25 October 2011

The three “R”s in Reducing Household Waste

Reducing your carbon footprint starts with reducing your trash. It is undoubtedly the most effective practical step to sustainability. And it is even better than reusing because it requires fewer resources for production. By deliberately minimizing your household waste you help decrease the waste problem at its core. The thought that the amount of disposable cups, forks, and spoons thrown away in the US in a year will be enough to circle the equator 300 times sends shivers down my spine.

Image by barnetcouncil

But there is something everyone can do to change the situation. You can start minimizing your household waste by applying the three “R”s of the ‘waste minimisation hierarchy’ each day:

Think about what items you can live without. Define your wants and separate them from your needs; then get rid of the wants. Buy only what you need. 
  • Don't get tempted by bulk price offers, think instead of whether you will actually make use of the quantities you buy before their expiration date.
  • Prefer to use long-lasting quality products that will last a lifetime.
  • Avoid disposable items and prolong the life of broken objects by mending them.
  • Reduce the amount of packaging you buy, concentrate on products with recyclable packaging.
  • Buy refills and use the containers you already have.
  • Sabotage the plastic bag - take your own canvas bag from home. If you are crafty you can even crochet one out of repurposed old fabric!
  • Forget about the paper or plastic utensils and cutlery - use ceramic mugs, cloth napkins, china plates and stainless steel/silverware. In some coffee shops you even get a discount if you take your own thermos or mug to pour your morning coffee in.

There are many items found around the home that can be reused for different purposes. If you can reuse an item yourself, instead of sending it to be recycled, you will save energy, fuel and time. So before you throw anything away, think about how it can be put to use again.
  • Instead of buying new gift wraps every time, keep the packaging of the gifts you receive and later reuse it for other gifts.
  • Donate your clothes that are in good condition to charities, or to people in need you might know. The rest you can use for rags.
  • Use old toothbrushes and other brushes to clean hard to reach areas like around the sink, the drains, faucets or the bathroom tiles.
  • Reuse any containers such as glass jars or plastic boxes to store craft supplies, small toys, nails and screws, or any other small items.
  • Take your lunch to work in reusable containers rather than paper or plastic bags.
  • Use the blank sides of used paper for scratch paper, or cut it in rectangular pieces for memos.
  • Reuse your dinner leftovers by feeding your dog with what is appropriate. 
  • Reuse foodscraps by composting them.
  • Reuse stale bread and give it to the birds.

According to the EPA, the US recycling rate is a mere 30%. Increasing the recycling in the US to 60% could save the equivalent of 315 million barrels of oil per year. To encourage yourself and your family for recycling you can keep recycling waste containers in easy to reach places in your house and sort trash straight away - it is easier to organize recyclable items in a separate container than it is to go through the trash later. 
  • Prepare the items you have at home for recycling - rinse tins, plastics and glass when you’ve finished washing the dishes. Sort your recycling straight after rinsing.
  • If you use plastic grocery bags, take them back to the store to be recycled.
  • Recycle at home – use your scrapfood and leftovers to compost. 
  • Make use of the leaves and grass in your yard – they generate more greenhouse gas in a landfill than in compost piles or bins.
  • Buy recycled goods – find recycled content products, such as stationery, scratch pads, business cards, paper towels, toilet paper, facial tissue, clothes, accessories and toys.

As Art Markman, Ph.D. says, "habits are incredibly powerful - they lead people to act mindlessly, even when they shouldn't. We like to think we have control over our own behavior and yet, our habits have a huge influence on the way we act.  In general, we like to do what we did last time." In that context, it is worth making reducing, reusing and recycling a habit. Only then will you be really successful because it will have become part of your natural behavior.

What are the steps you are taking to reduce your household waste?


  1. Love this post Sonya:) Wish more people would live this lifestyle of recycling. I am always looking for ways to recycle:):), even with my jewelry, crafts, etc. And with handyman hubby around, he can fix just about anything:)

  2. Great post Sonya!

    I try and be conscious of all the things we can do, but it's always good to have a reminder!!

    In our area, plastic bags have actually been taken out of the grocery stores, so you bring your bags...I did before they put the ban in place, but it's nice to see more people doing it now.

  3. Great post! I have always wished that we could bring our own containers to the supermarket. There is so much waste in the packaging!

  4. I love all the ideas you wrote about. Some were new to me, so I'll have to think about them more, some I already do and am teaching my kids to do. One of my son's jobs is to put out the compost, he's 5 and already knows we recycle and compost. Thanks for the new ideas!

  5. Great post, Sonya! I already do most of this stuff, but it's good to have a reminder. Also, sometimes local govts just have to push people a bit to be more eco-friendly. For example, in DC (for the past couple of years) all grocery stores charge 5 cents for each plastic disposable bag, therefore, encouraging people to bring their own bags. This is perhaps the easiest change to make, yet a lot of people didn't start doing it until it became a financial decision. 5 cents isn't much, but it did make people stop and think. Actually, the biggest complaint was that people said they wouldn't have anything to pick up their dogs poop with! Haha. So I guess people have had to start buying proper doggy poop bags, which they probably should've already been doing. :)

  6. I absolutely looooove this list! Bookmarking it for reference.

    We already do a lot of them: re-using tissue paper and bags for future gifts, recycling the usual suspects (glass, paper, cans, plastic), buying the appropriate amount of food, taking our own bags to the grocery store, donating old clothing and items...

  7. I love using cloth napkins. Why use white patterned paper towels, when bright patterned cloth napkins are so much cooler?

  8. Of course Recycling should eb so normal that there will be no necessity to write about it.We all know that is not the case and people often call me green freak>I don't care I know I am doing the right thing and that is my contribution to this future's planet my kids will live on..after me

  9. Great post! I would add "Stay organized". I hate when I misplace something, replace it, then find it again later.

  10. This is a very good reminder for all of us! I don't do everything you mentioned but I do a lot of it!

  11. Another wonderfully laid out and incredibly important post on sustainability! I think reducing and reusing are the most crucial of the three. I'm glad you touched on them so well. You rock lady!


  12. Thank you. ladies for such precious input! To re-phrase Debbie's interview earlier this week: to be really and truly environmentally engaged you should recycle and reuse out of common sense.

    Mary, I doubt that the people who stopped buying plastic bags because they were being charged ever recycle deliberately but still, this is a kind of solution.

    Sedie, way to go girl! It is so inspirational to know someone like you who is efficiently educating their offspring!

    Dzoli, i also know many people who simply don't grasp why they could be sustainable, so I can understand how you feel!

    AsteropeBC, you are right about being organized reducing overconsumption!

  13. We try to be good about recycling and fortunately, in our area, many do.

  14. You should see the heaps of gift wrap I've kept over the years, from gifts given to me!
    I tend to reuse and see alternative possibilites for most household objects. It's just the way we were taught in Cuba, my homeland, and old habits die hard!

  15. Weird Amiga, I am especially fond of this reusing practice as well! I have a dedicated drawer for all of my gift wraps and sometimes even frame them.

  16. Great list of tips and ideas. I am glad to know that I am trying to do my part, my family and I already do a lot of the suggestions on all the lists.
    Everyday Inspired

  17. Great tips! If everyone lived by the three R's, the world would be soo much better off.

    Another good idea for gift-wrapping is using old comics! My grampa gives us the comics from the daily paper when he's done with them, and Mom uses them to wrap birthday and Christmas gifts. It's fun, because you can occupy yourself with reading the comics before you open your gift! ;)

  18. Taylor, that is a fun idea indeed!