12 Simple Ways to Reduce Waste—and Save Money Every Month
Adapting a waste-free lifestyle not only has the power to save the planet, but also save the money in your wallet.
Get rid of paper in the kitchen
Paper plates, napkins, and towels—they all need to go. The average family uses two rolls of paper towels a week, which can add up to about $15 monthly. They also go through about 230 paper plates per year. Replacing paper plates and towels is simple: Use plates that are made from reusable materials such as glass and use cotton towels for messes. It just requires a bit more washing. Here are more tips on how to keep a zero-waste kitchen.
While you’re at it, get rid of plastic containers tooTikta Alik/Shutterstock
Plastic is trouble, this we know. “When you store food in plastic, especially if it’s heated, this plastic will leach into your food,” explains Kathryn Kellogg, Going Zero Waste Founder. BPA is a chemical found in hard plastics and exposure can affect reproduction and development—and don’t be fooled by BPA-free plastic, either. Try opting for glass or stainless steel containers; they’re two of the most recyclable products and you won’t have to worry about contamination.
Stop with the plastic bottles
Please tell us you know to never ever refill your plastic bottle, right? Well, consider cutting them out altogether: Producing bottles to meet America’s demand for bottled water uses more than 17 million barrels of oil. That’s enough oil to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year. Continuously buying bottled water also adds up: The average American spends around $100 on bottled water annually. A quick solution is to buy an eco-friendly reusable water battle and continue refilling it.
Kellogg has been living a zero-waste lifestyle for two and a half years, and by cutting out plastic bottles and filters, she has been able to save over $865 throughout that time. She says making this change is also better for your health. “When you wash that item (rigid plastic) it releases thousands of microplastic pieces into the waterways that can’t be filtered,” reveals Kellogg. “We’re actually drinking plastic! Ninety-four percent of all bottled and tap water samples contain micro-plastic.”
Bring your own coffee mug
Carrying your own coffee mug requires very little effort, and you’ll find that the baristas are absolutely OK with you using it. So bring that insulated bottle or reusable coffee mug to the coffee shop—you may not take save anything on that $4 pumpkin spice latte, but it will help reduce the 58 million paper cups that are thrown away (not recycled) each year. By the way, this is what happens when you drink coffee every day.
No more plastic bags
At the very least, try reusing them, because Americans reportedly throw away 100 billion plastic grocery bags a year (only 6.5 percent of those get recycled). Swap out the plastic bags for reusable cotton bags to carry your produce and bulk goods. Not only are they environmentally friendly and easy to wash, they’re also pretty fashionable. It’s also wise to cut out sandwich and freezer bags. While plastic baggies don’t cost you that much (about $32.40 annually), this one use item adds up to 540 bags used annually by the average American. Try stainless steel lunchboxes and paper or cloth sandwich bags.
Here are some more disposable items you should stop using.
Toss the plastic dish sponge
Kitchen sponges are hotbeds for bacteria—seriously, it’s probably the dirtiest thing in your house. A July 2017 study published in Scientific Reports suggests even replacing your sponge weekly. A 50-pack of sponges can cost you ask little as $14, but investing in compostable brushes and/or sponges will not only be more sanitary but more earth-friendly.
Stay away from packaged foods
Giving up your packaged food habit really puts into perspective how wasteful buying groceries can be and how much processed food you’re putting into your body. And you don’t even want to know about these 10 sickening secrets of processed food. The best way to avoid packaged food is to buy in bulk, shop locally at farmer’s markets, and find package free stores, like Package Free shop in Brooklyn.
Be mindful of eating takeout and delivery
Almost 50 percent of the $1.2 trillion that Americans spend for food went to food that was taken home from restaurants or directly delivered to their homes. This means you’re wasting a lot of plastic/paper/Styrofoam containers, plastic cutlery, and napkins. Christine Liu, Sustainable Packaging Program Manager at Cisco Systems and a lifestyle blogger at Snapshots of Simplicity, loves bringing “a lightweight container in my bag when I am eating out, so I can take home leftovers or things on the go.” (Looking to cut down on food waste? Here’s how you can do it while saving money.)
Make your own hygiene products
There is so much room for zero-waste improvement in the bathroom! This is where your DIY skills can shine in creating homemade substitutes. Kellogg says she saves money while eliminating a lot of trash. Her favorite DIYs include mouthwash, lotion, and lip balm. You can also try your hand at making your own natural soaps, deodorant, and toothpaste. “I love using my homemade tooth powder, inspired by my friend from Kathryn from Going Zero Waste. She taught me how to make tooth powder from a combination of xylitol and baking soda,” says Liu. The zero-waste hygiene products you can make with eggs will shock you.
Invest in a safety razor
Over two billion plastic razors are thrown out each year in the U.S. alone—52 each from the average American. Disposable razors vary in price, but some can run up to $4 for just one. Instead of constantly restocking on shavers, buy an all-metal stainless steel shaver that’s durable and plastic free. One can cost as little as $25 with replaceable blades.
Both Kellogg and Liu agree that composting is one of the best things, if not the best thing, you can do for the environment. Here’s a quick 10-step guide to getting started. Twenty percent of methane emissions come from organic matter in landfills that can’t decompose. And generally, food takes much longer to degrade in landfills because they’re so compacted. Simple ways to compost at home is with a backyard bin, worm bin, or joining a community garden.
The keys to living waste-free
Many zero-waste enthusiasts have been inspired by Bea Johnson, author of Zero Waste Home and founder of the Zero Waste Lifestyle Movement. Johnson lives by the Five R’s in order for her and her family to uphold their zero-waste lifestyle: Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot. Johnson says you must “refuse what you don’t need; reduce what you do need; reuse by using reusables; recycle what you can’t refuse, reduce, or reuse; and rot (compost) the rest.” If you always consider the 5R’s, then you’re on your way to living a more waste-free life.
Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Reader’s Digest editors, who aim to highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we may get a small share of revenue from our partners, such as Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We welcome your feedback. Have something you think we should know about? Email us at [email protected]