Three Simple Steps to Reduce Your Home's Waste

You’re probably here because you’re looking to start living a life with less waste. This can be a daunting task and it’s difficult to know where to begin. There's so much content online and I certainly got lost in the rabbit hole. But don’t panic! Here are three steps I wish I would have taken when I started on this journey.

Step 1: Audit your trash

Our trash cans can tell us a lot about our waste habits; where it comes from, how much comes from one particular place, how often you binge on chips and chocolate (guilty!), etc. Often the best place to start is to take a step back and examine the trash throughout your home. This can also include your recycling bin(s) if you’re looking to reduce there.

There are a thousand ways to skin a cat, but the main idea is to categorize your trash and count how much is in each category. Make sure to write it down! It can be a little difficult to count food scraps or crumpled up paper towels, so you could always estimate.

One idea for categorizing would be by room, then broken down into types of trash from there.

For example:

1. Kitchen trash

  • Food scraps
  • Food packaging
  • Disposable paper items (paper towels, napkins)
  • Disposable cutlery and dishes
  • Cleaning products
2. Bathroom trash
  • Disposable razors
  • Cotton buds
  • Cotton balls
  • Feminine products
  • Tissue
3. Bedroom or office trash
  • School or office supplies
  • Papers or notes
  • Magazines
  • Old shoes or clothes
Categorizing by waste type (compostable, recyclable, or landfill) is also an option.

Step 2: Start small

Once you’ve audited your trash, pick one category and one item in that category to start working on. Choose one that you know you can easily tackle and then move on to the next. It’s important to not get overwhelmed and think you can cut everything cold turkey. This is where folks tend to give up (been there before).

After a period of time, maybe a month or so, repeat your audit to see what kind of progress you’ve made. If you are simply working on reducing something that typically ends up in one trash can over another, repeat your audit there.

Something that I was easily able to give up, although everyone is different, was paper towels. I did break the golden rule of Zero Waste and went out and bought a big pack of bar mop towels without first using all of my paper towels. There’s no need to run out and buy all of the cool looking ‘zero waste’ products before you’ve finished off your disposables or if you have other alternatives already (like old rags/towels). 

Food scraps are also a great place to start and will actually eliminate most of your kitchen trash. Composting is key in this situation and has so many benefits for the planet. If your community doesn’t have a green bin (composting) program, you can compost at home or at a friend’s home, bring your scraps to a farmers market, or hire a service to pick up your scraps (this is what I do currently). 

Back to my main point here, do not get ahead of yourself and take it slow!

Step 3: Join a community of like-minded people

Whether it’s on social media, among your friends, or at a local beach clean up, it’s helpful to talk to people who are taking on the same waste-reducing mission.

When I first started on this journey, I wish I had done this right off the bat. I often felt silly, self-conscious, or overwhelmed by critical comments. Worrying about what other people think can be discouraging, but when you know that a whole bunch of people bring bulk jars to the same market, your efforts are going to become a whole lot easier.

Although we have friends and family somewhat near our new home, I desperately needed a sense of community after our move. So, I went out and joined a couple of organizations/groups and I’m excited to see what connections I make.

You might already have a supportive community around, but in case you’ve just moved or are looking for something different, here are just a few ideas you can look into:

  1. Volunteer for an environmental nonprofit
  2. Join a Buy Nothing New Project Facebook group (find a group near you here)
  3. Reaching out to Zero wasters on social media or via email
  4. Join a local working group (AKA committee) on waste or other related issues
Once you’ve found a solid community, don’t be shy and share what you’ve been up to. You’ll be surprised how many folks are interested and might be on the same path as you.

And that’s it! Everyone’s low waste or zero waste journey is different, but if you understand where your waste is coming from, start tackling small bits of that waste at a time, and surround yourself with like-minded people, you’ll be well on your way.


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