Zero Waste Living: 12 Actionable Tips to Reduce Your Waste

Furniture Waste

One of the most impactful things you can do to fight against climate change is reducing your waste. Waste comes in all forms from food to plastic packaging to fast furniture and everything in between. Waste is a problem not just because of the pollution it can cause to the environment, but also because of the energy and materials it takes to produce commonly discarded products. By decreasing your own waste, you are helping to reduce the demand for wasteful products and decrease the amount of pollution put into our oceans and our atmosphere.

How Reducing Waste Can Help Combat Climate Change

Reduced Waste = Decreased Greenhouse Gas = Less Climate Change

Greenhouse gases such as methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide accelerate warming of the earth’s surface by changing the chemical makeup of the atmosphere. And multiple stages of a product’s lifecycle produce some form of these hazardous emissions directly or indirectly.

For example, raw material extraction requires gas-powered equipment and transportation. Plus, in the event of deforestation, trees that sequester carbon are also lost. In 2019, American forests absorbed the equivalent of approximately 12% of carbon dioxide emissions emitted by the U.S (EPA).

Fast forward to the end of the product’s life cycle—the product ends up in a landfill, which releases greenhouse gas as items decompose.

Therefore, the less products we require and dispose of, the less greenhouse gas we produce.

What is Zero Waste Living?

Zero waste is a lifestyle that embraces the idea of a circular economy where no waste goes to landfills, incinerators, or the oceans. Instead, there is a heavy focus on reusing materials to preserve natural resources and raw materials, resulting in a healthier planet and far less waste.

While zero waste certainly has a lofty goal in mind, small, actionable steps can move us in the right direction. Try these 10 tips to reduce your waste to get started!

1. Recycle Everything You Can

Segmented trash cans for compost and recycling

One of the easiest ways to keep waste out of landfills is to recycle everything you can. You can recycle most paper products, many types of plastic, metal cans, glass bottles, and more. If you’re not recycling already, you can start today! Most places in the US have recycling programs. If you’re not sure how to get started, ask your neighbors or reach out to someone in the local government for help.

2. Reduce Your Food Waste

Food

Speaking of food waste, almost every home has room for improvement in this area—as a whole, the country wastes 42.8 million tons of food every year according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That’s more than any other country in the world.

  • Meal Plan: Make a list before you hit the grocery store so you know exactly what you need. This will keep you from guessing and accidentally overbuying. You may also want to consider making meals with similar produce ingredients to ensure they get used in their entirety. That way, you can avoid sad celery pushed to the back of the fridge!
  • Prioritize Close Expiry Dates: As far as the kitchen goes, organizing this area has enormous potential to reduce your waste. Take a look at all of the expiry dates in the pantry and put goods that are going the soonest toward the front. In the fridge, group together similar foods.
  • Create a Priority Snack Bin: You may even want to slip a small bin to the front of your fridge and place food that is about to expire in it. Everyone in the house should know that is where they should look for a snack first, which can help reduce food waste.
  • Reuse Scraps: Rethink your food scraps before composting them to give them a second chance at life. For example, you can steep banana peels to make zero waste tea or add eggshells and used coffee grounds to your plants to aerate the soil.

3. Compost Food & Other Organics

By composting your vegetable scraps, eggshells, cotton swabs, and other organic matter, you’re reducing your carbon footprint. Unlike landfill sites, compost piles let items break down in the presence of air, which means they don’t emit greenhouse gasses like methane and carbon dioxide.

4. Give Swapping or Thrifting a Whirl

Swapping isn’t only budget-friendly, but it keeps unwanted items out of landfills. Trading items you no longer want for ones that you do is a low-cost way to give new life to unwanted items. For example, you may take part in a plant swap to get some fresh greenery in your home and garden or plan a clothing swap in your community to refresh your closet.

5. Repair What You Can

We live in a toss-away society, so many of us carry the mindset that when something breaks, we simply replace it. However, replacing the item doesn’t only require more raw materials and packaging, but more than likely, the broken item will end up in a landfill. Therefore, you should explore repairation wherever you can. This may include sewing holes in clothing—visible mending is an eye-catching skill worth learning! Or taking items like shoes and electronics to a repair shop.

6. Get Creative & Upcycle

Upcycled Wood Furniture
You can sleep easy on this sleek Mid-Century Modern bed knowing it reduces waste by integrating upcycled wood with advanced joinery techniques.

Just because something has outlived its original purpose doesn’t mean it has to be destined for the landfill. Flex your creative muscles and give upcycling a try! This may look like:

  • sewing reusable shopping bags from ripped bed sheets
  • making cleaning rags from clothing worn beyond repair
  • crafting a corkboard from used wine corks
  • Reusing glass jars or other containers

Or whatever else your creativity cooks up! Not feeling creative? Look for items that reduce waste by reusing materials, such as our upcycled wood furniture collection.

7. Pack a To-Go Bag

With an abundance of single-use coffee cups and plastic cutlery, it can be extra challenging to embrace zero waste on the go. Luckily, a to-go bag packed with zero waste essentials can help. Consider keeping this bag in the car so you don’t forget it on your way out the door. This bag may include:

  • A Reusable Cup: By using your own cup, your takeout coffee habit can be a lot less wasteful. Even if you just used a reusable cup once a week, you could save 52 cups from the landfill annually.
  • Straws: While not a necessity, if you find yourself reaching for plastic straws, having a few reusable ones on hand is a great idea.
  • Napkins: A few fabric napkins or cloths are great for cleaning up unexpected messes. You also want to include a small wet bag to store soiled napkins—these waterproof bags will seal any moisture and smell until you can get them washed.
  • Reusable Produce & Grocery Bags: Having these bags on hand will make avoiding plastic bags at the grocery store a breeze.
  • Containers or Beeswax Wrap: Prevent food waste and unnecessary packaging by bringing your own container or a beeswax wrap (for drier food) to pack any leftover food from a restaurant. Space a concern? Try collapsible containers.

8. Buy High Quality Goods

Buying American made products means less carbon emissions from shipping

Manufacturing is often an energy intensive process. Globally, manufacturing is a significant contributor to carbon emissions. When you purchase new products, try to buy products that will last a long time, reducing the demand for incremental manufacturing. Bonus points if you can find products that are made in the USA!

  • Furniture: Cheap furniture not only contributes to waste and climate change, but it can also cost you more in the long run. Therefore, when it comes to furniture, look for quality pieces that have the potential to last decades—or even a lifetime. This means skipping fast furniture for quality made pieces crafted from real wood.
  • Clothing: Did you know it takes around 1,800 gallons of water to make one pair of cotton jeans? Quality clothing will last you longer, which saves on not only material, but the resources needed to make them.
  • Kitchen Accessories: Non-stick finishes are nice, but they tend to only last so long before they scratch and wear out. Instead, opt for stainless steel and cast iron wherever possible—both of which can last a lifetime if cared for properly. Also, consider going plastic-free when you can. Ceramic, wood, and even silicone is much more durable and sustainable.

9. Organize Your Home

When your home is organized, it is easy to assess what you have and what you don’t. Organization will help you avoid accidentally rebuying items you already have and reduce the chance of your perishables expiring.

You may want to consider putting similar items all into one cabinet or drawer so you can see everything with one glance. For example, having one drawer just for makeup and all cleaning products in one cabinet. When it comes to wardrobes, hang similar items together and neatly fold items in drawers.

10. Make Some Simple Sustainable Swaps

The next time you run out of paper towels, cupcake liners, dryer sheets, or other single-use items, consider if there is a zero waste swap. For example, bar rags and reusable paper towels made from fabric are wonderful replacements for single-use paper towels. Baking can be less wasteful with reusable silicone cupcake liners or by greasing the tray and forging a liner altogether. Want to skip the dryer sheets but still avoid static? Dryer balls will not only get the job done, but they can also decrease the amount of time it takes your clothes to dry.

11. Find Areas for Improvement with a Trash Audit

Trash audit

Ready to dive into your personal waste downfalls? Try a trash audit. This method that involves digging through your garbage to tally the number of paper towels, baggies, food waste, etc., may seem a little out there—and maybe even a bit yucky—but it is a great way to figure out where to focus your waste reducing efforts. However, if you can’t embrace your inner raccoon for a trash dive, you can also put a list above the garbage for a week and simply write down every item that gets put in the trash.

12. Have Fun and Get Others Involved

Reducing your waste doesn’t have to be a lonesome journey. In fact, it is a whole lot of fun when you get family or friends involved—especially kids. This may look like holding a clothing swap for your friends, organizing a beach cleanup with your coworkers, or trying your hand at food scrap dye with the kids or grandkids. There are lots of ways to have fun while cutting down on waste.  There are endless zero waste tips that can help you reduce your waste. And the best thing you can do is experiment to find the ones that work for you. Before you know it, you will find your stride and settle into a more sustainable lifestyle that you not only love but that our planet deserves.

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This blog is written by your friends at Vermont Woods Studios. Check out our Vermont made furniture and home decor online and visit our showroom and art gallery at Stonehurst, the newly restored 1800s farmhouse nestled in the foothills of the Green Mountains.

Riley Farabaugh

The youngest son of co-founders Peggy and Ken Farabaugh, Riley has filled different roles within the organization since it was founded out of a spare bedroom in the family home in 2005. As the son of the first Vermont Woods Studios craftsmen, Riley has been quickly learning more and more about woodworking, sustainable forestry, and the ins-and-outs of the furniture industry.