A List of Ways to Reduce Your Waste


The main problem right now in all of the world, including within each of our own lives, is waste. We waste our time, we waste our resources. Our social, economic, and political systems waste money, people, natural capital, time, and energy. We have all been taught to waste, because we have been taught—and we allow ourselves—to be blind, heedless, “good consumers”.

Businesses can strive to become closed loop production systems, in which they use a whole systems approach to reduce and eliminate waste. This ultimately saves them money and allows them to become increasingly efficient and agile in adapting to the market. So too in our individual lives we should strive to eliminate our output of waste as well as our input of short-term or function-less products.

People always seem to be confused about what they can do in their individual lives, aside from donating money to charity, to really enact change to regressive and repressive social, economic, and political systems. As in any grassroots movement, the real change comes from within. And then it begins to affect daily lives. And daily lives—the furthest downstream from centralized, sloth-like systems—affect everything.

So as an exercise, I thought it might be useful to attempt to compile a list of ways to reduce waste from our everyday personal lives. I don’t do many of these things myself yet, either, so take these as suggestions and goals. If you know of other ways that individuals can act to reduce their production and consumption of waste, please feel free to add more in the form of comments. Also, think of ways that you can mirror some of these actions within your community or workplace. Sometimes you’d be surprised at what you could change.

Please note also that almost all of the items detailed below will ultimately save you money, in addition to the social and environmental benefits, so please get beyond the dismissive mentality of labeling me as a “treehugger” or “hippie”—that’s the kind of perspective that lends itself to further waste.

1) Purchase from local businesses and food sources as much as feasible.

2) Reduce or eliminate the use of a personal vehicle. Walk, bike, and utilize public transportation. Delimit the sphere of your personal social needs to as localized an area as feasible.

3) Utilize your free time for things that make you feel good, foster interaction with other people, and that are productive. Reduce or eliminate mindless activities such as TV watching. Learn new things. Take classes at your local community college. Check out books from your library.

4) Make exercise a part of your daily existence, such as in biking or walking to work, or biking or walking to a bar or bookstore or cafe. Try to eliminate the perception of exercise as an accessory chore or activity to become more desirable.

5) Cook your own food. Mend your own clothes. Make your own coffee or bring your own coffee mug to coffee houses. Utilize whatever resources you have to do your own thing.

6) Eliminate the use of plastic bags at stores. Bring along a tote bag or backpack to carry items in whenever you go shopping.

7) Stop buying water bottled from municipal sources. Get yourself a Brita filter and drink tap water.

8 ) Buy produce directly from local (preferably organic) farmers; attend farmer’s markets or join food coops.

9) Make your own household cleaning solutions

10) Purchase only energy star rated appliances and lighting systems; convert all of your lighting to compact florescents

11) Insulate your house with energy efficient windows

12) Convert your lawn to a natural food source

13) Compost your food and outdoor waste; utilize kitchen scraps for the making of stock

14) Harvest rainwater and utilize in shower and household use and/or garden irrigation

15) Design and implement a greywater system

16) Reduce your use of paper and wood products; reuse paper as much as possible (double-sided printing) or eliminate altogether through the use of a computer. Use alternative woods, reclaimed wood, or engineered wood products whenever possible when designing and building structures.

17) Take yourself off of junk mail lists; utilize e-mail notification services where possible for bank notices, cellphone bills, etc.

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Author: manderson

I live in NYC.

6 thoughts on “A List of Ways to Reduce Your Waste”

  1. Good suggestions. I had to click on the “convert your lawn to a natural food source” link to make sure you weren’t suggesting I put my grass in the blender and drink it for breakfast! I had to laugh at your “tree-hugger” comment. I know it sounds petty and high-schoolish but I am actually embarrassed to bring my cloth bags to the grocery store (I will take them to a farmers market however). I think I really am afraid to be labeled a tree-hugger. Maybe this is the first thing I should try to change–my attitude toward “tree-huggers”, especially if I plan to become one of “them”.

    1. In many stores in Canada you have to bring your own bags or pay for the shopping bags…I don’t mind a bit! For Christmas I knitted a grocery bag for each of my adult boys and then filled it with a dozen eggs, a roasting chicken and some pork …all of which were raised and processed right here on our little one acre farm….it’s very fullfilling to know that we are leaving a small carbon footprint and providing much of our own food..if I could only have a cow ;)…

      1. Thanks for commenting, Cathy. That’s a great gift! I’m jealous, it sounds like you are living the dream. I comfort myself here in NYC with the thought that living in a city uses resources more efficiently. . .

  2. I know what you mean about the cloth bags thing; many checkout clerks actually give me attitude because I don’t want any bags! One snidely said, “you know we recycle the plastic bags?” I didn’t bother informing her that out of the vast amounts of plastic we produce every year, only a paltry 3-5% actually get “recycled.” (Check out the Ecology Center’s page for some more info on plastic recycling.)
    Read up on plastic recycling and once you become aware of the ridiculousness of mass producing a toxic non-biodegradable substance, and of how it is polluting not only the oceans but fish and birds and ultimately, us, then you probably won’t feel so bad about breaking out the cloth bags or just bringing back plastic bags you already have.
    You aren’t becoming a “treehugger” by any means—you are simply becoming educated. Don’t feel ashamed for being intelligent!

  3. Yes, let us not forget the oh-so-trained-to-be-polite baggers who are required to ask you “Is plastic okay for you?” and then when you say “Paper please, if you have it.” They roll their eyes (like if you’re suddenly blind) because they have to bend over to the hidden cave of their registers and pull out a paper bag. I personally now see me bringing a tote bag or using my over-sized summer purse at the supermarket as a fun exercise in spite. If spite is my teeny way of helping save the planet, then spite it is.

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