12 tips to produce less trash

Original photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

Have you seen the show ‘Hoarders’? It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure for me and even though I know that most of these people suffer from a disorder (and I am very sympathetic to that), I can’t help but still judge them a little bit. It’s mind-boggling to say the least how much stuff people accumulate. What gets me most is when they hold on to obvious trash in their homes. It’s always a good reminder to be more mindful of the things that we bring into our homes and the things we subsequently dispose of.

Here’s a question for you: do you know how many trash bags full of garbage you produce in a week?

J and I have been paying attention and are proud to say that in recent months, we’ve only produced one 13-gallon bag of trash every two weeks and maybe one trash bag of recyclables (I am not exactly sure because we take them directly out to the recycle bin, which is usually about half full every two weeks and it’s mostly milk containers, plastic containers and wrapping).

According to the EPA, Americans produce 4.4 pounds of trash per person per day!  We weighed one of our (regular) trash bags recently and at 14 lbs, it puts us at 0.5 lbs/person/day. I’d say that is pretty darn good!

Sustainability and minimalism are terms that I constantly have on my mind. I cringe when we produce a lot of trash or if I go through my home and there is so much stuff that I don’t use and should get rid off, but hesitate to just throw out because it’s not broken. It’s more the uncomfortable feeling of being wasteful that gets to me than the concept of frugality (which I guess ultimately do go hand in hand though).

We’ve been trying to be more mindful of the things we buy and how to leave an overall smaller footprint. Here are 12 – relatively easy, IMHO –  things you can do:

1. Meal plan. No, really. It will not only save you money on groceries, you’ll also end up throwing out less food and therefore producing less trash.

2. Bring your own reusable produce bags and shopping bags. That should be a no-brainer in this day and age, but it still something people apparently struggle with. I always have one of these small foldable grocery bags in my purse (and they’re pretty, too!), so even when I stop at a store unexpectedly, I always have a shopping bag with me. I also try to buy loose produce when I can (unfortunately, Trader Joe’s still has a lot of stuff wrapped) and bring my own produce bags (like these).

3. Buy things in bulk (oats, flour, grains, nuts, etc.) and bring containers, when possible. It doesn’t always work out that way, but every time you remember to bring your containers or pouches counts.

4. Avoid individually wrapped items. Of course that is not always possible, but I usually go for the items that are not wrapped twice. Also, don’t get your meat package wrapped in extra plastic (why?), unless it’s leaking all over the place already; in which case, you probably don’t want to buy that package anyway.

5. Use reusable containers for your sandwiches, lunches, and snacks. There is really no need to use plastic bags when there are so many pretty options these days.

6. Switch to paperless bills when possible. I have most of my bills automated and just check my accounts online. There really is no need to get photocopies of most bills, file them, only to shred and throw them out later. I make exceptions for certain things (like some medical bills).

7. Ask places where you get take-out to NOT give you napkins and plastic utensils (unless you eat on the go and really need them). I noticed that restaurants will give you a huge stack of napkins and utensils for take-out food, usually more than you need, which most likely end up in the trash if you’re taking that food home.

8. Use washable kitchen cloths (I use these from Trader Joe’s) instead of paper towels to clean up kitchen messes. I have to admit that we haven’t completely eliminated our use of paper towels, but I am trying to actively reduce the occasions when I’ll use them.

9. Use a washable microfiber cleaning-mop and dust-mop (like this one). Yes, I know, these disposable Swiffer pads are convenient, but so bad for the environment.

10. Purchase items such as dish soap and laundry detergents in concentrate forms or buy refills. This is a no-brainer for me. The bottles are smaller, usually last longer, and produce less trash. Win-win.

11. Don’t buy plastic bottles. I know, sometimes you can’t avoid it, very few juice brands offer their products in glass bottles, but we bought a good water filter (review of our Berkey here) and have not bought any bottled water since.

12. Leave wrapping and unnecessary boxes at the store. People have looked at me strange when I requested that, but it’s a common thing in German supermarkets that you can leave extra wrappings, boxes, etc. at the store. Overall, it encourages people to take less wrapping home and maybe subsequently reduce unnecessary wrapping of products in the first place.

Bonus tip (which shouldn’t be a tip at all, but  just plain common sense): RECYCLE and REUSE whenever you can.

What do you do to help the environment and live more green?

This post does NOT contain any affiliate links. I only linked items, so you can easily access more information about these items or similar items that I have used.

  1. Girl you are my HERO! These are exactly the things I do and try to “preach” / “teach” to my friends/coworkers, the people around me!
    Of course there I things I / we haven’t totally eliminated, however we are trying our best to do what’s possible to help the environment and Mother Earth :) <3

  2. Love this, I have been working on reducing trash recently as well. I also recommend these adorable reusable “ziploc” baggies https://www.etsy.com/listing/586725263/succulent-cacti-reusable-sandwich-bag?ref=hp_rv and, maybe an awkward topic, but menstrual cups vs. tampons are also a huge money and waste saver.

  3. Awesome suggestions and many things I could be doing and haven’t been. We are terrible about bringing our own bags to the grocery store, I need to do that more. One thing we do well is we use cloth napkins at home that we wash after using instead of napkins or paper towels. But I know we could be doing so much more!

  4. That’s awesome that you are doing so many things to try and reduce your waste. Thanks for all the tips. :)


  5. I have a ton of microfiber cloths that I use for cleaning, which helps a lot. Thanks for linking to the Trader Joe’s paper towel alternatives! I have been looking for something like that to help reduce my paper towel usage.

  6. I reuse disposables… people give me the side eye already because I am known to take my frozen yogurt spoons home and collect them for kids birthday parties. I wash plastic utensils we are getting at work from time to time. I reuse them until they break!
    Use your own coffee to go mug at the coffee places. They even give you free refills if you do use their brand’s mugs.
    Just to add to your points which are all amazing ways to reduce trash.
    Thanks for posting that.
    But my personal opinion is you wont get people to change their behavior until it effects their wallet.

  7. Yes! I try to implement these things in our household, too. A huge thing I try to avoid as much as possible is any one-time-use product. Like Swiffer, as you mentioned above, Keurig coffee pods, makeup remover wipes, etc. Sure, they’re convenient, but they produce so much waste.

    One thing I’m guilty of is using too many paper towels, so I have made a conscious effort to reduce my use of them. I bought a bunch of microfiber cloths to use in the kitchen, bathroom, etc. I still use paper towels for some pet messes, but for the most part I think I’m doing pretty well to kick my habit!

    Another thing I do a lot of is composting. I know it’s not an option for everyone, but if you have a yard (or even a large apartment balcony) you can make your own compost bin. That way most food waste can be turned into wonderful compost for your yard, garden, even container gardens if you live in an apartment.

  8. I really like the idea of using reusable cloths instead of paper towels.

  9. I feel bad that you judge these people because it is an illness – OCD one that my son who is 9 years old suffers from. There are different “flavours” of obsessive compulsive disorders as the top doctors that my son sees in our area and hording is one of them. It impacts them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is a horrific illness.
    Please don’t judge someone who cannot control an illness that you know absolutely nothing about.

  10. Way back in 2006 when I deployed to Kosovo we spent a few weeks in Germany and seeing how waste was handled there was eye-opening to me. I saw it again when I went to Sweden a few years ago and it’s amazing how wasteful we are in this country. I’ve definitely tried to steer myself away from intentionally disposable products, like Swiffer stuff and I’m getting better about using fewer paper towels and using kitchen rags instead. I’m definitely going to check out those Trader Joe’s clothes – those look like exactly what I need.

    And speaking of unnecessary wrapping for food – why do people put bananas in plastic bags? They’re already wrapped and clumped together! I get it, if you’re getting something with a skin that you eat, like an apple, and maybe you don’t want it touching the belt at the story or other gross things, BUT THE BANANAS ARE ALREADY WRAPPED UP IN THEIR SKIN AND SEALED TOGETHER.

  11. I love This!! I am planning on buying reusable napkins and more kitchen cleaning cloths. I’m also considering buying a container to use for carry out food.

  12. We have recycling bins at work which is collected weekly and it is amazing how much less we throw away at home.
    We noticed our bin was less full and some weeks I’d take 2 shopping bags full of recycling to work.

  13. Wow, you have really reduced your trash! I know that we definitely have more trash than that. It all adds up, I suppose. To help the environment, we have solar panels, I use glass straws instead of plastic, I use tupperware for all my school lunches, and of course I recycle. There is so much more I could do though.

  14. So many great tips here that I’ve bookmarked this page to come back to whenever I need a new challenge to reduce my waste. Right now, I’m trying to get more in the habit of using my reusable bags when grocery shopping (and just regular shopping!) and recycling. Recycling isn’t SUPER convenient for me since I actually have to go out to a recycling center, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do it! I also need to reduce my paper towel consumption – that’s another thing for me to work on!

  15. Before we had a baby, we produced one kitchen garbage bag of garbage a week which is not all that much. Now that we have a baby in diapers we produce a lot more trash but once he is big enough to fit the cloth diapers I bought our trash will go back down to one kitchen garbage bag. One thing that Minneapolis offers that I love is composting. We have a small separate garbage can for it and they pick it up each week. Phil calls me the compost queen because I am often saying, ‘you can compost that!’

    You are definitely doing a great job in cutting down on trash, though. There are things you are doing that I would like to do, like being better about bringing my own bags to store and using fewer paper towels (although I feel a little bit less bad about them since they can be composted).

  16. This is always a big concern for me. We actually don’t produce much garbage. Right now it’s mostly diapers and those days should be coming to an end soon. We always have a lot, like A LOT of recyclables for pick up though and I worry about how much of it actually gets reused. I’m also trying really hard to use things that are reusable and remember to bring my water bottle and grocery bags when I go out.

  17. Ordering online doesn’t help, but I usually get things shipped to my office, so they can recycle it there, and I don’t have to bring the packaging home.

Comments are closed.