Reduce, reuse, recycle should be the mantra for every eco-friendly lifestyle. However the order of the phrase is no accident. With so much talk about recycling it’s important to remember it should be a last resort. Rarely can 100% of an item actually be recycled, and the parts that can require large amounts of energy in transport and processing.
Let’s look at some simple tips to Reduce. We’ll follow-up with a Reuse and Recycle edition later in the week:
Reduce food waste
Half of food in the US goes to waste! The main culprit is household waste – US households discard 14% of the food they buy, adding up to a staggering $43bn a year. Reducing food waste will save you money, and reduce the environmental impact of intensive farming, landfill use, and food transportation.
To reduce food waste try the following simple tips:
- Check expiry dates when shopping, and make sure you have enough time to eat the food you are buying before it goes bad.
- Cook once, eat twice! By reusing leftovers you can save waste, time and money. Leftovers should be allowed to cool, placed in a covered container in the refrigerator and used within 2-3 days.
- Compost. Some food waste is unavoidable. By composting this waste in your garden you are keeping it out of refuse trucks and landfills. A special household composter has all you need – just feed it scraps, leave it to ferment and use it on plants in your house or garden.
Buy good quality clothing
In recent years the rise of massively discounted imported clothing has created a trend in disposable fashion. Cheap, poor quality, seasonal items bought, worn for a month or two and then thrown out. These clothes mostly end up in landfills, wasting energy that was used in manufacture and transportation. Good quality clothing may cost a little more upfront, but can last you for years and is much better for the environment.
Don’t forget to try and buy Fair Trade – can that $2 t-Shirt really have come from a happy place?
Get savvy about your electricity use
Reducing your electricity use saves you money and reduces your CO2 footprint. With a household electricity monitor you know exactly what items in your house are energy hogs, and make sure you turn them off when not in use. Studies show using an electricity monitor can reduce your electricity use by 5-20%.
See here for my experiences with my home monitor.
Get rid of unsolicited mail
One third of the world’s mail is US junk mail. The Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Mail Preference Service lets you opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial mail from many national companies for five years. The one-time $1 fee will put your name and address on a delete file, and made available to all companies who use DMA’s data. See here for more details - DMAchoice.org.
Notice their Learn More section (here) has some dubious claims. Remember: they don’t want you to sign up!
‘Mail is made from a renewable resource.’ – perhaps, but almost no unsolicited mail companies use Forest Stewardship Council approved paper, much less post-consumer recycled paper.
‘Mail represents only 2.4% of America’s municipal waste stream.’ - only?! 2.4% is a heck of a lot of material to keep out of our landfills (most mail is junk mail; statistics seem to range from about 50-90%.)
It’s actually not that hard to go tree-free at home. Here are a few tips:
- Replace disposable paper products with re-usable ones. Paper napkins can be replaced with cloth napkins. Paper towels can be replaced with a special set of cloth towels/napkins, which can be washed and reused. Paper tissues can be replaced with handkerchiefs.
- Use recycled toilet paper. Import qualities to look for are bleach-free, and the highest percentage post-consumer waste you can find (try to get above 80%).
- Use recycled printer paper. 100% post-consumer waste and bleach-free printer paper is available from many office stores. Print on both sides to further reduce waste.
- Get rid of junk mail (see above).
- Bank/pay bills online.
- Change your reading habits. Borrow books from the library, share books with friends and read the newspaper online.
Ditch the bottled water
Bottled water is an unnecessary waste of energy and materials (and money!). Combine a water filter and drinks bottle and enjoy delicious, pure drinking water without the waste.
These are just the tip of the iceberg (enjoy that metaphor while there still are icebergs!). Share any more great ideas you have in the comments.