How would you like to save a LOT of money, and benefit the environment while you are at it? There are many tricks and tips you can use to do both.
Unfortunately, many of us generate a lot of waste – which damages our bank accounts and the planet. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Just how much waste does America generate?
According to a 2013 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report, it is an astonishing amount:
In 2013, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash and recycled and composted about 87 million tons of this material, equivalent to a 34.3 percent recycling rate. On average, we recycled and composted 1.51 pounds of our individual waste generation of 4.40 pounds per person per day.
Municipal solid waste (more commonly known as trash or garbage) consists of everyday items we use and then throw away, including product packaging, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, bottles, food scraps, newspapers, appliances, paint, and batteries. This waste comes from our homes, schools, hospitals, and businesses.
This is a shame because most of the trash we throw away can be reused, repurposed, or recycled for another use.
Food waste, in particular, is a huge problem and is unnecessary and especially tragic.
According to a study funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and published earlier this year, American consumers waste about one pound of food per day or 225-290 pounds per year. This means US households throw out about 150,000 tons of food each day, total.
Put this into perspective: this means that about 20% of all the food put on our plates is tossed out every year – enough to feed 2 billion extra people annually. It is equivalent to about a third of the calories the average American consumes.
The healthiest Americans are the most wasteful, the study found. This is because of their high consumption of fruits and vegetables, which are the items that are most frequently thrown out. Dairy, and then meat, followed fruits and vegetables for the food items most often tossed.
Lisa Jahns, a nutritionist at USDA and co-author of the study, told The Guardian:
“We need a simultaneous effort to increase food quality as well as reduce food waste. We need to put both of those things out.
Consumers aren’t connecting the dots, [and] they don’t see the cost when they throw food in the trash. At the same time, we don’t want to undermine legitimate food safety concerns and we need to be aware it’s not just the cost of food that’s the issue. It’s the time and energy required to prepare and store food, which often isn’t a priority in a busy household.”
As you can see, the little things you throw out here and there really can add up.
Here are some tips and ideas to help you reduce, reuse/repurpose, and recycle.
Reducing food waste
Shop smart – only buy what you need and what you know you will use. I know this can be tricky, and even when we have the best intentions we may not use everything we buy. Meal planning can help you here. Build meals around what you already have. Use items that have a shorter shelf life first. Use shopping lists and stick to them.
Understand what the food packaging terms “best by”, “sell by”, “use by”, “best before”, and “expiration dates” actually mean so you don’t throw out perfectly good food.
Organize and store your canned goods and other food items properly so they last longer.
Do your best to use leftovers. Freeze them, eat them the following day, or add them to another meal. If you are preparing a meal that tastes best the day it is made, then try to only make what will be eaten that day.
Buy in bulk – but ONLY for items that have a long shelf life and that your family will actually consume. Buying in bulk reduces waste from packaging and saves you money – but only if you will actually use the items.
Grow as much of your own food as possible. You can find free gardening guides, seeds, vegetable garden kits, and articles on growing vegetables at Ready Gardens. There’s nothing like being able to walk into your backyard to pick fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, greens, and basil for a fresh salad. Pick what you need, as you need it, and learn how to properly preserve the rest.
Store fruits and vegetables properly to maximize freshness and help them last longer.
If you have fruits and/or vegetables that are losing freshness, check out these creative ways to use them so you don’t have to toss them out.
The article 25 Ways to Keep Food From Spoiling provides tips you’ve likely never thought of or heard before.
Learn how to cut fruits and vegetables to maximize use with these tips from Feeding America:
Cut Smart – Most of us simply lob off the tops and bottoms of our fruits and vegetables to get rid of the stems or roots, taking a lot of the edible vegetable along with it. Instead, use a paring knife to cut closely around the stem on peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, and more. Cut as close as possible to the tops or bottoms of carrots, celery, or onions. Use a sharp spoon or melon baller to bore out soft spots and brown spots, leaving more of the healthy portions intact.
Save scraps to use in homemade broths and soup stocks. Make sure they are clean, then store them in freezer bags until you are ready to use them.
Learn how to compost the items you aren’t going to store for future consumption.
Here’s another great tip from Feeding America:
Dedicate one night per week to “sweep the kitchen.” Make use of recipes that are flexible enough to accommodate whatever you might have on hand that needs to be used up, like stir-fries, soups, or casseroles. This weekly challenge will also exercise your creativity and help you discover exciting new flavor combinations.
Reduce other kinds of kitchen waste
Store food in non-toxic reusable containers like Mason jars, glass containers, food-grade stainless steel containers, and CorningWare.
Invest in a few good quality reusable water bottles, insulated mugs, and thermoses. Plastic water bottles and paper coffee cups create unnecessary and expensive waste.
If you are worried about consuming tap water, invest in a good quality water filtration system for your home, like a Berkey. To eliminate the need to buy bottled water when you are away from home, try a portable system like the Sawyer Mini.
Avoid using coffee makers that require the use of one-serving plastic cups, like Keurig machines. Instead of using paper filters, try a reusable, BPA free basket filter.
Buy milk in reusable glass bottles if they are available in your area.
Buy pans and appliances that are good quality and will last a long time. Investing in high quality, versatile items like Vitamix blenders will save you money and will prevent you from having to replace your blender every year or so. I’ve had my Vitamix for nearly 18 years and it is still going strong. I use it several times per week. Can you imagine how many poorer quality blenders I would have gone through in that time period? I would have spent far more than what my Vitamix cost and would have contributed unnecessary waste to landfills.
Cast iron cookware is durable, great to cook with, and lasts a long time – and only gets better with time.
Repair items when possible rather than discarding them.
Use cloth instead of paper napkins and paper towels.
Reuse and Repurpose
Finding ways to re-purpose what you’d normally consider “trash” can not only make your lifestyle more green, but it can save you money and time as well. For example, what many natural living homesteaders are doing are using their foodscraps to feed their livestock or adding it to their compost pile to make nutrient-rich compost.
A lot of the trash we generate can be used for other purposes – your imagination is the only limit. For an extensive list of examples, read 50 of the Most Thrown Away Items and Clever Ways to Reuse Them.
Donate items you are not going to use, or give them to neighbors, friends, or family members.
Join The Freecycle Network, a grassroots, entirely nonprofit movement made up of 5,323 groups with 9,337,869 members around the world. Give away (and get) stuff for free in your area. The network’s goal is to encourage reuse to keep usable items out of landfills. Local groups are moderated by local volunteers, and membership is free.
If your family likes to use drinking straws, buy some reusable ones. You’ve likely heard some talk about plastic straw bans. Sure, bans might sound extreme, but it is true that plastic straws create a massive amount of waste (and are polluting our oceans).
In the US alone, we use nearly 400 million straws every day. Plastic straws present a unique problem because they are not easy to recycle, are not biodegradable, are commonly littered, and on a particularly sad note, they are responsible for the deaths of many marine animals, including turtles and seabirds. As of early 2018, data from Ocean Conservancy’s TIDES system showed that straws and stirrers are the 11th most commonly found trash in ocean cleanups, making up about 3% of recovered trash.
Cut up old sheets and towels and use them for dusting and cleaning.
There are things you probably have lying around the house or that you might normally dump in your trash bin that can be used to help grow your garden. These include coffee grounds, toilet paper rolls, lemon rinds, eggshells, beer, and even broken pots. Speaking of coffee grounds, they can be used for many surprising purposes – check out 14 Genius Ways To Recycle Used Coffee Grounds for examples.
Ideally, you won’t need to recycle much because you are reducing the amount of waste you generate and are able to repurpose waste that you do generate. However, it is important to know how to properly recycle items that just can’t be reused or repurposed.
Recycling CAN make a huge difference, so don’t skip it.
According to EPA data:
- Recycling one ton of office paper can save the energy equivalent of consuming 322 gallons of gasoline.
- Recycling just one ton of aluminum cans conserves more than 152 million Btu, the equivalent of 1,024 gallons of gasoline or 21 barrels of oil consumed.
- Plastic bottles are the most recycled plastic product in the United States as of 2014, according to our most recent report. Recycling just 10 plastic bottles saves enough energy to power a laptop for more than 25 hours.
To find out which items can be recycled in your area, contact your local county or municipality. The website I Want to Be Recycled has a search feature that will help you locate recycling centers in your region.
While what recycling facilities will accept varies, most do not accept the following items:
- Garden hoses
- Sewing needles
- Bowling balls
- Food or food-soiled paper
- Propane tanks or cylinders
- Aerosol cans that aren’t empty
- Syringes, broken glass, and broken light bulbs (these should not go in your regular garbage bin either – contact your local waste authority to find out what to do with them)
- Batteries (for information on how to recycle these, see this guide)
Generally, plastic bags and wraps, electronics, and textiles cannot go in a curbside recycling bin. Please check with your local recycling provider first, though, to be certain since it depends on your local area.
Plastic, metal and glass materials must be empty and rinsed clean of food debris before being recycled. Paper materials must be empty, clean, and dry before being recycled. Wet paper/food-soiled paper products may be compostable, so don’t throw them in your recycling bin – add them to your compost pile.
According to the EPA, these items can be put into your curbside recycling bin, unless your local recycling provider says otherwise:
- Food boxes
- Beverage cans
- Food cans
- Glass bottles
- Jars (glass and plastic)
- Plastic bottles and caps
Earth911.com has handy recycling guides you can use to find out what to do with various items.
Have you found ways to reduce waste, reuse items, or repurpose things around your home? If so, please share your tips in the comments.