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10 Baby Steps Anyone Can Take To Reduce Waste

10 Baby Steps Anyone Can Take To Reduce Waste are simple and actionable steps you can take to make your life and home more sustainable.

A yumbox lunchbox, liberty bottlesworks waterbottle, and mason jar on a wooden background

As I packed my eight-year-old a special field trip lunch yesterday, I used a total of four plastic baggies, one plastic water bottle, and a paper bag. The pre-trip note he had brought home said opened or uneaten items would not be returned.

But the handwritten next to it noted that an environmentally-friendly lunch was recommended. Those two things do not add up in my mind.

While I put that lunch together, the financial and environmental cost of all those disposable items ran through my head. I quickly calculated that we had used about eight plastic baggies for the whole 2017-18 school year and they were all for field trips.

I do not stand before you (well truthfully I am sitting down to write all of this) declaring that we don’t use disposable items. We absolutely do. But I try to be thoughtful in our use of them and prefer them to be the exception and not the rule.

My brain tallied up a quick list of painless ways that we have found to reduce waste in our household. None of these are hard to do, take extra time, or cost over $35. And even better, each one of these tips on how to reduce waste will save you money in the long run.

If zero waste is your jam, check out this post on Zero Waste Food Storage on how to green your kitchen.

Why Should We All Want to Reduce Waste?

Everyone comes from a different starting point for why they want to reduce waste in their lives. For some it is financial, others environmental, and if you’re like me it is a mix of the two.

We had a much more disposable lifestyle until we faced a series of four back to back layoffs in our household from 2010-2012. Suddenly, the ability to just toss something out was no longer on the table.

With our reduced budget came the need to look for items that lasted longer than one use. A side benefit of that was the precipitous drop in our garbage output. It became very clear to me that reducing intake meant reducing output.

We live in a very disposable society and the longevity of things aren’t valued in the same way as before. With that mind-shift has come a dramatic increase in trash, the need for landfills, and the rapidly increasing speed of climate change.

Buying less and buying thoughtfully has become my own mini-protest to the man.

I don’t really know who “the man” is in my mind, but I know I am sticking it to him nonetheless!

10 Baby Steps Anyone Can Take To Reduce Waste

1. Buy Less

Think twice about purchases before you get to the checkout. Do you need the item or want the item? Will the item solve a problem for you or are you purchasing it for another reason (boredom, reward, etc.)?

Each year we do a no spend month where we only spend money on groceries, gas, and medical expenses. It is a great way to take a pause and rethink our purchasing habits.

If you’re not down for doing a whole month, try a week. Or a weekend, or even a few days. It is more about being intentional and resetting your mindset.

2. Buy or acquire used

I recently had my neighbor over to teach her how to bake No Knead Bread. She kept commenting on the beauty of one of my bowls. I told her it was a very old Pyrex bowl that belonged to Troy’s grandma. Let’s be clear, it has seen some cooking action but still looks almost brand new.

My neighbor also complimented my baguette bread pan and a few other items and was surprised when I told her they were all from Goodwill.

Thrift stores, church rummage sales, and garage sales are fabulous places to pick up high-quality items for a much lower price. You may even get lucky and find a $1,000 piece of furniture for $15.

3. Buy Quality

If you need to buy something new, buy the highest-quality item that you can afford. Every budget is different and every family’s needs are different. Invest what you can afford. It is that simple.

4. Carry a Waterbottle. Everywhere

I am an unapologetic super fan of Liberty Bottleworks and their locally made metal water bottles. They’re a Washington State company and they make rad bottles that I may be addicted to.

A reusable water bottle will save you so much money on bottled water, not to mention it will reduce your plastic consumption dramatically. Most bottled water is simply filtered tap water.

Why pay more when you can refill your own adorable bottle with filtered tap water?

5. Ditch the Baggies

Four years ago we invested in a Yumbox when my oldest son started Kindergarten. That $30 leakproof lunchbox is still alive and kicking today and looks almost brand new. It keeps things separate and cut fruit will not brown due to the lock-tight seal around each compartment.

If it can survive my kid, it can survive almost anything.

Another fun way to reduce plastic baggie usage is to make your own cloth version. This tutorial on reusable snack bags will walk you through that easy process. The sewing level for this project is “adventurous beginner”.

We have also invested in reusable silicone ziplocs that have been wonderful for things like freezing strawberries, freezing peas, and freezing peaches.

6. Reusable Grocery Bags

I recently needed to have a small stockpile of plastic grocery bags at home, and so I kept my reusable grocery bags in the car during a grocery run. I could not believe how many plastic bags they needed to replace my three canvas bags.

If you’re new to the reusable bag scene, ChicoBag is great because they are strong and expand but fold up in a tiny little compact package. I received one as a free gift with a purchase almost 10 years ago and it is still one of my favorite bags.

I also love the giant $3.99 canvas bags from Trader Joes (the ones with navy colored handles). They’re heavy-duty and last forever.

Want to make your own reusable zero waste produce and bulk bin shopping bags? This tutorial will walk you through the process. The sewing level would also be considered “adventurous beginner”.

7. Glass is Kick-Ass

The humble mason jar is one of the most under-appreciated tools in an effort to reduce waste and consumption. Besides being awesome backdrops for folksy Instagram photos, mason jars are a workhorse! We use them for storing homemade dips, leftover soups, sauces, and even simple quinoa side salads.

The beauty of a mason jar is that they’re designed for extreme conditions (sitting in boiling water for up to 85 minutes), so chances are it can comfortably deal with your overnight oats.

I use copious mason jars to freeze soups, Whole30 Beef Stews, garlic hummus (and Instant Pot cooked chickpeas to use in future hummus batches), and large batches of black beans cooked in the Instant Pot.

Note: if freezing in mason jars, only use wide mouth jars and leave 1 inch of headspace (space between the top of the food and the top of the jar) to prevent the food from expanding too much while freezing.

Check out this post on our freezer essentials for more details.

Outside of the food space, I use mason jars for homemade deodorant, to organize items in my bathroom drawers, and even as organizers in my car’s center console.

Right now you’re probably asking yourself if there is anything that a mason jar can’t do. And the answer is no, no there isn’t. Mason jars are the best! They are also available for about $.20 at most thrift stores.

But if you have a need to store something larger than what a mason jar can hold, I love these Snapware leak-proof glass containers (Costco also carries them) and these meal prep glass containers (aka the wet dream of every eater like myself who doesn’t want their food touching).

I even bring my own container when we’re dining out so I can bring leftovers home.

Note: If you’re someone who commutes to work via public transit and carrying around a bunch of glass is not your idea of a good time, the Yumbox mentioned above would work great for adults as well!

8. Walk More

I work from home, and we live 10-15 minutes away from a legit coffee shop, 10 minutes from a good grocery store, and miles away from what anyone would consider “entertainment”.

The idea of getting in my car just to get away from the house is not always practical. So, about 16 months ago, I started walking. And walking. And walking! Bonus: walking is free.

I strap my toddler into our stroller and we walk for 60-90 minutes whenever our schedule allows. I consider our walks my “lunch hour” since I do my best to stick to a work schedule while I’m at home.

I listen to some podcasts about blogging (also free) and I regroup my brain while I move my body. My Apple watch is always hard at work and I average 17-18k steps each day.

9. Meal Plan and Meal Prep

Knowing what you’re going to be eating during the week will reduce last minute trips to the grocery store, drive-thru experiences, and food waste.

It is estimated that Americans waste almost $2k a year by tossing out spoiled or unwanted food. What could you do with an extra $2k in your pocket? When you have a plan for that bunch of cilantro, you’re not going to throw out half of it next week.

An added benefit of easy healthy meal prep is that I make sure we have well-balanced dinners. The rare weeks that I don’t meal plan always lead me to scramble to put dinner on the table. We also don’t end up eating as well, and leftovers which we rely on for lunches are scarce.

10. Ditch the Paper

Don’t rely on paper plates, paper napkins, or paper towels to meet your needs. A $15 investment in cloth napkins will last you for years (we still have the ones I bought ten years ago!).

Designate some rags just for cleaning instead of using paper towels. We have color-coded terrycloth washcloths for our kitchen and bathroom and grubby cleaning. The bathroom cleaning rags are washed separately from everything else in the house to keep things sanitary.

I have a stack of hand towels for the kitchen and keep a small rag bin nearby for storing used rags. It involves an extra load of laundry a week, but I’m not constantly buying and then throwing out paper towels just to dry my hands for the 400th time that day.

Benefits of Why You Should Reduce Waste

Once we started realistically looking at our consumption, we realized that our garbage can each week was less than half-full. We were able to switch our garbage service to every other week which reduced our bill. Spending less money on “stuff” also saved us money on the back end.

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I dislike clutter. As in I dislike it with the fire a thousand suns. Being mindful of what I bring into our home helps keep clutter at bay. Spending less money on “stuff” also means saving time cleaning and putting crap away.

At the end of the day, reducing waste also means that my future grandkids will have thismuch less to deal with when they’re trying to clean up the total cluster we’re creating for them. And that motivation keeps me thoughtful with purchases and consumption decisions.

What are your favorite ways to reduce waste in your own home? Is there something you have tried that hasn’t worked in the past?


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15 comments on “10 Baby Steps Anyone Can Take To Reduce Waste”

  1. For any readers in the UK, I can recommend the “one green bottle”. I recently bought them for my whole family of 5 and we use them all day long. I also bought a bodum insulated mug which has reduced the number of times I’ve found a cold cup of tea and had to make a new one.

  2. You caught me in a perfect storm situation…I had money, I need to drink more water, and when I clicked on the link to your Liberty Bottleworks bottle, down below it was one with a bunch of book names on it and I was instantly like “Oh, that one needs to be in my cart!” 

    It’ll be here Monday ?

  3. I make my own “un-paper towels with snaps I keep on a nice holder, I keep threatening my kids that toilet paper is next! 

    • I love it! Do you wash them with towels or just separately? Do you use them for things like blotting bacon, or just cleaning and hand drying?

      • I use them strictly for cleaning, I have nicer prettier towels that hang off the stove & fridge for hand drying. I wash them with my towels. I’m still at a loss what to blot my bacon with. You sew you could easily make them 

      • We have rags already designated for cleaning. I buy paper towels once a year for bacon and (I kid you not) for Troy to blow his nose in. He is convinced that no Kleenex can hold his powerful nose blow and insists on using paper towels. It is a battle I no longer care to fight.

      • Omg! I keep one roll hidden for cleaning up dog messes. I’m not washing that

  4. Great ideas!  I have a Liberty bottle and love it. Great idea for the rest of the family to get them on board

  5. I couldn’t agree more with this post! I’m constantly fighting the battle of the plastic baggies with my little one who is obsessed with them! In truth, we have a lot of room to grow in the reusable department. Thanks to this blog, I learned about Liberty Bottles and now have two. I love, love, love them!

  6. I already do so many of these myself but I am looking into ditching the baggies for my lunch box. I’ve already done it for Andrew’s a long time ago. A nice water bottle is also a necessity. I also love my liberty bottle!  

    As we have talked about, meal planning literally saves my life!!!!

  7. #5 I’m working on!  I love the design on the liberty bottle!  I have 3 of these bottles and love them!  I’m a water bottle junkie…  these are up there as my fav. Keep my water cold as I’m working out which is essential.