5 Practical Ways to Reduce Waste

“Live simply so others may simply live” - Mahatma Gandhi

At the peak of my work stress I was dining out 5-8 times a week. I was also purchasing expensive clothing, appliances, furniture, and nick knacks to fill my apartment and spare time. With each purchase came a large amount of waste. It was an attempt to manage stress while grasping for peace of mind, though in vain.

Within the first 3 months I packed on 20 pounds, spent around $50-60 each outing, and tossed 4 loads of garbage each week. After noticing I had put on weight and that I hadn't saved any money I decided to make a change.

Living Lite* Without the Guilt

We live in a globalized economy with a culture geared towards quantity. Considering 7 billion people share this planet, rethinking how we scale our lives in no longer a convenience for yuppies and hippies, but rather essential for our survival. While “carbon footprint”, “green living” and “eco-friendly” have become taglines for the age of Whole Foods marketing, ethics are not the only reason to reduce waste. Guilt, while motivating, isn't conducive to a healthy life and generally puts us off when presented with a choice.

Instead, here are a five practical and personally beneficial ways to reduce waste that will, in turn, help our neighbors and preserve the planet for the next generation.

1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Predictable, right? Though recycling is a common practice for environmentalists, it’s practicality and cost effectiveness are less noted. I shied away from recycling after graduating college because of it’s hippie undertones and lack of convenience. It wasn't until I noticed a recycling bin in my parent’s garage (who are far from hippies) that I realized my reluctance was unjustified.

Most cities have recycling programs that cost from $5-10 per month to pick up unsorted recycling curbside. If you live in an apartment, look into local drop off spots instead. Start by setting up a designated recycling spot in your home. I sort plastic, glass and metal in one bin and loose papers and cardboard in a paper bag. My actual garbage is used for compost, such as food scraps, that I take out once every two weeks. While the initial organization takes some getting used to, after a week it’ll become second nature.

Reducing and reusing are also useful ways to limit waste. Buying biodegradable packaging, avoiding plastic bags when shopping for veggies and using nylon grocery bags will reduce the amount of waste recycled as well as clear up space in your home. Many supermarkets offer reusable nylon shopping bags for around $1 each. If you’re artistic, turn old bottles into chandeliers or flower vases!

2. Buy Local

“Think globally, act locally” has become a bumper sticker cliche. However, there is validity to it. How we spend our money is how we vote on what’s valuable. Supporting local businesses and farmers keeps the money within the immediate community. Buying local produce and meat not only stimulates local economies, it also reduces waste and energy needed to package and transport items. Farmer’s markets are a great way to find the freshest food in your area, however, big chain supermarkets have begun to stock local produce as well.

Even on cooking shows, such as Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsey, local resources are are esteemed because they warrant fresher, more flavorful cooking. My hometown of Metro Detroit has seen a renaissance in locally grown produce, farmed using the once abandoned lots of the inner city. Growing our own food, space permitting, is another tasty and cost effective way to eat healthy on a budget. Both options are fun and a great way to get exercise and explore your community.

3. Dine-In

Food can be quite the temptress. In America, cheap, tasty food is available on every corner. However, we're exchanging convenience for our health, money and a great deal of waste. In the US we waste $150 billion in food alone. Not to mention the packaging, fuel and cooking materials needed to serve, transport and prepare the food.

Dining-in may appear mundane and repetitive on the surface. However, it can be fertile ground for learning and allows us to save money that can be spent on hobbies and travel. If you’re not familiar with how to cook, deciding to dine in provides an area for growth. Sign up for a cooking class or look up recipes online to expand your repertoire. Start simple and build from there. I recommend stir frys and pastas for beginners. They’re easy, healthy and customizable.

One of life’s greatest joys is cooking a tasty, homemade meal to share with friends and family. Hosting dinner parties and game nights can help reduce restaurant and bar costs by ⅔ and still provide a great time. Invest in a wine or liquor cabinet that functions as a bar to add ambiance.

4. Thrift

Second-hand stores have been popping up on every corner over the last few years. Thrifting has become less of an embarrassing secret and more of a hobby. I can’t count the amount of times I've heard the phrase ”can you believe I found this for only $7!?” This may be old news, but thrifting provides a great way to live lite while reducing waste. If you’re name brand person, shopping at thrift stores near high income areas warrants the highest volume of name brand and high quality clothing.

This principle also applies to furniture and appliances. Since technology changes at such a rapid pace, last year’s hot items can be found a third of the price at thrift stores or online. Ebay and Amazon are obvious choices, but pawn shops and thrift stores have their gems as well. Not to mention the feeling of accomplishment when finding a deal!

5. Use Homemade Cleaning Agents

It is amazing how many products in our home can serve functions we hadn't considered. Basic items such as bleach, baking soda, lemon juice and vinegar can clean almost any surface. Mixing any of these products with water (usually 1 part cleaning agent 5 part water) will clear away mold and mildew, brighten glassware and porcelain, polish furniture and sanitize trash cans and surfaces. In addition, they’re cheap!

If you’re environmentally conscious, using these products will also help reduce damage to ecosystems and biodegrade quicker. There are also “green” products available at health food stores. Be sure to check the label for ingredients. Like with food, the less ingredients, the better.

When reducing waste, it’s important to also consider intangible resources wasted, such as time and effort. Purchasing low quality items usually result in a shorter lifespan. Making costlier purchases on the front end reduces waste on the back end. You also end up with nicer products, which is really an end in itself.

A lot of the time we become caught up in the marketing of products and how they affect our image: both positively and negatively. Finding practical reasons that suit your own outlook on life will help motivate and sustain habits. Part of Living Lite* is clearing out the rubbish to create breathing room, only in this case it’s literal.

Photo by Krixter