Tips and Tricks for Reducing Personal Waste

How to make simple and strategic steps to living a more sustainable lifestyle.

Our garbage cans are stinking up more than just our kitchens; they’re smelling up our conscience.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency reported that in 2013, the U.S. produced 250 million tons of waste, with about 150 million tons sent to sit in landfills. The average person created 4.40 pounds of waste per day. If these facts don’t make you feel like you should be focusing on reducing your personal waste, maybe the mundane chore of taking the trash out will.

Influencers and advocates for “zero-waste” lifestyles make the transition for living a life without waste look effortless. As the founder of Trash is for Tossers blog and The Simply Co., Lauren Singer offers virtually every item necessary to live life without packaging or plastics at Package Free Shop, from vibrators to door stops. What could be her most shocking accomplishment is the trash she has created in the past five years: it all fits in one mason jar.

Infographic using EPA information
Image Credit: Landon Hodges

Bea Johnson, founder of the Zero Waste Home blog, also claims to live a waste-free life. As an author, public speaker and lifestyle expert, she and her family have managed to produce only a pint of trash per year for the past decade. With her book, “Zero Waste Home” translated in more than 25 languages, she provides a well-needed guide on how to reduce waste for families all over the globe.

While these women showcase their zero-waste lifestyles in seemingly rose-colored glasses, the mason jar or pint of trash makes it a bit of a turn off. The effort and passion needed to pull off an undertaking of such magnitude makes these goals feel unattainable. Our trash bags continue to fill up every week while we maintain a sliver of guilt for the waste we create.

The much more feasible answer to reducing waste is to do it mindfully and at your own pace. Focusing on eliminating one type of waste at a time is much more user-friendly, as well as budget-friendly. Follow these tips and tricks to help reduce your personal waste in a reasonable manner.

Reducing waste on a budget

  • Tackle one thing at a time. Maybe once a month you commit to taking a new stride in reducing your waste. Working through one transition at a time and allowing yourself to get settled into a new routine and acquainted with new products makes for a more manageable process.
  • Set aside a certain amount of money each month that specifically goes toward purchasing products that reduce waste. Depending on your budget, this could be $10 or $50. Look for items that will last longer than the products you would normally buy, don’t include packaging, are reusable and are sustainable.

Cut out single-use items

Almost every item that is good for only one use can be replaced with sustainable counterparts. Think about the things that you use daily that end up in the trash, when you could have used a reusable item that only needed to be washed.

Menstrual  Cup

Lunette makes menstrual cups that the company says is the best cup on the market, with 99% of users apparently recommending the product to friends.
Photo Credit: Claire Franksen
  • Take reusable bags with you when you go shopping, whether it’s at the mall or the grocery store.
  • Bring your reusable water bottle everywhere. This reduces the need to grab a plastic cup or buy drinks in plastic bottles. This also includes your travel mug for your daily Starbucks fix.  
  • Replace paper towels with dish towels and paper napkins with cloth ones. If you’re worried about the stains, buy them in dark colors.
  • Carry reusable silverware with you so there’s never an excuse to use plastic ones.
  • Place leftovers and lunches in reusable containers instead of in zippered plastic bags or wrapped in tin foil.
  • Ask restaurants if you can get your to-go meal packaged in your own container. Always have your containers with you at restaurants, ready to put the leftovers in rather than the Styrofoam that is often provided.
  • Think about alternatives to traditional wrapping paper, such as old newspapers. You end up saving money, recycling and supporting journalists. Other options like reusable cloth bags work well, too.
  • If you’re a woman, try to reduce the waste you create when on your period. Menstrual cups are offered in many different brands, sizes, materials and colors, and can last for up to 10 years. While it may seem awkward to adjust the ways that you respond to your menstrual cycle after so many years of recovering from the initial stage of getting used to your period, this product could change the way you think about menstruation. With so many resources such as informational videos and testimonials educating women on menstrual cups, why not give it a try?
  • Period-proof underwear has also become more available, from companies like Thinx. Marketed as a substitute for other menstrual products, their underwear can hold up to two tampons worth of menstrual blood, and prove to be far more appealing than wearing bulky pads. Many women also use these as a backup for their primary menstrual product.

Cut out plastic and packaging

Conduct some research on brands that offer products without packaging and that fit your lifestyle. The Package Free Shop is one company that offers a wide variety of items to fit everyday needs, as well as some more obscure needs. Think of some items that you use that could be replaced with more sustainable materials as well.

Three mason jars with plastic bags in them

Finding ways to substitute single use plastics, such as plastic bags, with more sustainable products, like cloth bags or mason jars, is an easy first step in living a more sustainable lifestyle. Photo Credit: Claire Franksen
  • Bar soap and shampoo. Companies like Lush and Ethique offer bar alternatives to bottled soaps and shampoos. Once the bar is gone, so is the opportunity to create waste: there is none!
  • Metal razors. They’re stronger than the plastic ones, and they last longer too. With easy to replace blades, these will save you money in the long run if you use razors.
  • Bamboo toothbrushes are compostable and naturally antimicrobial, according to Park Crest Dental Group.
  • Shopping in the bulk section of the grocery store, if you have access to one, means saving money, fewer trips to the store and no waste when you bring your own containers. Mason jars with their airtight lids are great for canning these items.

Sustainable clothing

Another huge source of our personal waste stems from America’s affinity for fast fashion, or cheap clothing that is produced rapidly to fulfill current trends. These poorly made clothes often cycle out of our closets faster than more expensive items, creating unnecessary waste that was only used for a short amount of time.

  • Shop at stores like Goodwill that sell pre-worn and recycled clothing.
  • Only buy items of clothing you can see yourself getting a lot of use out of, or that you will cherish for a long time and will hold a spot in your closet for years to come.
  • Think about passing down clothes that don’t fit your body or your style anymore. Whoever said hand-me-downs were lame didn’t understand the concept of vintage.

When it comes down to it

When it comes down to it, any efforts to reduce your waste are most likely going to cause positive effects. Starting with small baby steps and moving into larger strides at your own pace will make for a more enjoyable journey. Put yourself in a mindset to pay attention to the trash you create and – who knows? – maybe with all the waste you’ll be reducing you’ll take out the trash from your life altogether.

Graphics by Landon Hodges. Photos by Claire Franksen


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