug 27, 2013

My garbage consist of 1 shapping bag of waste per week, plus 1 bag of recycling material. Inless my medication comes in less packaging, it would be difficult to reduce further.

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