“Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Do without.” This catchy mantra, once so in vogue, has lost some of its luster as of late. On-the-go lifestyles just don’t seem compatible with mending, reusing, or skipping the “Grab and Go” grocery aisle, am I right?
But the environmental cost of convenience is high — the first plastic straw ever used is still out there, protected by its chemical properties from decomposing. The personal cost is high, too. How many click-through subscriptions are you being charged for each month? How long does it take to find things amid the clutter? Many time-and-eco-friendly changes are easy to make without major lifestyle shifts.
To make it simple for you, we’ve found six of the easiest ways to reduce waste. Think you can implement just one? The planet, your wallet, and your sanity will thank you.
1. Cut down on (or eliminate) single-use plastics.
Plastic is made from non-renewable petroleum resources, and it’s not biodegradable — it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. With almost a century’s worth of use behind us, we’re well on our way to a plastic takeover.
When shopping, bring your own reusable bags from home. Look for loose food items at farmer’s markets or bulk bins at stores (such as berries or nuts) that can be parceled into your own reusable containers. Out at a restaurant? Skip that straw.
And the same goes for single-use water bottles. Those eight recommended glasses per day are equally good for you coming from the same, washable water bottle.
2. Cancel unused subscriptions — both electronic and paper.
It’s so easy to tap, click, and electronically sign; faster than you can say, “monthly fee,” you’re on the hook for what could be years’ worth of inbox material that starts out as relevant, but soon becomes dreaded e-clutter.
Every few months, go through your electronic newsletters, podcasts, blogs, and other media and unsubscribe from all but the ones you’re really using. You may be surprised by how much you save in time and money.
If you’re getting paper copies, strategic unsubscribing can reduce household clutter, as well.
3. Reduce food waste.
We know, it’s easier said than done. But careful buying habits, as well as enjoying leftovers, are keys to a smaller contribution to the 34 million tons of waste we sent to landfills, at least according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2009.
Make a meal plan and stick to it while shopping. Cook from your plan to avoid waste and incidental grocery runs. Monitor the fridge to see what’s being pushed to the back. Pack lunches to use leftovers and save money.
4. Repair before you discard.
How many ripped seams have you sewn back lately? Me, either.
However, buying items of better quality and trying to repair them instead of tossing them and ordering new ones can save not just money, but time and energy scrolling, ordering, and waiting.
Many local businesses offer repair services, and online options such as YouTube and Repair Clinic put thousands of experts at your service with how-to videos for fixing everything from clothes to cars. Your item’s manufacturer likely offers troubleshooting help toll-free or online.
Or, consider donating them to a local organization that accepts gently worn items. Recycling clothes is a thing, too, and helps support small businesses.
5. Start composting.
Every day, almost half of the food waste you’ve created could be returned to the earth as nutrient-dense compost, according to the USDA. That’s a lot of fertilizer, especially if you have houseplants that need a little TLC.
Here’s one method: Keep a small container on the counter near the sink or right outside the front door. When preparing meals, put scraps (fruit and veggies; no meat, dairy or fats, such as butter) in the container instead of the trash. When the container’s full, take it outside to your backyard compost bin, tumbler, or woods. Every time you put food scraps in, add a layer of carbon — think of brown things, such as straw, cardboard, newspaper, and brown leaves — to the top. Every two weeks, mix it up. The compost should be moist, but not wet, and should not smell.
Be patient. It takes time for food to become soil, but when it does, your houseplants will be happy.
6. Stay organized.
Wasted time and space count, too; not only do they drain your energy, they’re financial and health liabilities. Think of the tension of waiting in a long line when you could’ve made a reservation.
Keep to-do lists, plan driving routes that include stops you need to make, and prioritize your day so that the most important things get the most time. As for the “stuff,” de-clutter like Marie Kondo, and you’ll probably find those missing earrings.