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20 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.

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Save cash—and the planet

The modern lifestyle requires a lot of stuff…and a great big budget to afford all of that stuff. But even after we acquire all of the things we use on a daily basis—food, clothing, accessories, household items, beauty products—our planet has to deal with all of the consumer waste it produces. The EPA reports that Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash in 2015, contributing to pollution in the short term and speeding up climate change in the long term. The good news is that adopting sustainable practices and preserving resources can help remedy and even reverse the damage done. Here are 20 easy and impactful ways to start cutting waste today.

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Put an end to the plastic pen madness


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Take a look inside your junk drawer, rifle around your desk, or reach into your kid’s book bag. Have you ever wondered how you managed to accumulate so many pens—or where they all go when they’re dried up and tossed? With much of the focus on straws, bags, and water bottles, it’s easy to forget that disposable pens are quietly contributing to the 8 million metric tons of plastic dumped into our oceans each year. The solution? A refillable pen that’s too cool to throw away—or even lose. Go ahead and invest in one for each room in the house—you’ll still be saving money (and trips to Staples) in the long run. These 50 sobering facts will make you stop using plastic right now.


Trade tampons and pads for period-proof panties

Starting at $34

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Your period is practically inevitable. But the 11,000 to 15,000 tampons and pads you’ll buy, use, and throw away in your lifetime—and all of the plastic packaging and applicators they’re made with—are actually pretty easy to avoid these days. Your easiest option is to invest in machine-washable, reusable undergarments that are designed to soak up your period better than any single tampon could. Thinx panties look and feel like regular women’s underwear, but each pair is made with layers of ultra-absorbent materials that can hold even the heaviest flow without leaking (or your money back).

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Give makeup wipes and cotton balls the boot


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Skincare is crucial, and gently removing every trace of makeup and dirt from your face each day is one of the most obvious ways to maintain your complexion (moisturizing daily is the other). But there’s a more Earth-friendly way to wash up, and it doesn’t involve tossing tons of single-use wet wipes, which contain non-biodegradable plastic and tend to clog sewers. (Non-organic cotton balls and pads aren’t doing the environment any favors, either). The Original MakeUp Eraser is a super soft cloth that’s designed to completely cleanse eye makeup, foundation, blush, and more. It can be washed up to 1,000 times and typically lasts three to five years.

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Cut plastic pod waste by switching to a sustainable single-brew coffee pot


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Bad news for coffee lovers. Those plastic pods that make it so convenient to enjoy your morning brew in an assortment of flavors are neither recyclable nor biodegradable. So after you use them once and ditch them, they stagnate in landfills and waterways. Collectively, we’re disposing of billions of these capsules per year, and they’re posing a serious threat to the planet. Luckily, appliance brands are rising to the challenge of quenching our thirst for single-serve java by making pod-free coffee pots. Mr. Coffee’s HotCup coffee maker—which uses a washable brew basket—is one of the best on the market. These 22 major companies are getting rid of plastic for good.

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Curb your sticky note addiction


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Sticky notes serve an important purpose: helping you to remember all the little tasks, chores, and appointments you deal with on a regular basis. It’s tempting to adhere them to every bare surface available so nothing ever slips through the cracks—but those tiny squares of paper add up to some serious waste (not to mention the damage done to our forests). McSquares Stickies serve the same purpose logistically, but since they’re dry-erase sticky notes with a magnetic backing, they stand up to repeated use. The company claims that a six-pack of their product can replace 12,000 single-use sticky notes—and the costs incurred. How were Post-It notes invented, anyway?

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End water waste with an excellent low-flow showerhead


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Practicing good hygiene comes at a hefty cost to the environment. The average 8-minute shower uses a staggering 17.2 gallons of water—and we’re already using about 88 gallons of water per day at home. Installing a low-flow showerhead, which typically pumps out half the amount of water of a standard model, can make a huge difference. The EPA suggests it can cut water waste by 2,700 gallons and $70 per year. High Sierra’s bestselling, solid-metal low-flow showerhead saves 40 percent of the water and electricity used in a typical shower without sacrificing water pressure, and the company promises to repair any defects up to two years after purchase.

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Mend your clothes instead of buying new ones


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When you think of household waste, your wardrobe might be the last thing that comes to mind. But the average American unloads about 80 pounds of old clothes a year—and some of it can take hundreds of years to decompose. To make matters worse, we’re investing more and more in fast fashion and shopping a lot more frequently than we used to. It’s a wasteful cycle that you can break by buying secondhand clothing and taking steps to increase the shelf life of each item you own by mending instead of replacing. Start with these easy ways to tailor your own clothes.

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Stop letting excess food spoil in your kitchen

Starting at $36 per week

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About a third of the world’s food goes to waste each year. Food suppliers and eating establishments are responsible for some of that waste, but the rest of the responsibility falls into the hands of consumers. Adopting more conscious consumer habits is the first step toward preserving food—and, of course, your grocery budget. Subscribing to a meal planning and delivery service like Plated helps busy families only spend money on the meals they’re going to eat, preventing meat, dairy, and produce from expiring before you have a chance to prepare it. Plated works with sustainable farmers and suppliers, too, so you’re helping to prevent food waste right at the source. In this country, it’s actually illegal for grocery stores to waste food.

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Get rid of paper in the kitchen


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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.

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While you’re at it, get rid of plastic containers too


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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.

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Stop with the plastic bottles


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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 bottle 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


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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.

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No more plastic bags


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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, but 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


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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.

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Stay away from packaged foods and products


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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 that sells items like shampoo bars.

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Be mindful of eating takeout and delivery


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Almost 50 percent of the $1.2 trillion that Americans spend on 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.

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Make your own hygiene products


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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


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Over two billion plastic razors are thrown out each year in the United States 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.


Try composting


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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. Here are more ways to reduce your carbon footprint every day.

Amari D. Pollard
Amari D. Pollard is a writer and audience development strategist. She is currently a Roy H. Park Fellow at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media and previously worked as the Head of Audience Development at The Week. Her writing focuses on politics, culture, relationships, and health. In addition to Reader’s Digest she has been published at The Week, Bustle, PopSugar, Inside Lacrosse, and more. She has a B.A. in Communications from Le Moyne College.

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