Trash is only one of the problems facing our planet. With landfills growing in size, movements like the zero waste movement attempt to tackle the growing problem. Here are 34 ways you, too, can reduce your waste for free or cheap.
1. Don’t buy/use unnecessary disposables.
Paper plates, cups, plastic cutlery, solo cups, and other disposables may be convenient, but they are both a waste of money and bad for the planet. Washing dishes after a party may be a pain, but the planet and your wallet will thank you.
2. Pass on take-out food, going out for coffee, etc.
By avoiding going out for food or coffee you’ll skip the plastic altogether. In addition, you’ll save money as it’s almost always cheaper to cook food for yourself. By avoiding take-out you’ll also help your health if you opt for healthy meals at home instead.
3. Bring your own lunch in reusable containers instead of eating out.
When you’re at work in a business park or on campus, it’s hard to resist the temptation to eat out. Surrounded by easy food options, it’s tempting to save time in the morning and just buy food. But you’ll save money in the long run by making your own lunch, and as a bonus, you’ll avoid the garbage associated with it.
4. Skip the straw, lid, and cardboard sleeve when possible.
If you can’t resist that to-go coffee, skip the straw. If it’s not too hot, pass on the cardboard sleeve, too. Better yet, pass on the lid too!
5. Bring reusable cutlery if you know you’ll be going somewhere which uses disposable cutlery.
There are small travel cutlery sets available if you frequent restaurants like this, or you can just wrap ordinary cutlery in a napkin.
6. Can’t pass up the take out? Know you’re going out? Bring your own container.
If you know you’ll be eating out, bring Tupperware with you for the leftovers to avoid Styrofoam containers. There are even collapsible containers that will fit nicely in a bag without taking too much room!
7. Save and actually eat your leftovers.
Now that you’ve got your leftovers in your Tupperware, don’t forget to eat them!
8. Plan meals to avoid food waste and ensure you use up leftovers.
One way to ensure you don’t forget about those dinner leftovers is to plan your meals. Meal planning can also save you money, as you avoid ingredients spoiling in your fridge.
9. Switch to online billing and statements.
Avoid emissions associated with shipping your bills and statements and save some paper by switching to online billing from utility and phone companies and online bank statements.
10. Unsubscribe from all spam mail that you can.
Stop spam mail from the source! By opting out, you again can avoid the shipping of these ads and save the paper used to make them. Often the ads I got were printed on non-recyclable paper, too.
11. Cancel magazine subscriptions or switch to online subscriptions
If you read magazines, consider switching from delivered editions to online subscriptions–or foregoing magazines altogether to save some money.
12. Print double-sided.
This is a pretty simple thing, and yet sometimes we forget. Printing double-sided can save a lot of paper, especially if you’re in school and you frequently print. Consider asking professors for permission to print double-sided if they don’t allow it.
This is a pretty simple thing that many of us already do. However, people often make mistakes when recycling. You should look through your local recycling website to find what you can and can’t recycle locally. For example, my local recycling facility doesn’t accept cardboard boxes from frozen food because of the risk of grease. A common mistake is people recycling pizza boxes, which are not recyclable because of the grease. You can recycle any parts of the pizza boxes that do not have grease with them.
14. Compost Food Waste
What you can do with greasy cardboard is compost it, along with any food waste–from apple cores to that salad you let sit a little too long. Make sure you know what you can and can’t recycle in your setup. Depending on your setup, you may not be able to compost things like meat and dairy. There are tons of nice composters that will fit easily on an apartment balcony.
15. If you smoke, use a proper receptacle for your cigarette butts.
Cigarette butts can leech harmful chemicals into the ground, so please don’t toss them into the dirt as so many do.
16. Scoop your dog or cat’s poop outside.
Aside from being a good service to your neighbors’ shoes, dog and cat poop can run into water puddles, and if carrying harmful organisms may spread the disease to other animals. Additionally, it can run into rivers and into oceans, harming underwater life. Although you may think of dog poop as fertilizer, it can actually harm grasses and plants.
17. Bring in printer ink cartridges for refilling, or recycle them properly.
If you can’t have your printer ink cartridges refilled–some stores offer this service–you can fill them yourself. Alternatively, you can recycle them at a center near you.
18. Bring egg/berry cartons back to farmers for reuse.
If you buy eggs or berries from local farmers, they may accept the cartons back for reuse.
19. Donate things instead of throwing them away.
You can donate to charity shops, use buy and sell groups, or offer things up on craigslist and similar services to get rid of things without wasting them.
20. Pick up trash.
Pick up trash on your walks, or go on walks specifically to pick up garbage.
21. Reuse one-sided paper.
Print only one side of a paper? Save it to use for a grocery list, note, or a letter.
22. Reuse jars.
You can reuse pasta jars and such to hold bulk foods or dry recipes. I use a pasta jar to hold my hot chocolate mix.
23. If you get a plastic bag, use it to pick up trash.
I realize this is similar to picking up trash, but it’s a different, small rule I set for myself. No one is perfect, and I often end up with little plastic bags when I’m caught without my reusable bag. My rule is that if I end up with a bag, I need to reuse it for something. For small bags, I’ll either use them for a few days of cat poop scooping or to pick up litter on my walk to campus.
24. Buy or make bulk bags.
Buying in bulk can often save money, but provided bags are often plastic. By using reusable bulk bags, you can avoid the plastic. There are many available for purchase, but they are also very easy to make out of spare cloth.
25. Buy or make a cloth sponge.
By using a cloth sponge, you’ll be able to reuse the sponge for much longer than typical sponges as you can wash them easily. There are many available for purchase, and they can also be made.
26. Buy or make cloth diapers.
Typical diapers create tons of landfill waste. Even if you don’t always use cloth diapers, using them in addition to traditional diapers can help cut down on your contribution to the landfill. There are tons available for purchase, or they can be made.
27. Buy or make a reusable shopping bag.
Using reusable shopping bags is one of those simple ways to avoid plastic that’s super helpful, but also easy to forget. Small, fold-able bags that can fit in your purse can help with unplanned purchases. For weekly grocery runs, I use a large tote bag that I thrifted. There are many reusable shopping bags available for purchase, or you can make them.
28. Buy or make reusable personal health products.
It’s easiest to combine this one because there are so many options. You can buy or make reusable menstruation products, cloth makeup pads, handkerchiefs, and rags to replace whatever single-use products are involved in your routine.
29. Invest in a reusable coffee filter.
30. Buy a reusable water bottle.
This is another thing that is super simple, but easy to forget. Buying and using a reusable water bottle is a great way to help the planet.
31. Consider switching to a safety razor.
Aside from avoiding plastic, safety razor blades are often much, much cheaper than typical razor blades. The blades are usually universal, which means you can shop around for the best deals as well.
32. Buy bamboo or recycled toilet paper.
33. Buy recycled printing paper.
Instead of buying new printing paper, opt for recycled paper. Chances are, you won’t even notice the difference.
34. Buy printing ink in refilled cartridges rather than new ones.
Sometimes looking at the waste issue in the world can feel overwhelming. Looking at everything we can do to help can help mitigate the problem can help that feel less intimidating. How do you reduce waste in your life?
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