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Zero Waste Household

11 Simple Tips to Reduce Your Household Waste

Sarita Harbour

Are you interested in finding out how to reduce your environmental footprint? If so, start at home. One of the easiest ways to lower your impact on the environment is to reduce the amount of trash your family generates.

While some households strive for a completely zero-waste lifestyle (producing a mason jar – or less – of waste each year,) this may require such drastic changes that you end up facing a family mutiny. Luckily, you’ll still find many easy ways to make improvements and reduce your household waste without dramatically changing your lifestyle. And these gentle changes should be sustainable every day of the year.

Keep reading to learn about simple changes you and your family can make to produce less household waste all year round.

A Brief Recap of The Waste Reduction Movement

Chances are you’ve seen a variety of public service and environmental agency campaigns about the social and environmental benefits of reducing waste. While there have been various movements and groups active around waste management, recently the “zero waste” movement has been getting attention.

At the turn of the century, the term “zero waste” referred to the idea that society could conserve resources and eliminate harmful byproducts of the manufacturing process through more thoughtfully designed and produced goods.

Inspired by this movement, lifestyle blogger Bea Johnson of The Zero Waste Home reimagined the term in 2009, encouraging people to modify household practices to produce no more than one mason jar of trash per year per household. This was a dramatic change from how much trash the average American household produced at the time.

Americans Produce Tons of Waste (Literally)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines trash, or municipal solid waste, as things people throw away after they’ve used them. That includes food waste, product packaging, and even household goods, like old furniture or broken appliances.

Each family and household is different, but if you’re anything like the average American, you get heavy use out of your trash can. In fact, Americans produced 292.4 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2018, according to the latest report by the EPA. That works out to around 4.9 pounds of trash per person each day.

The good news is that just under 94 million tons — which is over 32.1% of the country’s waste — is recycled or composted, rather than sent to a landfill.

11 Steps to Become a Zero-Waste Household

Reducing your household waste doesn’t mean you need to stop buying things or do without. You simply need to make waste-wise choices.

Replacing single-use items with reusable products, for example, helps reduce not only your waste but also the money you spend. For retirees with a fixed income, that can make a big difference.

1. Swap Plastic Bags for Reusable Cotton Shopping Bags

One of the first steps you can take on your journey to become a zero-waste household is cutting the number of plastic bags that make their way from your trash can to the dump. Swap out plastic bags with reusable cloth bags to accomplish this goal. Not only do they make great grocery bags, but they can also be used for bringing your book and towel to the beach.

Reduce Household Waste with Reusable Grocery Bags

2. Replace Plastic Wrap and Sandwich Bags With Better Alternatives

Plastic wrap is one of the single-use household items that frequently gets tossed. The good news is that there are many better alternatives. For example, you could invest in a few cloth bowl covers, which are great for leftovers, and beeswax wraps to wrap around food products, like sandwiches. (Bonus: Beeswax-coated cloths keep food fresh longer!) You can buy these online or, if you’re handy with a sewing machine, make them at home.

3. Say Goodbye to Paper Towels and Tissues

Paper products account for 23% of landfill waste, according to the EPA report cited above. While your family probably won’t embrace reusable cloth toilet wipes, it’s pretty easy to replace paper towels with cloth kitchen towels. While you’re at it, it might be time to rethink your tissue use. As long as you wash them after use, hankies are a great alternative.

4. Buy Food Staples and Supplies in Bulk

Buying in bulk means you’re using less single-use packaging, like plastic and Styrofoam containers. It also typically results in fewer trips to the store and more money left in your bank account at the end of the month.

Next time you’re at the supermarket, check out the bulk food aisles. You should be able to find everything from breakfast cereals to baking ingredients, such as sugar, flour, spices, nuts, and dried fruit. Eventually, you could even try shopping at a grocery store that only sells in bulk.

5. BYORC: Bring Your Own Refillable Containers

The one downside of the bulk-foods section is that it encourages using plastic bags to store each type of food. You can cut down on this waste by storing bulk foods in refillable glass or plastic containers, such as mason jars. Just don’t forget to bring them with you to the store, and make sure you don’t pay extra for the weight of the container.

6. Choose Digital Over Paper Products

Another way to reduce the amount of paper your family wastes is to choose digital over print whenever possible. While you can choose to buy the Kindle edition of the latest book by your favorite author, it’s especially important to do so for your weekly newspaper and monthly magazine subscriptions.

7. Opt-in to Receive Paperless Statements

If you haven’t already done so, ask to receive paperless statements and bills from your service providers. Many financial institutions now offer paperless credit card, investment, mortgage, loan, and line of credit statements. Utility and telecommunication companies similarly send bills and usage statements through email.

8. Say No to Disposable Beverage Containers

Another easy way to start working towards a zero-waste home is to avoid buying drinks in disposable plastic or Styrofoam containers. Instead, choose reusable water bottles for cold drinks or travel mugs for hot beverages.

Reduce Household Waste with Reusable Water Bottles

9. Bring Your Own Reusable “Doggy Bags” for Restaurant Leftovers

Enjoy a dinner out but couldn’t finish your meal? Many restaurants still offer to package up your leftovers in Styrofoam containers so you can enjoy the rest of your meal at home. To avoid accumulating more trash, bring along a reusable plastic or glass container to store your leftovers until you’re ready to eat the rest of your meal.

10. Donate or Exchange Unused (or Gently Used) Clothing and Household Goods

Whether you’re downsizing or doing a big spring clean, hold off from tossing your unwanted clothing or household goods. If they’re unused or still in good shape, you can donate them to a local charity. For example, you could drop them off at a thrift shop, such as the Salvation Army or a Goodwill store, or offer them for free through a local “swap-n-shop” or Freecycle. If you’ve recently retired, you could even consider donating your gently used professional clothing to a nation-wide charitable organization, such as Dress for Success.

11. Compost Your Scraps

According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, Americans waste between 30% and 40% of food – an incredible number with lots of room for improvement.

Instead of throwing your coffee grounds, eggshells, and vegetable peelings into the trash, consider composting them. It’ll help you take big strides toward your goal of becoming a zero-waste household. Plus, you can use the resulting soil in your backyard garden. If you don’t garden, check with your regional waste-management facility to see if you can contribute your compost to a local community center.

Keep Your Zero-Waste Journey Simple and Gradual

Don’t make trash reduction at home complicated. Instead, focus on small changes and quick wins that are relatively painless. Start by giving up single-use plastics or increasing the number of reusable products if your home. Then replace paper products with cloth, where possible. Eventually, those small changes will add up to dramatic waste reduction.

Going zero-waste should be sustainable for your family. If you suspect your spouse, or another household member, might balk at a waste-reduction tip, choose a less drastic one to focus on at first. You don’t need to “do it all” in one day. Introduce the changes gradually — just one or two each week, or even month, based on your family’s comfort.

And don’t feel bad if you fall short of a true zero-waste household. One mason jar of waste per year is a lofty goal. Instead, compare yourself to the millions of Americans who produce tons of trash (literally). Remind yourself how far you’ve come.

Have you found any tricks that could help readers adopt a zero-waste lifestyle? Share your top tips for reducing household waste in the comments below!

26 Responses to "11 Simple Tips to Reduce Your Household Waste"
    • Mr Leslie Lawton | April 30, 2021 at 2:10 pm

      This has to do with litter. I don’t know why car manufactures did away with ash trays in vehicles. I get sick in tired of seeing all the cigarette litter in the roads. I believe people the smoke should be prompted to buy ash trays for their vehicles. Ash trays for vehicles should be sold at all stores that sell tobacco products.

    • Thomas Napier | April 29, 2021 at 5:54 pm

      Go Green save our planet!

    • Dee | April 25, 2021 at 8:00 am

      I leave the To Go plasticware at the Restaurant.
      Use To Go Food plastic containers for storage for small items like hair accessories, office supplies , sewing notions, other dodads. They stack well and save space.
      Donated same to local teachers teacher to store school supplies

    • Cyd D | April 24, 2021 at 5:33 pm

      My recycling service no longer accepts GLASS jars, so I wash them out & reuse them as storage containers for things like – – – saved seeds wrapped in tissue; buttons, ribbons, other small things I use when crafting; different sizes, heads, types of nails, screws, gaskets, o-rings, etc.; to label & use for my homemade sweet BBQ, or other sauces.

      I also repurpose margarine containers & plastic food trays to use to start seeds in each year instead of buying an expensive seed starting kit. Just poke some holes in the bottom of the containers, fill with your own mixture of seed starting material & set on the food trays in a sunny spot so the water that leaks out of the holes is captured.

      Since I’m packing up to move, I’ve been saving egg cartons & using the plastic produce bags to stuff with shredded papers from cleaning out old files, so I can use both of these as protective stuffing to protect breakable items in boxes, without adding much weight. I’ve also been keeping a bag of old clothing that is too worn out to donate to also use to wrap items to protect them as I pack them.

      Any clothes that don’t fit, or I haven’t worn, are being donated after I wash them. (Since I’m moving from a warmer climate to a colder one, there are a few items that I haven’t worn down here that I am packing, because I will need more layers to wear in the colder climate + snow boots & long underwear & socks.)

      As someone who lives alone I usually have leftovers. I freeze extra soups, stews, etc. in Tupperware squares; wrap extra cake, cookies, brownies, muffins, etc. in wax paper, then re-use zip-lock bags as an outer protection before freezing.

      I buy non-perishable items in bulk – paper products, rice, canned & multi-packs of food, etc. & have been changing over to homemade products for cleaning & laundry. I do use more fabric towels, clothes & napkins than paper ones. A 2 pack of paper towels can last me a year. (There are a few things they just work better on.)

      Currently I fill 1 kitchen garbage bag about 3/4 full every other week & put out recycled items every other month. I’ve been lobbying my trash company to give me a discount because compared to other households around me, I only give them 1/4 the waste.

      • Jane Miller | February 19, 2022 at 12:39 pm

        Good luck getting your trash hauling company to reduce your bill, although it’s terribly unfair you must pay the same as others who put out multiple bags weekly. I canceled my pickup service since my neighbor has a dumpster and agreed to let me use it because I don’t generate much trash.

        As for wax paper, it’s coated in toxic PFAs, so I’d recommend against using it whenever possible. I don’t understand why those food items you wrap can’t go into the ziplocks unwrapped.

        I use glass jars to freeze leftovers. No plastic leeching into the food, and they rarely break if you don’t overfill them.

      • Joanne M Pinette | February 20, 2022 at 1:57 pm

        Use reusable straws like aluminum for drinks from restaurants or at home. NEVER take straws from restaurants.

        Our landfill is only 2 miles from our house so I go every 6 trash bags of garbage there – the cost for homeowners is $1.50 a bag so I spend $9 for 6 bags of trash. I also bring my recycling there and they have compost containers for you to dump yours into. GREAT service. When we had trash pickup I hardly ever put my containers out for pickup AND I was paying a lot for the service. End of story for me.

    • Sherleen Rainwater | April 24, 2021 at 5:24 pm

      I love this site! I’ll start today towards my 0 waste life style!

    • Al Schrader | April 24, 2021 at 4:35 pm

      When you drive down the average middle class American neighborhood on trash day typically there are two or three stuffed-full trash cans on the curb. Those people paid for every piece of that trash including the Glad trash bags themselves. They are literally throwing their money into the garbage. It takes 5 minutes to do a trash audit. Before you buy anything, think about how much of your purchase price is going towards the packaging.

    • Diane Lynn Gerino | April 24, 2021 at 12:59 pm

      I haven’t bought garbage bags in many years: I use grocery bags for garbage therefore they are reused. I rip off a small portion of paper towel to use and if only wet, let it dry and reuse. Question though: all that cloth use for paper towels, grocery bags, etc. doesn’t that make more laundry and therefore using more water, electricity, detergent, etc. not to mention more work??

      • Donna Brooks | April 26, 2021 at 6:28 pm

        I re-use my paper towels as well. I let them dry, store in a plastic bag snd then use for waxing furniture, cleaning my patio furniture, etc.

    • Rebecca Stockton | April 24, 2021 at 12:23 pm

      I store my leftovers in the glass cereal/mixing bowls in my cabinet. Instead of using foil or wrap to cover them I use a saucer or plate of corresponding sizes to cover them. This allows me to stack them in the fridge. This saucer then stops the splatters when they go into the microwave. Hint sometimes you can stack them in the microwave too.

    • shirley anne watters | April 24, 2021 at 11:57 am

      I purchase food items that come in glass or cardboard containers, avoiding plastic whenever possible.

    • 1 Caylor | April 24, 2021 at 11:53 am

      Sandwich bags, wrappers for toilet paper and paper towels are recyclable at many grocery stores. Hardware stores recycle batteries and drugstores dispose of old medicines safely. I rip off the labels to protect our identity and drop off the old meds when I pick up my refills. I use aluminum foil very seldom but when I must I fold it clean and dry with my other wrappers and reuse it several times until it’s worn out before discarding it. Foil isn’t recyclable in our area.

      • Jay Ceeley | February 19, 2022 at 7:18 pm

        You can also use your well-used foil wrap to sharpen scissors. Fold it in half and then make tin cut cuts through it with the scissors. This will sharpen the blade economically.

    • Shirley Chapman | April 24, 2021 at 11:34 am

      We support this wholeheartedly. Committing to making Go Green

    • George | April 24, 2021 at 10:28 am

      Climate, Climate and Climate. Medicare for ALL!!!!

    • Gail Kempney | April 24, 2021 at 10:10 am

      Our garage is attached and there is room right out the kitchen door for recycle bins: paper, metal, glass, plastic and nickel cans bottles. We rinse it all first so we do not have bugs.

    • Anna Gunn | April 24, 2021 at 8:53 am

      Prior to moving to a condo , I lived on 5 acres mostly woods and natural forest I would take my veggie peals and anything without oil in or on it and put them in the woods for all the small animals I had lots of little wild friends Also the animals didn’t eat my garden or flowers

    • James Flanagan | April 23, 2021 at 6:59 pm

      Great list of 11 ways to have less to recycle. Thank you.

    • Sharon Daniels | April 23, 2021 at 3:47 pm

      Any one have a GOOD suggestion for getting those Kurig style coffee pods open? And do coffee filters for drip machines compost well.

      All the fabric scans I get from cutting quilt pieces go into shopping bags. I shred them up small by hand and make dog and cat pads for the local shelter. Its amazing how much fabric you collect.

      • Al Schrader | April 26, 2021 at 4:22 am

        Use the machine itself to open them or instead use instant coffee crystals – the secret to great coffee is to add a dash of salt to the pot. Re-use plastic shopping bags. Place a small rug on top of your fridge to improve its efficiency, Install insulating drapes on your windows instead of vertical blinds, change the bulbs in your fridge to cooler LEDs, place blocks of styro foam in your fridge crisper drawers when they not being used, turn in earlier to reduce energy usage.

      • Jane Miller | February 19, 2022 at 12:43 pm

        Heating those plastic Kurig pods while making coffee releases toxic plastic into your daily coffee. Kudos to you on recycling the fabric scraps. I often use them for rags or donate them to crafters.

      • Jane Miller | February 19, 2022 at 12:45 pm

        This reply is for Al who replied. Styrofoam emits toxic fumes throughout its entire life (which is likely more years than you could fathom). I recommend throwing it out. I certainly wouldn’t want it in my fridge, emitting toxins into all the food.

    • KIM MCPHERSON | April 22, 2021 at 10:51 am

      When toilet paper was scarce, we bought a bidet attachment and baby wash cloths. The bidet cleans the, ah, waste from your body and the soft cloths dry you off. Then we launder the cloths with our regular laundry.
      Also, stop buying those huge plastic containers of laundry detergent and fabric softener. We now use TruEarth laundry strips -the package is a simple paper that can be recycled and we bought the wool balls to put into the dryer instead of fabric softener-our drying time is much less, too. Finally, you can wash those zip lock bags (by hand) and use them over and over again. Foil can be recycled if it’s clean, but pack several pieces into a ball so that the recycling machines don’t mistake it for paper.

      • Extra Mile Staff | April 22, 2021 at 10:56 am

        Great suggestions!

      • Jane Miller | February 19, 2022 at 12:46 pm also sells laundry strips, plus shampoo strips and loads of other plastic free consumables.

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