|How to Reduce Your Household Waste
- Understanding Your Household Waste
- Do an Audit
- Review Your findings
- Reduce Trash Waste
- Reduce Energy Use
- Reduce Water Use
- Measure Your Progress
1. Understanding Your Household Waste
Here’s a quick breakdown of the topics we’ll cover when it comes to reducing the waste you produce at home:
Energy is generated and consumed with every activity, and it often
results in releasing carbon into the environment. In addition, there is a
finite amount of energy available from traditional (non-renewable)
sources such as coal and oil. Developing alternative, renewable energies
(such as solar, wind and geothermal) helps to reduce our dependence on
non-renewable resources to power our lives.
Water covers 71 percent of the Earth’s surface, but relatively little
is suitable for consumption. In many parts of the world, drinkable
water is in very short supply. Every time a drop of water goes down the
drain, it becomes unsuitable for consumption unless properly treated.
There is only so much room available for solid waste disposal, and
because landfills are so tightly packed, it takes a great deal of time
for material to decompose. The easiest way to reduce solid waste is to
reduce your consumption of daily products. Be cautious of what you buy,
and whether anything you are going to put in a trash can really belongs
2. Do an Audit
Don’t worry, we’re not talking about your taxes. These house audits
can apply to every aspect of waste self-management. For an example, here
we have covered a “trash audit.” But it is simple to use the same
principles to do an energy audit or water audit. The U.S. Department of
Energy (DOE) is a great place to start for professional info or DIY instructions.
Here’s how to do a trash audit:
- Pick a time period – A week is a good place to start.
- Get everyone on board – If they live in your house and they make trash, they are involved, so catch ‘em up to speed.
- Throw stuff away – Go about your normal routine,
and throw away what you usually do. It is important that you be honest
with yourself and not try to be on your “best behavior.” Remember, you
are trying to get an accurate measurement of your waste output.
- Weigh in – If you can, weigh your trash. Each time
you take a trash bag out of the house, plop it on the scale. This way
you can have a baseline for comparison (sort of like “before” and
“after” photos when you’re starting a new workout program). Though you
will visually be able to see your trash dwindle, the satisfaction of
cold, hard facts is the icing on the cake.
- Put on some gloves – Check daily to see what you
threw away that could have been recycled, composted, reused or avoided.
This part is the “eeewwww” moment – we are talking about trash here.
But, by doing it daily, it wont be as bad. Don’t be deterred by what you
find. Remember your mission; you can do it!
- Get graphical – Make a list, chart, pie graph,
power point…whatever you want. Just write down your findings, and use
those findings to make a plan. What can you recycle that you are
currently tossing in the trash? What can be composted? What can be
reused and, in turn, what didn’t need to be there in the first place?
3. Review your Findings
Once you have some data on what your we’re wasting, it is necessary
to take a seat and review it. Just by going over what you found, some
easy fixes will pop up. For this reason, it is essential to make a plan.
Break this plan into three major sections: “Right Now,” “Just Around
the Corner” and “Down the Road.”
These items are the flashy neon signs that say “Duh!” The criteria
for this section should include things that don’t take any money and
very little time. They often focus more on breaking bad habits than
learning something new or making major changes. These things might
- Turing the water off when you brush your teeth
- Recycling basic items in your curbside program
- Reusing those glass jars to get more uses out of them
- Adjusting the thermostat by a few degrees
Just Around the Corner:
These items are the things that make sense as a natural next step. It
may cost a little money, or be more time consuming, but it is well
worth it. You want these goals to be challenging but realistic. They
- Replacing older light bulbs with CFLs
- Taking reusable bags to the store
- Buying and using rechargeable batteries
- Starting a compost pile
Down the Road:
These are the “wish list” items: those things that are your ultimate
goal, take time and money and maybe even more research. Feel free to get
crazy with these goals. Shoot beyond the limit, and see where you fall.
After all, we are talking about what you will do years down the road
here. This step is important because a lot of things are changing in
green technology. What may seem a dream today, could easily be reality
in five to 10 years.
- Get off the grid with solar energy
- Replace all the toilets, faucets and shower heads with ones that conserve water
- Buy a hybrid or electric car
- Organize a community recycling drive for hard-to-recycle items
4. Reduce Your Trash
Now that you have goals, it is time to get moving. Redusing the trash
your house puts out is pretty easy once you get the hang of it.
However, there are some major themes to follow:
1. Recycle – Know the rules
The American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) states that 87
percent of the U.S. population, or 268 million people, have access to
curbside or drop-off recycling programs. For many people, knowing
exactly what goes in the recycling bin, and what to do with stuff that
doesn’t, is the challenge. Check with your local government, use the
Earth911.com Recycling Search to find recycling locations near you and
utilize mail-back and drop-off locations.
2. Compost Your Scraps
According to the U.S. EPA, every American throws away an average of
1.3 pounds of food scraps daily. In addition to this, yard trimmings and
food waste combined make up 24 percent of our nation’s municipal solid
waste (MSW) stream. Starting a compost pile can happen anywhere, at any
time. From your kitchen to your backyard to a worm bin, composting can
make a huge dent in your waste and produce a rich product you can use to
help maintain your yard, give to friends or even sell at the local
farmer’s market or garden center.
3. Buy Better Trash
When at the store, check out a product’s trash profile before you
purchase it. If you can choose between a few options, pick the one that
has the least amount of waste associated with it, such as a product
using less packaging or packaging made from recyclable materials.
Also, buy in bulk and bring your own reusable containers to the store
to hold these items. Make sure to know the weight of the container when
it’s empty, so they can subtract that from the price when you’re
checking out. If you need help with this, just ask the customer service
desk at your local store. Once you know the weight, write in on the
container and it will be easier to reference in the future. Buying in
bulk not only saves waste, but money.
Even better, keep an eye out for these guys:
- Recycled-content products are made from materials
that would otherwise have been discarded. That means these products are
made totally or partially from recycled material, like aluminum cans or
newspaper. Also, if a product is labeled “recycled content,” the
material might have come from excess or damaged items generated during
normal manufacturing processes – not collected through a local recycling
- Post-consumer content is a material that has served
its intended use and is being reused in a different product.
“Post-consumer” also indicates that the material is not from the
manufacturing process, but from a finished product that has already been
- Recyclable products can be collected and
remanufactured into new products after they’ve been used. These products
do not necessarily contain recycled materials and only benefit the
environment if people recycle them after use. You can also take this one
step further and think about what products recycle better than others.
For example, glass is an easy material to recycle that doesn’t
downgrade. If you can, choose glass over plastic (which downgrades once
4. Stop Buying!
It can be as simple as this: if you don’t buy waste, you can’t make
waste. For example, a group in San Francisco did exactly that. They set
out to buy nothing new for an entire year. While that might not work
for everyone, the essence of it is definitely applicable in
different-sized doses. Do you really need another (fill in the blank)?
Do you already have something at home that will work? Do your friends
or family have something you can use or borrow? Even if it ends up that
you need to buy it anyway, just getting into the habit of thinking
about alternatives is a step in the right direction. Be open-minded, and
see where it leads you!
5. Reduce your Energy Use
If your energy audit was done by a professional team, they should be
able to help you with customized tips that apply to your home. Tips can
range from windows, insulation, ENERGY STAR® appliances, light timers
If you are doing the audit yourself, you want to focus on a few main areas. These include:
- Locating Air Leaks
- Heating/Cooling Equipment
Now that you are focusing on these areas, here are some tips to get your head in the game:
- Clean or replace filters on furnaces once a month or as needed.
- Clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters and radiators as
needed; make sure they’re not blocked by furniture, carpeting or drapes.
- When you’re shopping for new windows, look for the National
Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) label; it means that the windows are
- Select windows with air leakage ratings of 0.3 cubic feet per minute or less.
- Consider three-way lamps. They make it easier to keep lighting levels low when bright light is not necessary.
- Use outdoor lights with a photocell unit or a timer so they will turn off during the day.
- For spot lighting, consider CFLs with reflectors. These lamps range
in wattage from 13- to 32-watt and provide a very directed light, using
a reflector and lens system.
6. Reduce Water Use
There is a lot of information out there about reducing your water
use. Our favorite is the Maryland Department of the Environment Water Supply Program.
This audit helps with water usage calculations, which are an important
aspect of your overall home audit, especially when it comes to tracking
your progress. Some areas of water conservation on which you can focus
- Regularly check sprinkler systems and timing devices to be sure they
are operating properly. Turn off when storms are approaching.
- Plant native and/or drought-tolerant grasses, ground covers, shrubs
and trees. Check with your local nursery for advice if you need help.
- If you wash your own car, use a bucket with soapy water and turn off the water while soaping.
- Unlike your dishwasher, the amount of water your washing machine uses is adjustable; adjust according to load size.
- Install a hot water recirculation device. By recirculating the water
that would otherwise go down the drain, you can save 2-3 gallons of
water for each shower taken, or 16,500 gallons a year per household.
This may mean an average annual savings of $50 on your water bill and
$40 on your energy bill.
- Reuse fish tank water on your household plants — it makes nice fertilizer, too.
- Insulate your water pipes. You’ll get hot water faster and avoid wasting water.
7. Measure Your Progress
This is the best part of any process. Taking a moment to look back at what you have accomplished has a few benefits:
Once you have measured your progress, just build on what you are
doing now and continue educating yourself about new and upcoming
advancements. For example, a great place to stay up on new trends and
information is with online newsletters or blogs. There are lots to
choose from: Check out Earth911.com’s weekly emails to get you started.
- Everyone deserves a pat on the back – good job on your first home audit!
- In what areas have you excelled and why?
- In what areas are you slacking? What can you do to change?
- What is the next step? Fix what’s not working, move on to new goals or maintain what you have already built?
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