12 Ways I'm Reducing Waste (That You Can Do Too!)

One of my goals this year is to reduce the amount of waste I produce. Before I watched the documentary, Plastic Oceans, I had fallen into going through the motions and not really thinking about the way my actions were impacting the planet. Thankfully, the documentary gave me a wake up call, and I started thinking about ways I could reduce my environmental footprint.

Images of birds and fish that died from plastic-filled stomachs now come to mind whenever I reach for a plastic cup or straw. It is so easy to go about our daily lives, throwing away whatever we please and never having to deal with what happens to it after we toss it. We don’t wake up every morning looking at landfills and water filled with fragments of plastic. For the most part, we only see what we want to see. It’s good to be reminded that items don’t disappear simply because we throw them in the garbage. It’s good to be confronted with the uncomfortable truth that you are part of the problem. But being part of the problem means that you can also be part of the solution.

12 Ways I'm Reducing Waste | Emily M Swope Blog

Here are the ways that I’ve reduced my waste so far:

  1. Reusable Water Bottle - This isn’t a new concept, but I’ve been making more of an effort to bring my stainless steel water bottle with me when I leave the house. The times I would use plastic water bottles or disposable cups for water in the past were simply because I wasn't prepared.

  2. Reusable Coffee Cup - I work as a barista, and I used to go through multiple disposable cups a day for coffee/tea. I bought myself a Klean Kanteen tumbler for hot drinks, and I got a stainless steel cup for cold drinks from a coworker. Now, it’s extremely easy for me to avoid using any disposable cups.

  3. Stainless Steel Straws - This goes along with the cups above. I’m not one of those people who has to drink everything with a straw, but for the times when I have an iced coffee or iced tea, I have my straws. I’ve actually started using straws more because I like using my cute stainless steel and silicone ones from Klean Kanteen. Avoiding items like plastic straws that we use for such a short period of time and then toss can make a big impact on the amount of waste we produce.

  4. Reusable K-Cup or French Press - I love coffee, but I was making a lot of unnecessary waste around my coffee habit. Single use coffee pods made of plastic are obviously very wasteful and will stick around in landfills for a long time. I got a reusable K-cup from Target, and now I just fill it up with coffee and rinse it out when I’m done. It’s slightly less convenient, but it’s definitely worth it. The other way I make coffee is in a French press, which makes no trash. I’ve even started saving my used coffee grounds for my plants. There are a lot of uses for coffee grounds, and I look forward to exploring ways to reuse them!

  5. Buying Frozen Vegetables - Who doesn’t feel guilty for throwing away unused produce that went bad? I’ve started keeping almost all vegetables and berries in the freezer. For the most part, I buy the vegetables already frozen. This is also a way to save some money! If I can’t buy something frozen, I will buy it fresh and freeze it myself. I found a great store close by that sells local, bulk frozen veggies. I also always keep some berries in the freezer, and I actually like eating them frozen.

  6. Eating Local Food - I really want to take this concept a lot more seriously, but for now, if I see a local option for a fruit or vegetable, I pick that one over the other options. So much of our food is transported across the country and the world, creating tons of pollution and losing its nutritional value along the way. Freezing preserves nutrients, which is another reason I love frozen, local veggies! It’s nice knowing your salad came from a nearby farm. I really want to start growing some of my own food!

  7. Buy Items in Glass - When grocery shopping, I pick things that are packaged in glass or tins over items packaged in plastic. Things like nut butters, cooking oils, salad dressings, vinegars, and spices are almost always available in glass containers. Once I use up whatever’s inside, I wash out the containers and repurpose them.

  8. Stainless Steel Safety Razor - Instead of continuing to purchase and throw away plastic razors, I purchased a safety razor after seeing a lot of zero waste people use them on Instagram and YouTube. I’m still getting used to using it, but I think it’s just a matter of time.

  9. DIY Beauty/Hygiene Products - I make my own toothpaste out of baking soda and coconut oil, tooth whitening powder out of activated charcoal and baking soda, facial toner out of apple cider vinegar and water, and moisturizer out of coconut oil and matcha. I use the glass containers I save from teas, spices, etc. to store my DIY’s. There are tons of recipes for DIY beauty products on Pinterest, and I hope to replace more store-bought, plastic-packaged items with zero waste DIY’s.

  10. Bar Soap/Multi-purpose Soap - Along the same vein as the DIY personal care products, I started using a bar of Dr. Bronner’s soap in the shower. I would always use up body wash so quickly and was throwing away a lot of plastic bottles as a result. For laundry detergent, hand soap, and household cleaning, I use the Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap, which can be bought in bulk containers that are recyclable (and made from 100% post-consumer plastic).

  11. Donate Unwanted Clothing - I go through my clothes more than the average person (a nice habit I picked up from my mom), because I enjoy the process of purging unwanted items. If the clothing is nice enough, I will sell it at a secondhand store. Otherwise, I donate the clothes so that they can be used by people who need them rather than clogging up landfills, It is literally so easy to donate clothes now! There are clothing donation bins in parking lots everywhere.

  12. Recycling - I saved the most obvious for last. Believe it or not though, this is probably the hardest action item for me as there is no recycling pick up where I live right now, and the local recycling center is only open 4 hours a week. In the neighborhood where I grew up, my family would get fined if we put recyclables in the trash instead of the recycling bins, so I find it shocking and annoying that it is so challenging to recycle where I live now. It has really opened my eyes though to the fact that recycling isn’t easy for everyone, which is something that our society needs to work on! I take as much recycling as I can to stores that have recycling bins, and the rest I save for the local recycling center. Plastic recycling containers are the most common in stores, and Target has bins for plastic bags, electronics, and paper as well.

I can already see the difference I am making in how much waste I produce, and I am hopeful that if we all make some changes, the impact will be great! What are some ways that you reduce your waste? Comment below!


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12 Ways I'm Reducing Waste That You Can Do Too