As much as we love the holidays, they tend to generate a lot of extra waste. At the end of the party when the guests have gone home, it’s easy to get discouraged. You might spot an abundance of half-eaten leftovers, Styrofoam packing peanuts, wadded-up wrapping paper and well-intended gifts you may never use. If you’re entering the new year resolving to make a fresh start, you aren’t alone! Here are five simple tips (all tested and approved of by me) that can make a big difference. They’ll help make a dent in your own carbon footprint, and will pitch in to make your community healthier and more interconnected.
Fold coupons to fit the bottom of your garbage cans. They make great liners that help keep the can clean.
An easy way to cut back on waste is to give new life to items you might otherwise throw out. I still get junk mail and coupons almost daily. Instead of tossing them right away, I use them to line my garbage cans. I haven’t bought plastic garbage bags in over two years! Another household item I haven’t had to restock is paper towels. Old socks that are missing their pairs or are getting some holes act as great deep cleaning rags for the kitchen and/or bathroom. Same goes for ratty t-shirts and bath towels, which you can cut into rag-size squares. Plastic takeout containers are great for leftovers, lunches and gifting food to friends!
Composting food scraps cuts down on waste and keeps your garbage stench free. You can find compost bins with charcoal filters that also keep them from smelling as well.
Did you know that organic waste sitting in landfills becomes methane, a powerful greenhouse gas? Composting food scraps is an amazing way to cut down on personal waste while greatly reducing our methane emissions. Throwing food in the compost heap also keeps your garbage cans clean and free of bad odors. (This makes the previous tip to use junk mail as garbage liners a lot more appealing!) If you have the space and resources, consider setting up a backyard composting system. Otherwise, start by researching your local municipality’s composting suggestions. Another option is to coordinate with local gardeners. Is there a community garden in your neighborhood? Reach out and see if they will accept compost donations! Food waste can nourish the soil, which helps reduce the need for chemical fertilizers.
On rainy days you can water your plants by putting them outside! Or collect water from the gutters to water your houseplants later. The water pictured is NOT potable and will be used only for houseplants.
When there’s a downpour, an easy trick to save some water is to put buckets under your rain gutters or leave other receptacles outside to catch rainfall! This is a huge water saver, as the rain would’ve just gone down the street into storm drains. There are a variety of non-potable ways to use what you’ve collected. One option is watering plants, both indoor and out. You can also fill up your toilet tank! (Definitely check out this helpful guidance from the CDC on how to safely use rainwater so that no one in your household gets sick.) It’s also worth researching whether there are any city- or county-wide regulations or tips for getting started. Some local agencies offer rebates for residents who harvest rainwater, too. If you’ve got more time and resources, installing a grey water saving system at your home can be greatly beneficial and save you money in the long run.
A low-waste shop and refillery, Ethos Santa Cruz, provides house supplies, soaps and skincare in bulk to help homes cut down on plastic.
Buying in bulk helps cut down on unnecessary waste. When it comes to dry goods, all you need are some old jars for storage. (Bonus points if you reuse the ones your pickles and pasta sauce came in!) By using these vessels to store different food items like coffee, nuts or rice, you can cut down on plastic waste. Not only is this a great way to extend the lifetime of those jars, but it’s also aesthetically pleasing and cost effective! Did you know you can also replenish household items in bulk? Look up your nearest refilling station to stock up on cleaning supplies, shampoo and conditioner, or even body lotions and facial products. There’s no need to replace plastic jugs of laundry detergent when you can buy it in bulk from a local supplier!
Using takeout containers as plant saucers is a great way to reuse plastic at home and save you money!
I’m a big fan of the Buy Nothing movement. The philosophy is simple. Instead of buying consumer goods and services, you embrace the spirit of giving, lending, borrowing and recycling. Starting with presents is a great way to get your toes wet. Try gifting food in a cute, vintage dish you picked up from the consignment store. Other personal and creative offerings might include a night of free babysitting or a gently used book from your own collection. There are plenty of ways to cut back on shopping overall. If you’re looking to refresh your wardrobe, organize a clothing swap with friends. Another approach is to set up a Buy Nothing group with your neighbors or workmates! These approaches have helped me, not only by reducing waste, but by building community and meeting new people as well.
We hope these tips will come in handy on your journey to live more sustainably, and we wish you happiness and health in the new year!
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 86,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more