The average American creates about 4.4 pounds of trash every day. Seems like a lot, right? Now multiply that by the number of people in your household, and you might be surprised by how much garbage your family is throwing away on a daily basis.
For example, let’s say you have a family of four, that’s 17.6 pounds of garbage. On top of that, for each pound of waste thrown out in your home, experts estimate 7 pounds of trash is produced upstream via manufacturing and production. The grand total? 123.2 pounds.
Luckily, there are small, everyday changes you can make to avoid your household trash can that add up over the course of a year. Here are a few simple ways to reduce waste at home.
A basic household recycling list includes plastic bottles, soft drink cans, paper and cardboard, but there are plenty of other items that can be recycled to avoid the landfill.
Before you start throwing recyclables in the garbage, check out this list of common household items that you actually can recycle:
If left to break down in a landfill, batteries release toxic materials that contribute to pollution. Battery recycling programs are fairly common, some post offices and local library branches host drop-off collection programs for recycling facilities.
Printer Ink Cartridges
Most printer ink cartridges shouldn’t be placed in household trash. Business supply stores, like Best Buy and Staples, offer recycling programs which include discounts off of new cartridges when you turn one in.
To be specific, CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) bulbs. These contain trace amounts of mercury, so they should not be placed in the trash or in your curbside recycling bin. Instead, use drop-off services provided by stores such as Home Depot and IKEA to ensure they are handled safely.
While it can be easy to take junk mail straight from the mailbox to the garbage can, remember to recycle that paper whenever possible.
Paper and plastic cups are accepted by curbside recycling programs. Rinse out the cups after they are used and allow them to dry before placing them in the recycling bin to avoid the paper becoming soggy.
Now that you have checked to make sure your recyclables are kept out of the trash, the next step is reducing the amount you throw away. The simplest way to address this is to buy and consume less.
“The best way to reduce waste in the home is to simply refuse it. Think about the impact the item will have if you accept it into your home.”
Bea Johnson | Zero Waste Home
Bea Johnson, author of Zero Waste Home, adopts the 5 R’s guideline: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot. She explains that these were designed to be adopted in order. “Refuse what you do not need. Consuming is not just buying items, but accepting things that you don’t need like a free pen from a conference or a business card,” Bea explains.
The second R is reduce, and embrace a simplistic lifestyle. “The less you have, the less you have to maintain, clean, store and eventually repair or discard. When you let go of things you don’t truly need, other people have access to them in the secondhand market.”
Reusing items is not just embracing items like cloth grocery bags, but swapping out everything you can for a more sustainable alternative. “Every single disposable item on the market has a reusable alternative,” according to Bea.
Recycling is meant only for items that you cannot refuse, reduce or reuse. The last R stands for rot, which means composting food scraps and other items that would normally be thrown in the trash.
“In the kitchen, reducing waste is quite simple. Buy your food in bulk, take totes to the store with jars for wet items, mesh bags for produce and cloth bags for any dry items.”
Bea Johnson | Zero Waste Home
Food waste and packaging are two major sources of household trash that come from the kitchen. Grocery shopping alone can account for a significant amount of trash, especially if you double-bag heavy items at the checkout line.
Ways to Reduce Waste in the Kitchen:
While you might not think of the bedroom as a source of household waste, the real culprit is the clothing sitting in your dresser and hanging in your closet. The average American throws out 81 pounds of clothing in a year, with a total of 26 billion pounds added to landfills across the country annually.
Even if you donate clothes to your local Goodwill, if items are in major disrepair the store will toss them instead of placing them on the shelves. Instead, research local organizations that will take your unwanted clothing and repurpose it for something new. Nonprofits like SMART will turn battered items into wiping rags or basic fibers to create new products.
There’s a reason most bathrooms have their own trash can; they are a significant source of household waste.
Simple Tips to Reduce Bathroom Waste:
*Check with your local municipality to see if bristles are accepted.
“I’ve adopted a bar of soap that I use to wash my hair, body and for shaving. This one product eliminates three packaged products and I am able to buy it loose.”
Bea Johnson | Zero Waste Home
Designate an area in your backyard for a rainwater barrel. This will collect and store water for your lawn and garden, instead of relying on a hose or costly sprinkler system. If you already have a sprinkler system, modify it using an irrigation controller with a rainwater sensor to avoid over-usage.
The space behind your garage can be a great location for a compost pile. Depending on the space you have available, composting will allow you to repurpose leaves, grass clippings, twigs and shrubs from your lawn for garden beds or potted plants.
Home offices serve as a command center and storage facility for important documents. However, shredded paper, printed documents and outdated calendars shouldn’t contribute to your household’s waste stream.
How to Reduce Waste in the Home Office
Achieving zero waste status at home is a challenge, but these tips to help you reduce household waste are steps in the right direction.
If you are making strides in reducing household waste, just remember Bea’s guidelines, “Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot.”
Do you have a tip that you would love to share? Add it to the comments below!