Reducing Waste: A Visual Guide
October 1, 2018
For the last several years, I have been trying to reduce the clutter and waste in my life. I have realized that not everyone may be aware of the many easy ways there are to do this, or that there are other folks out there trying to do the same thing. So here is my take on all those “ten tips to reduce waste!” videos, illustrated with my own stuff.
Kitchen / Dining:
Let’s be honest - I eat a lot of takeout, and I like food, a lot. So probably the area where I have the most trash is meal prep and dining. To that end, here are all the things I use to help me cut back on the stuff I throw away:
- Reusable water bottles - never take a free water bottle! Since I discovered the half-size water bottles, I am now much more likely to carry one around. If you too can never finish an entire liter of water in an afternoon, I highly recommend the 500ml size, which fits more easily in a bag anyway.
- Tupperware - the obvious. The less obvious is that we’ve started bringing them with us to restaurants. I am still getting used to this, but so far, no one has said anything or given us any weird looks when we bust out our own containers to take our leftovers with us. We haven’t tried this at any very nice restaurants, though. Your mileage may vary. But takeout containers are one of the top items I’d like to throw out less often, so bringing our own containers is a big way to help with that.
- Glass jars - ditto to the above. And besides, when you use Mason jars for all your stuff, it can fool your friends into thinking that have all your stuff together.
- Beeswax wrap - I’ve only recently started using this, but I like it so far. The wrap sticks to itself when you warm it with your hands, so it works (mostly) like plastic wrap. This reduces the need for plastic bags and plastic wrap, for covering bowls, wrapping up a sandwich, etc.
- Lunch box, ice packs - should be obvious
- Picnic gear - For picnics, we have cheap metal silverware, wooden chopsticks, a picnic knife (with a knife sheath), cheap IKEA dish towels, and metal straws. I actually really like the metal straws for smoothies and mango lassi, and they’re just fun to have!
- Shopping bags - Not just the big ones for all your stuff, but the little produce bags, are very useful. We buy lots of produce and I re-use the plastic produce bags for temporarily storing compost, but I’d rather not have to use the plastic bags at all (which are ultimately thrown away), so I try to use mesh produce bags instead. These ones have not held up particularly well, so I may switch to cotton canvas bags soon. The little rolled-up brown bag is the one I keep in my purse so I always have a shopping bag handy.
- Silpat - Not only can you avoid using parchment paper with this (or, alternatively, constantly oiling your sheet pans, or having everything stick to the pan), these are amazingly good for baking. I still end up using parchment paper for some things, like when I need a sheet cut to fit inside a cake pan, but this fiberglass mat significantly reduces the need for parchment or cooking spray for most things you bake on a sheet pan.
To cut down on disposables in the bath, I have switched to using a safety razor (standard razor blades are super cheap and recyclable), bar soap (less packaging), and bamboo toothbrush and hairbrush (the handles are compostable). We also use a glass soap dispenser with refills, which use less packaging than single-use plastic dispensers, and refill our cleaning spray bottle with white vinegar (diluted some with water). This works fine for general cleaning.
My biggest source of cutting down on trash is just reducing the number of products I use in the bath, in general. This, of course, isn’t possible for everyone. But for cleaning/showering, I now only use a bar of soap, a bottle of shampoo, toothpaste, and the safety razor; and for cosmetics, I have a moisturizer / sunscreen in one, a tinted face powder, deodorant, and a general body lotion. That’s it. I still haven’t made the leap to make-your-own deodorant (seems risky…) or to stopping the use of shampoo (seems actually more annoying than using shampoo). I did test out a couple different shampoo bars, with the thought that I might consolidate shampoo and soap into one product, but it didn’t work that well and was more expensive than just buying regular soap and shampoo. But it’s great for traveling!
In short: If you’re trying to reduce your waste, you’re not alone. It can be challenging to remember to bring my own containers and bags all the time, but keeping them in the car or at my desk at work helps me remember. Of course, doing all little stuff this isn’t enough to forestall catastrophic climate change – it takes a lot more than this – but if it prevents me from having to take an extra trip downstairs to empty the trash, that’s a good enough reason for me. And, the way I see it, reducing my waste certainly can’t hurt when it comes to climate change.
(And if you are looking for some things you can do as an individual to fight climate change? Check out the link above, and also this one: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-you-can-help-fight-climate-change)