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We had our first official zero waste meeting this week and we left the meeting feeling slightly overwhelmed, but inspired to start reducing our waste! My hope with this post is to pass along some inspiration to you. Because of this, I have stuffed this post FULL of resources you can implement today to start reducing your waste along with us!
As always, if you are new to this blog (welcome!) or the zero waste challenge (or just want a refresher), here are some previous posts you might be interested in:
Week 1 – An introduction to the challenge!
Week 2 – Our first weigh in
Week 3 – 3 Easy Ways to Start your Own Challenge (or just start weighing your trash)
Week 4 – Our favorite zero-waste products so far (I’ve added some new items!)
Before I get too far into the post, here are our waste results from last week:
Here are some interesting things we learned about waste (note that these statistics were provided for us during a presentation by employees of Hennepin County, MN. I researched the statistics and when I was able to find sources I linked back to them):
- 50-75% of the ‘stuff’ we purchase ends up as trash within 1 year
- 80% of waste for a product happens before the final product is produced
- 40% of food produced is wasted and most people don’t think they contribute to food waste
Here is a rundown of some of the other things we did and discussed:
The 5 R’s: One of the first things we talked about was the 5 R’s. I had heard of them before but had never looked at them in detail. The 5 R’s are (in this order):
For this particular challenge, they really want us to focus on the first two, refuse and reduce. A good incentive or reason why is the statistic I listed above (80% of waste for a product happens before the product is even final)! It really resonated with us and is something we want to focus on as we move forward towards implementing our action steps.
Waste Audit: To prepare for the meeting we had to fill out a waste audit. This consisted of going through each waste bin in our house (not physically digging through), and get an idea of what was in it and what item(s) was taking up the most space. We found that food waste, tissues, and toilet paper tubes were the biggest thing taking up space in our trash. All of which we found out is compostable! It was a really eye-opening activity and really helped us create our next steps (read on for more info).
Sorting Activity: Once we were at the meeting we did an activity with our staff advisor where we sorted waste/organics and recycling. It was harder than we thought. We found out that at home we were recycling things that shouldn’t be recycled (ex. toothpaste tubes, boxes that have been in the freezer), and we found out that this can cause recycling to end up in the trash because sorting facilities don’t have the resources to sort through all the items. If they see a bag with an item that can’t be recycled in it, they may just take the whole bag and throw it out. Ouch! We now know that we have to be extremely mindful of what we put in our recycling.
Next Steps: After the sorting activity, we went through our waste audit and from there worked with our advisor to determine 3-5 ‘next/action steps’ that we want to work on the next six months to reduce waste.
The steps are:
- Composting! We will be provided with a compost bin and we can’t wait to start composting. I will be posting in the future about composting because it is BRAND NEW to us.
- Reducing food waste. Composting will help this, but we also would like to take measures to reduce what goes into the compost bin (remember the reducing mindset?). Some other things we plan to do to help reduce waste is create an ‘eat me now’ section in our fridge so we know what needs to be used up first (see more info below). Meal planning is another way to help reduce food waste, which we already do!
- Reducing/refusing packaging. We have gotten into a convenience mindset with food since having Little E. One of the main things I saw in our kitchen trash was packaging from convenience-type snacks. Reducing/refusing this type of waste is something that we can implement pretty easily, I think. It will just require a little more planning ahead. We also will start to be more mindful of packaging we bring home from the grocery store. This will take a little more time and effort, but we look forward to doing what we can.
- Add organics bins in our bathrooms. We found out that facial tissue can be composted! This was new to us, but when we did the audit in our bathrooms, tissue was predominantly what was taking up space. This should be a quick and easy change to help eliminate some of our bathroom trash.
In addition to working on the 4 steps above, we also have to attend one workshop for the challenge. Some of the topics include reducing packaging waste at the grocery store, backyard composting, DIY cleaners, and more. We are having a hard time deciding which one to attend so we may be doing more than one!
Finally, we will be having an internal waste audit/home walkthrough done by our staff advisor through the challenge. This will happen in January or February of next year. They will walk through our house, see how we are doing with our goals, and then help provide additional ways they notice that we can reduce waste. We were intimidated by this at first, but I think this will be really helpful!
One of the most important things they told us was:
Set yourself up for success.
Yes, that is large and bold. ‘Set yourself up for success’. What does that mean? It means to start slowly. Start with things you can easily implement. If you try to take on too much or try to do really challenging things at first, you may get overwhelmed and frustrated and just throw in the towel. And I know that is not what you want, otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this. We all have to start somewhere. We all HAVE started ‘somewhere’.
Which leads into the next part….the resources you can use (that on their own will take very little time) that will help you start to reduce waste:
- Do an internal waste audit of all your garbage and recycling cans to see what is in them. Knowing what you and/or your family throw out is the first step in knowing where to start reducing! Lucky for you, I created a waste audit worksheet that you can use to do your audit. Find it here.
2. Call your waste provider and see if they offer organic recycling. This is an easy way to reduce what goes in the trash, without having to worry about composting yourself if that is not your thing.
3. Food waste – create an ‘eat me first’ area in your fridge if you have lots of leftovers or trouble remembering to eat leftovers. You can also use this area for produce or dairy products that may be approaching their expiration (we plan on doing this!).
4. While we are also on the topic of the fridge, check out this infographic that talks about different areas of the fridge that are best for specific foods. Make sure you are prolonging your food items that you BUY as long as possible.
A screenshot of the infographic from Lifehacker.com Click here for full version.
5. Make the switch to reusable napkins or paper towels. Quick, inexpensive and easy! Check out this post which talks about some of our favorite zero waste products.
6. Add a small sign by your front door and in your car to remind yourself to bring your reusable bags while out shopping! In addition to reusable bags, our family also loves these reusable mesh produce bags. Psst…I created a printable that you can print out and put up in your car or by your front door to remember your bags. Find it here.
7. Save plastic bags and bring them to a store that will recycle them (or at least send them out for recycling). In our area, Target, most grocery stores, and many nature centers now accept plastic bags for recycling. In addition, in Minnesota, plastic wrap and ziplock bags (and most other ‘stretchy’ plastics) can be recycled with the plastic shopping bags! Check with your county to see if this is true in your area.
8. Did you know plastic bottle caps and metal beer caps usually end up in the trash, even if they are recycled (this was news to us)? This is because, during the recycling sorting process, the caps are too small to be detected by the machines. To help combat this, put metal caps into another recycled metal container (such as a soup can). Same with plastic tops.
9. Put small waste bins in every room that you have a trash can in (for example the bathroom and laundry room). Label the small bins with recycling, organics (in our area, facial tissues and toilet paper tubes can be considered organics), and waste. You are much more likely to dispose of your waste in the proper bin if you have one handy.
10. Make your own green cleaning recipes. Not only does it produce less waste, they are non-toxic, easy to make, and environmentally and budget friendly! Check out my Pinterest board for tons of recipes and tips. We have been making floor cleaner for a while (it honestly takes about 1 minute to whip up) but we look forward to start making some other types of cleaner!
11. Reduce junk mail. I talk about this in my ‘Decluttering’ series as something my family implemented to help combat paper clutter. Did you know the average American gets 26 lbs of unwanted junk mail each year? Here are some ways to reduce that number!*
- Contact companies directly and ask to be removed
- Credit Card Offers- visit Optoutprescreen.com
- Mail list brokers and marketing associations – visit dmachoice.org
- National mailers (coupons) visit – Red Plum, ShopWi$e, Val-Pak Direct Marketing System, Money Mailer, LLC
- Phone Books – yellowpagesoptout.com
- Catalog Mailers – catalogchoice.org, or by contacting the company directly
- Sweepstakes mailers – Publishers Clearinghouse, Readers Digest (email: email@example.com)
- Any providers that you pay bills to/bill statements – While this may not be considered junk, most companies offer paper free communications through email or your account on their website. Visit each company’s website and enroll.
- US Postal Service – Misaddressed mail – Contact your post office and/or usps.gov for any mail for former residents
If you are looking for even more ways to reduce junk waste, check out this post all on this topic by Amy French at The Good Life.
*Source: Hennepin County info sheet
12. Have a question on what can be recycled, composted, dropped off or trashed in your city/county? Check to see if your city/county/trash provider provides a ‘green guide’. Our county provides a Green Disposal Guide which gives us information on almost anything we would want to dispose of, and also provides a search option where we can type in an item to see if it can be recycled, composted, or trash.
I hope this challenge and post has given you a little inspiration and/or confidence to help start taking steps to reduce waste. Remember that we all start somewhere, and that is a great thing. We are all learning as we go. SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS. Do what you can with the resources you have, which is what my family is doing!
Which, if any, items do you think you could implement into your life? What resources am I missing that you do on a daily basis? I’d love to hear of any!