11 Ways I'm Reducing Waste This Year (and How You Can Too)
1. Reusable produce bags
This one's easy. I simply keep my little mesh produce bags inside my shopping totes, and put them through the wash when they get mucky. Now I'm not using ten plastic bags every time I raid the produce section.
2. DIY sparkling water
I love sparkling water. I've considered it a vice since it costs quite a bit of money and produces countless plastic bottles or aluminum cans. I finally decided to do something about this by purchasing a Soda Stream. Remember that craze? The excitement is real, guys. Now I fill a reusable bottle with tap water, blast it a few times with CO2, and throw in a curl of fresh lemon peel. It's DELICIOUS. Does it only taste better because I made it and I'm proud of it? You be the judge.
By the way, I bought the Soda Stream from a nice mom a few neighborhoods over. I paid fraction of what it would cost brand new, and her machine didn't end up in a landfill. Before you buy kitchen items, see if you can get them used! This is the sort of thing people buy, use a few times, and decide it's not for them.
3. Reusable takeout boxes
This change has been perhaps the most awkward (or flat out embarrassing, if you ask my husband). Whenever my family is going out to eat, I throw a couple lunch containers into my bag. And I remind myself, as I'm arranging leftover sushi into my little reusable box, that I will not be stuffing dirty styrofoam into my garbage can later. So I hold my chin up high and feel proud of myself, as I should.
4. Nixing disposable razors
If these razors intimidate you, you're not alone. Mine sat in the box for two weeks while I worked up the nerve to try it. You learn very quickly how to hold it at the correct angle, and changing the blade out is incredibly simple. I'll admit I have nicks on my legs for the first time in years, but that's part of the learning curve. Overall, I'm 100% happy I made the change.
5. Using the whole vegetable
This is a small one, but a satisfying one. My compost bucket was almost full, and I was staring at a fresh bunch of radishes on my cutting board, the greens crisp and bushy. On a whim, I pulled out my phone and searched "radish greens", and discovered that they're perfectly delicious sautéed in olive oil with a little salt. Now I'm eating greens from beets, radishes, and kohlrabi. I'm planning carrot top pesto. And if you haven't sauteed minced cilantro stems and added them to soups and curries, are you really living??
6. Joining a CSA
Receiving produce deliveries from local farms is such an amazing way to support your community and reduce the carbon footprint of your food. Alternatively, visiting a farmer's market carries the same good karma. I've tried things a bit differently this time by signing up for Imperfect Produce, which is not necessarily local. It trades these benefits with that of reducing food waste, as their mission is to find a home for unwanted produce that farms can't sell anywhere else. I received my first box this Tuesday, and I felt like a kid at Christmas.
7. Products with less packaging
This means goodbye to those wonderful tubs of pre-washed and sorted baby spinach and spring greens. I'll miss the convenience, but not the guilt of watching those huge plastic tubs fill up my recycling bin. I'm shopping less at Trader Joe's in favor of my local Sprouts, where the produce is loose and I can use my new produce bags. I'm also buying everything I can in the bulk section, and reusing my own bags to do so. I've noticed my garbage and recycling cans filling up more slowly now, and it's a really good feeling.
A note on recycling: although much better than ending in a landfill, recycling should be the last-ditch effort to reducing waste. Recycling requires energy and resources, and many materials (such as plastics) can only be recycled so many times before they become trash.
8. Making my own
Every loaf of bread I buy requires a plastic bag. Every container of applesauce requires a jar. With this in mind, I'm trying to make my own version of processed products when I can. Which is why I've found myself baking sourdough bread for the first time in years. It's also how I discovered that simmering dried apricots and carrots makes for a vibrant orange puree that my kids love, and that is far more nourishing than plain old applesauce. I look forward to the future joys and discoveries that come with homemade goods.
9. Buying used items
Buying new products has a direct impact on the environment. Manufacturing takes energy, uses materials (many of which harm the earth), and requires shipping. Every time I buy a new product, I'm supporting that process with my money. So this year, I've made a concerted effort to buy anything I can second hand.
After my success with the Soda Stream, I've started looking for everything on Craigslist and Facebook . I'm also frequenting Goodwill and other second hand stores, and this has seriously lit a fire under me. There are so many benefits to buying used goods - You're saving a ton of money, you're supporting excellent charities like Goodwill, and you're not consuming new materials. It's a win-win-win. And I like to win.
10. No more parchment paper
I roast a lot of veggies, which means I go through baking parchment pretty quickly. I finally bought myself some silicone baking mats, and now I'm not throwing paper in the garbage. So far they've worked perfectly well. Of course, washing them is an extra step, but nothing sticks so it's an easy process.
11. Composting food scraps
Did you know that food waste in garbage dumps creates potent greenhouse gases? According to the EPA, the organic material rotting in dumps is the third largest source of methane in the US, and methane is "28 to 36 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere". Decomposition in dumps is a mostly anaerobic process, which produces the methane. Composting, on the other hand, is an aerobic process that produces no methane.
I didn't want to spend money on a huge composting bin that we don't have room for the in the first place. So, I started asking around, and eventually found that my daughter's preschool has a compost bin! Now I keep my scraps in the freezer and bring them with me to drop her off a couple of times a week. Other places to ask are community gardens and local online groups like Nextdoor.