Photo by Benjamin Brunner on Unsplash
From reusable water bottles to bringing your own grocery bags, some zero waste tips are common practice. Those of you that have been making an effort to minimize waste for a while may be craving more creative solutions. In that case, these fresh waste-reducing tips are for you. New to minimizing waste? Don’t worry. These tips can work for everyone!
The next time you are looking for décor to spruce up your home or for a low waste gift idea, go green with a plant. Plants reduce stress and purify the air, all while helping you minimize your waste output since they won’t go to the landfill like most decor eventually does. If you find you and your plant really aren’t vibing, they can be planted outside (climate zone dependent), regifted, sold, or composted as a last resort.
Sometimes saving the environment is as simple as saying “No, thank you.” And one easy way to do this is to skip the promotional items the next time they are offered to you. These items tend to get very little use, break easily, and inevitably end up in the landfill. If you already have a drawer overflowing with these types of items, see if you can find a place to donate them. Many community art programs are more than happy to receive extra pens, notepads, highlighters, erasers, etc.—even if they have some branding on them.
When the mid-day munchies hit, you may find yourself reaching for a snack. However, many of these quick snacks come with more than an energy boost—they also have unnecessary wrapping. Luckily, you can easily avoid the wrappers by making your own snacks. As a bonus, homemade snacks like granola bars and cookies tend to be healthier than their store-bought counterparts. Try shopping for ingredients in bulk with your own refillable containers to reduce as much waste as possible. Buy things like nut butters in glass jars and reuse the jars for storing personal care items or office supplies. Have a snack recipe that calls for fruit? Check out the produce that is marked down because it is close to spoiling. You won’t have to wait for the fruit to ripen and you’ll save some money, all while helping to reduce food waste.
Composting is an excellent way to reduce the waste you produce, but you may want to try reusing those food scraps before you reach for the compost bin. Reusing food scraps helps you get the most out of food before tossing it and can also be a great way to get kids interested in reducing waste. You may want to try orange peels dipped in dark chocolate. They pair great with apple tea brewed from boiling apple peels and cores. Want to do something with scraps beyond snacks? Use a banana peel to polish plant leaves or soak a few peels in water for a couple of days to make natural plant fertilizer.
If you find yourself needing a tool for a project or that pregnancy has you outgrowing your clothes, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need a shopping trip. Instead, you may want to try renting these items. For example, many home hardware stores offer tool rentals by the day or hour, so you can skip the wasteful packaging and avoid buying something you will minimally use. Then there are several online clothing rental places that offer maternity clothes so you don’t have to buy a temporary wardrobe. Once the baby is born, you may want to continue the renting trend by subscribing to a toy lending library instead of buying new.
Sometimes you can minimize waste by making a simple request, so don’t be afraid to speak up. This may mean asking the cashier if a receipt needs to be printed, requesting a shipped order to have minimal packaging material, telling the waiter you don’t need a straw with your drink, etc. If you see that your favorite restaurant has a specific wasteful habit (ex. using plastic stir sticks), you may want to write an email offering a less wasteful solution (compostable wooden stir sticks). Just be sure to keep your tone friendly. Remember, the worst they can say is that they can’t make that change. On the other hand, your email may push them toward a less wasteful solution.
An eco-friendly party can still be fun and memorable—perhaps even more so! The next time a birthday or wedding rolls around, skip any wasteful decor like balloons and streamers and take a less wasteful approach. This could look like making a centerpiece by decorating an existing plant you own with lights or foraging for greenery to put in a vase. Planning a meal? Skip the plastic cups and plates and go with real dishware. If you don’t have enough, see if you can borrow some from friends or rent some from a party supply store. Another option is to grab dishware and utensils at a secondhand store and re-donate them when the event is over.
Sometimes the best waste-reducing solutions are a bit offbeat, so don’t be afraid to think outside of the box when looking to minimalize your impact. Reducing waste is a slow process, and we need every little bit of creativity to push us toward a less wasteful future.
Shannon Bergstrom is a LEED Green Associate, TRUE waste advisor. She currently works at RTS, a tech-driven waste and recycling management company, as a sustainability operations manager. Shannon consults with clients across industries on sustainable waste practices and writes for Zero Waste.