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Simple steps to producing less waste by buying less stuff

written by: Steve Graham•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 3/1/2010

There are three steps to produce less waste: reduce, reuse and recycle. The first in a series of articles about producing less waste lists steps for reducing amount of new items and trash in the home.

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    How to reduce waste

    States and countries are running out of landfill space, and existing landfills are full of plastic and other waste that may take centuries to decompose. You can produce less waste with the classic reduce, reuse, recycle mantra. The first step should be to reduce your purchased items, then producing less waste. Upcoming stories will list tips for reusing and recycling instead of throwing away stuff.

    Reduce

    The easiest way to produce less waste is to get less “stuff” and become more conscious of your disposal.

    • The size of your trash can help produce less waste. Switch your trash and recycling bins. Put big recycling bins in obvious, handy places in your home, and hide a small container for trash under your kitchen sink. The smaller trash bin (which can be a reused box or second-hand can instead of a new plastic bin) can be lined with small grocery bags, saving money and waste by not buying thicker plastic trash bags.

    I even use the bags again and produce less waste by emptying the bag into the trash company’s large bags (which I can’t figure out a way to avoid, unfortunately) and putting the grocery bag back in my under-sink trash can. If you compost (more on that in the reuse story), you won’t have much “wet” trash, so the dry garbage spills out easily.

    • Produce less waste by using rags and towels for cleaning. You can even hide your paper towels to encourage use of alternatives.

    • Find out if your trash company charges by usage. I pay an upfront fee for a roll of large trash bags, then use them as slowly or quickly as needed. In some cities, such programs are required. The financial incentive will help you produce less waste. I buy a roll of bags every two years, using less than one large trash bag per month.

    • Buy in bulk whenever possible, and find products with minimal packaging. For example, Arm and Hammer makes a line of concentrated cleaners in tiny bottles. Buy the first one with the reusable spray bottle, then refill it. The same goes for soap and cosmetics. Try refilling sturdy containers with bulk soap, available at many natural supermarkets. Some of the alternatives are intentionally disposable, made with plastics that cannot be refilled.

    Choose food with less packaging that produce less waste. Avoid cookies with plastic dividers (for example, pick Thin Mints over some of the other Girl Scout cookies) or over-packaged snack packs. Instead, buy in bulk. You can repackage bulk cookies and crackers in reusable containers.

    • Buy fewer books, videos, newspapers and magazines. Borrow them from the library, rent them (Netflix uses an awful lot of those little mailers) or trade with friends. As a freelance writer, it pains me to suggest paying less for print journalism, but you can look into donations or online subscriptions for your favorite media.

    • Finally, where my beer drinkers at? There are great environmental reasons to drink beer from your local microbreweries. One is the ability to reuse the “growler” jugs sold at many breweries. Bring back the bottle and you’ll likely get a discount on the refill. Kegs, of course, produce even less waste but most of us aren’t throwing parties enough to justify the extra electricity needed for a keg fridge.