I've slimmed down quite a bit in the last 12 months. Well, not me so much. You don't think you lose weight by eating oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, do you? But my trash and recycling bins are positively svelte. We have bi-monthly curbside pick up for recyclables but only take it out monthly. My family of four throws off so little trash that it would take us a month or more to fill our 32 gallon garbage can.
Trimming trash has been one of the easiest ecologically-minded change we've made. In many cases, it's just a matter of putting an item previously thought of as "trash" or "recycling" into a different bin or bag. Here are the more obvious ones:
- use reusable containers for food, juice and water
- make our own yogurt, jam, bread, butter and such
- buy milk and cream in reusable glass bottles
- use towels instead of paper towels, cloth napkins instead of paper
- buy in bulk using reusable Ziploc bags or netted produce bags
- use a Diva Cup
- buy the biggest size available
- plant from seed when possible and, when planting from plastic nursery pot (which, in my area, are not recyclable), take them to a local nursery for reuse; our nurseries will use 1 gallon and up size but schools will use the smaller ones
- reuse all plastic bags (e.g., for mulch, dry cleaning - tie a knot in the bottom) to line kitchen garbage can
- buy products with little or no packaging (e.g., shampoo bar soap, farmers' market bar soap, this dental floss)
- use the Preserve toothbrush and return it for recycling
- buy 7th Generation toilet paper from Amazon and avoid the plastic (thanks Fake Plastic Fish!) - bonus, the kids will play for days in the big cardboard box it comes in
- use every last drop of a product
- reuse wrapping paper, ribbons, rubber bands, glass jars
- cancel magazine subscriptions
- get off junk mail lists by calling or emailing every company that sends us an item of junk mail
- use back side of paper for printing, kids' drawings
- save items for reuse in school craft projects
- keep plastic or other utensils in a plastic bag in your purse/backpack/car and use them on the rare occasions you go out for ice cream, frozen yogurt, fast food, etc.
- bring our own reusable container for restaurant leftovers or, if as I often forget, wrap it in a napkin or ask for a piece of aluminum foil
- donate to thrift stores
- repair items - especially when hole or break is small
- reuse fabric items that are beyond repair for rags - now you don't need the paper towels!
- try to freecycle (or list as free on Craigslist) anything before tossing it; we had 4 freecyclers wanting our broken refrigerator even though we disclosed the problems
- buy less stuff
Here are a few of the less-obvious ones that I've picked up over the last year:
1) Crappy Plastic Toys: You know the ones - your kid brings them home from a pinata or in a goodie bag, maybe they were handed out at Halloween. I periodically gather the unbroken ones from various crevices in my home and put them all in a bag. Once the bag is full, we take it to my sons' dentist office where the toys are added to their treasure box. The dentist doesn't have to buy new toys as often, the toys we have don't end up as landfill fodder and, best yet, they are out of my house.
2) Shipping Boxes and Packing Material: Whenever we get anything shipped to us, I put the box and shipping material in the garage. Once they reach a certain number, or I'm tired of stepping over them, I list them on freecycle or Craigslist. Typically, they are taken within a couple of days by someone who is moving or an Ebayer.
3) Strawberry Baskets, Egg Cartons: I always save my strawberry baskets, the cardboard flats they come in, egg cartons and similar containers and return them to the farmer I got them from at the farmers' market. The last time I brought in my strawberry baskets and cardboard flats, the farmer gushed what a big difference it makes, financially, for them to be able to reuse all of these items and knocked a buck off of my price.
4) Empty Wine Bottles: I must thank a reader for this for this tip. We save our wine bottles and, once we reach 2 dozen or more, list them on freecycle or Craigslist for projects or home brewing. It takes a bit longer to unload these but you bypass the recycling center and the energy expended transporting and recycling bottles. Don't forget to recycle your wine corks here.
Take my word for it. It's a lot less painful than giving up oatmeal chocolate chip cookies?
UPDATE: Make sure to read the comments for more great ideas!