Getting inspired to go green can be a challenge, even for the most earth-conscious individual. Sometimes, however, summoning that motivation starts with smaller, practical changes to your lifestyle. Whether that means switching from paper to cloth towels, conserving water, or abandoning disposable cutlery in favor of durable alternatives, “going green” doesn’t have to be an uphill battle.
For years at TerraCycle, we have sought to help and inspire individuals and families across the world to achieve the green goals in their lives. That’s why we have been working with long-time TerraCycle partner Tom’s of Maine, who recently started the Less Waste Challenge - an Earth Month initiative asking individuals through social media to pledge to reduce one pound of waste a week from their lives. By challenging people through social media, we hope to motivate others into taking those first few steps down the path toward greener living, while connecting conscious consumers with each other to share their own waste-reduction tips and advice.
In the spirit of Earth Month, we want to share some easy, achievable methods anyone can reduce waste and live a more sustainable lifestyle. With the average American family producing nearly 125 pounds of waste each week, we all have to start somewhere.
These five tips are sure to help you reduce one pound (and beyond) of waste a week.
Reduce, Repair, Recycle
This three-in-one suggestion will keep waste out of your garbage bin and more money in your bank account: reduce your purchases, repair what you own, and recycle when you can.
Reducing your purchases can be tough, but it’s the most sustainable decision you can make. Write down or track the necessities you and your family regularly purchase to identify precisely what you need on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. If something breaks and you are considering buying a replacement, stop and consider fixing it first. Online resources like iFixit and wikiHow are great for basic, advanced, and even some expert-level repair guides. Learning basic maintenance can improve the longevity of your things and prevent a premature death-by-landfill.
When an item is beyond repair, consider recycling it if you have the opportunity. Municipal recycling systems can vary greatly in what materials are accepted, so utilize resources like Earth911, Recycle Nation, or any of our free programs at TerraCycle to maximize your recycling potential.
Become a Sustainable Grocery-Shopper
There are many ways to shop with a conscience, and they’re incredibly easy to adopt without inconveniencing yourself. First are the basics: forget about plastic bags entirely, and bring your own textile tote bags to the store. This includes plastic produce bags—keep produce loose in your bag and store them appropriately in the fridge, countertop, or in a reusable container. The farmer’s market is likely your best bet for loose (and locally produced) fruits and veggies, so make a point of visiting one often. This simple change can save your family nearly a pound of plastic bag waste each year.
Look for food items that aren’t packaged at all, or at the very least, packaged minimally or with more environmentally friendly materials—even if that means choosing a product made with widely recyclable plastic (e.g. #1 or #2) instead of difficult-to-recycle alternatives (especially #7, which is usually a blend of different plastic resins).
Don’t throw away something that could be given a second life through upcycling. Whether that means turning coffee cans into fastener organizers, mason jars into terrariums, or an orange peel into a candle, upcycling saves the need to go out to the store while preventing waste from ending up in the landfill.
Our Design Junkies at TerraCycle have come up with dozens of DIY upcycling projects you can do at home. For some added inspiration, Etsy and Pinterest are always great resources to utilize for new upcycling ideas. You’ll be surprised what useful items you can make once you look beyond the garbage can.
Start Composting Food Waste
Every year, as much as 40 percent of our food here in the U.S. ends up being buried in landfills. As it decomposes under piles of waste with no access to sunlight or oxygen, it decomposes anaerobically—a process that inevitably generates methane, a greenhouse gas that according to Science Daily, “is roughly 30 times as potent as a heat-trapping gas [compared to carbon dioxide].”
If you’re looking for one solution to help solve for this massive waste stream, and an easy way to stop those food scraps from ending up in your garbage can, start composting.
The great thing about composting is that there are many ways you can go about doing it. Whether you live in a condo, small apartment, or a house with a backyard, there are composting options available for almost any living situation. Even if you can’t compost yourself, an increasing number of municipalities and towns are providing residents with compost drop-off locations for organic waste and food scraps.
Rethink Your Water Bottles
We love our bottled water. By some estimates, Americans are throwing away as many as 60 million plastic water bottles every single day. Bottled water might even be costing you nearly 2,000 times more per-gallon than the water from your tap.
A durable thermos or refillable water bottle will go a long way—for both the environment and your wallet. On average, switching to a reusable water bottle can save your family around 3.6 pounds of water bottle waste annually.
If you do end up making a trip to the vending machine for an emergency bottle of water, keep refilling it at the sink or fountain for as long as possible. If you don’t like the taste of your tap water, water filtration products like those offered by Brita or PUR can make it taste just as fresh as bottled. You don’t need to install a complex and expensive water purification system to get the fresh-tasting water you want.