I’m not sure exactly when I noticed just how much trash our household was generating, but when I did it was like a light switch. Why it took me so long, I can’t say. We’ve always tried to be responsible regarding things like recycling, where we shop, and the products we buy. One would think that to reduce waste would have been a natural interest, especially considering it has a significantly larger impact than any of the others. At any rate, it’s definitely on my radar now.
Instead of using all my energy on feeling guilty about all my landfill contributions over the years, I decided to go around the house and make note of any items—generally single-use—that can be replaced with something more sustainable. In the end, I wound up with a list surpassing 50. Needless to say, I was both astounded and excited. This was really going to make a difference.
Now, with that many things to swap out, it’s not going to be an overnight process. I’m not exactly made of money. The good news is, nearly every single item on this list will pay for itself in savings. AND it won’t take forever to do so. Pretty awesome when you consider this isn’t always the case when you try to be an ethical consumer.
So, here we go, 50+ ways to help reduce waste at home.*
Replace: Paper Napkins
Replace With: Cloth Napkins
Paper towels for most nights and “fancy” paper napkins for dinner parties have always been the norm here. Considering I grew up with cloth I have absolutely no excuse. Add in the fact that we use them every day, and justifying the expense is pretty easy.
Replace: Plastic Wrap
Replace With: Silicone Lids & Reusable Food Wraps
Our use of plastic wrap has gone down considerably since we purchased a set of food storage containers that came with lids. However, as we still own plenty that don’t have toppers to call their own, we still use it more often than I would like. Luckily, they make silicone lids that come in different sizes and stick to just about anything. And for items that need individual wrapping, reusable food wraps are fantastic.
Replace: Parchment Paper
Replace With: Silicone Baking Mats
I don’t bake a crazy amount, but we recently discovered a recipe for carb-free taco shells made from cheese that require either parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. As you can guess, we only had the former and will soon be making the change.
Replace: Cupcake Papers
Replace With: Silicone Baking Cups
This was a late addition to this list, as of last night. Like I said, we’re not the biggest bakers. However, we were having people over for a belated birthday gathering and wanted to make some cupcakes. I have bad luck with things sticking to tins (not usually a concern when it’s just us, as it tastes the same) and wanted a little insurance. The only solution was paper liners. And, so, here we are.
Replace: Plastic Food Storage Bags
Replace With: Silicone Food Storage Bags
About once a month or so, I like to make soup to keep in individual portions in the freezer for the nights when we don’t have the time or will to cook. Practically speaking, freezer bags were the best choice for this. Environmentally speaking… Silicone food storage bags are perfect for pantry, fridge, or freezer, and can be used over and over again.
Replace: Aluminum Foil
Replace With: Silicone Lids, Grill Mat, & Grill Cage
This one is a big offender in this house. Not only do we use it interchangeably with plastic wrap to cover things before they go in the fridge, we use it to cover dishes in the oven. As it turns out, the silicone lids above can actually be used in the oven (up to 428 degrees Fahrenheit) and freezer as well. It seems the only thing they can’t do is line a pan for easy cleanup. For that, we’ll just have to stick with the usual baking soda and vinegar trick—which I usually ended up having to do anyway. Of course, there are other things one uses foil for, like grilling. In these situations, a grill mat or cage should do just fine.
Replace: Disposable Dining Ware
Replace With: Palm Dinner Ware Set
Every so often we have a party where we just don’t have enough dining ware for everyone. Purchasing more obviously isn’t realistic, nor does renting it out quite make sense. For times like these, sustainably sourced, compostable options are the best. They might not be as cheap as their paper cousins, but maybe we’ll consider that a deterrent against using them on those nights when we really don’t want to do dishes.
Re-place: Food Scraps
Place In: Countertop Composter
Speaking of compostables. We like to cook using food from the perimeter of the store. With that usually comes a lot of food scraps. Since we live in a condo, a countertop composter is ideal for helping us keep most of it out of the garbage. They also work great as temporary storage before taking it to a larger composter outdoors.
Replace: Paper/Plastic Grocery Bags
Replace With: Reusable Shopping Bags for Trolley Cart
These are probably the first green transition item that most households implement. We live in Los Angeles where, a couple of years ago, the city made an attempt to reduce usage of single-use bags. If you already have reusable bags, I encourage you to continue using those. However, if you’re new to this whole deal or it’s time to replace, the set below is pretty fantastic. They fit right in the cart so you can stay organized when you shop, have one specifically for cold items, and roll up perfectly for storage.
Replace: Produce Bags
Replace With: Reusable Produce Bags (+ Egg Crates for Farmers’ Markets)
These bum me out pretty badly. You have to choose between using a plastic bag and putting your food directly onto a dirty conveyor belt. It didn’t even occur to me that an alternative could exist until researching after a frustrating trip to the store where I came home with way too many. So happy there is one!
Replace: Meat Packaging
Replace With: Large Food Containers with Lids
If you eat meat, you’re well aware that the typical packaging it comes in is a styrofoam tray with an absorbent pad, wrapped in plastic. Not great. The good news is you can easily eliminate this problem by going to the butcher counter with your own container. As for being charged for the extra weight, don’t worry about it. Butcher scales usually come with the ability to zero it out before adding the weight of your protein in.
Replace: Single, Disposable Coffee Pods
Replace With: Reusable K Cup & Coffee Grinder
The introduction of single-serve coffee makers has certainly made grabbing a cup much easier. Unfortunately, it’s also created TONS of waste. The good news is you don’t have to give up on the convenience. Instead of the single-use pods, grab yourself a reusable cup and bring your own coffee grounds to the party. You can even take waste elimination a step further and buy your beans in bulk to grind later.
Replace: Single-use Tea Bags
Replace With: Loose Tea & Tea Infuser Set
While it might not generate as much waste as a coffee pod, a teabag is still an unnecessary extra. Try out some looseleaf tea with an infuser instead. You’ll be helping the environment with the added bonus of looking super classy.
Replace: Bottled Water
Replace With: Water Filter & Reusable Bottle/Decanter
It’s common knowledge that bottled water can cost hundreds, if not thousands, of times more than tap water. Despite that, and that it’s horrendous for the environment, sales continue to be on the rise. Making the switch to a home water filter will save you money, space in the fridge, and tooooons of plastic trees. And all it will cost you is a few seconds of your time a day.
Replace: Sparkling Water Bottles/Cans
Replace With: Sparkling Water Maker
For those of you that prefer sparkling water, fret not, there’s an option for you as well. If you’re purchasing the canned versions, a week’s supply for two people is usually at least $10. With that, a sparkling water maker like the one below can pay for itself in less than 5 months. Not too shabby, especially when you consider in that amount of time, it’s also keeping you from using hundreds of cans.
Replace: Paper Towels
Replace With: Microfiber Cloths (+ Breathable Wastebasket & Mini Dehumidifier)
When I first started dating my husband, he had no kitchen towels to his name (sorry to throw you under the bus, babes). Every time a dish needed drying or something needed wiping up, the job would fall to paper towels. I’m sure you can guess what the first gift I ever gave him was. It’s been a few years since then and we’ve decided to take things to the next level by eliminating paper towels altogether. Microfiber cloths can be purchased in bulk, do the exact same job, and last for years. As for convenience, a couple of breathable wastebaskets for clean and dirty towels can easily be kept beneath the sink. And if mildew is a concern, a mini dehumidifier can be clipped on the side.
Replace: Disposable Sponges
Replace With: Silicone Scrubbers
Even if you’re the kind to throw your sponges in when you run the dishwasher, their lifespan is far from the longest. Silicone scrubbers are cleaner, last MUCH longer, are more attractive, and can also be used as coasters and jar grippers. What more could you want?
Replace: Diluted Cleansers
Replace With: Concentrated Cleansers & Glass Spray Bottles
Instead of throwing away cleaning bottles when they’re empty, purchasing a concentrated version and reusing them can save dozens more from making their way to the recycling bin. Added bonus, when that bottle finally goes kaput, you can move over to these snazzy glass ones. Just one more example of going green looking good.
Replace/Cut Down On: Personal Wipes & Toilet Paper
Replace With: Bidet & Travel Bidet
If you’re not super familiar with bidets, the word might conjure up an image of the older, freestanding versions. That said, the idea of using one in your home stops at the financial and spacial cost it would require. Thankfully, we’re living in the future where there are options for every kind of bathroom and budget out there. Using a bidet can cut down on toilet paper usage significantly and completely eliminates the need for personal wipes. It might not save you on trips to take out the trash, but it will save the earth and keep quite a bit of money from literally going down the drain.
Replace: Astringent Wipes & Facial Wipes
Replace With: Liquid Astringent, Micellar Water, & Facial Cloths
I recently made an overhaul of my facial skincare routine so that it included products like toner pads and cleansing wipes. While the convenience factor of having what I need ready to go, it truly only saves about 5 seconds. Not worth it. Using facial cloths and liquids instead takes hardly any additional time at all, and it’s both more cost-effective and environmentally friendly.
Replace: Cotton Balls
Replace With: Above & Nail Polish Remover Sponge
Cotton balls are used for lots of things, most of which can be replaced with the cloths and liquids above. For situations where this isn’t ideal, more sustainable alternatives can still be found. Take this DIY Nailpolish-Remover Jar from One Good Thing, for example.
Replace: Individual Pill Packs
Replace With: Liquid/Loose Pill Bottles
While it might not be possible for times when we get a cold on the go, purchasing liquids (assuming they produce less waste per dose) and larger bottles of loose pills is much greener than blistered pill packets.
Replace: Shaving Cream/Gel & Disposable Razors
Replace With: Shaving Soap, Brush, & Safety Razor (or Disposable Razor Head Only)
Want in on a little secret? Men aren’t the only ones that can use shaving soap and safety razors. Shocking, I know. Sure, it takes a little more work than just pushing down a button and having ready-to-go cream in your hand. However, when you consider how much waste you’ll be eliminating, the few extra seconds are completely worth it. For those that aren’t quite ready to try their hand at a safety razor, razors that only need the heads replaced are a good 2nd. They won’t save as much money or packaging, but they’re at least a step in the right direction.
Replace: Disposable Panty Liners & Tampons
Replace With: Menstrual Underwear, Washable Cotton Liners, & Menstrual Cup
As if it’s not bad enough having a period, throwing in having to pay for all the expensive feminine hygiene products you only use once is just cruel. Don’t even get me started on the pink tax. While going green with your menstrual products won’t save you from the bummer of needing them in the first place, replacing the disposable norms with menstrual underwear, washable cotton liners, and menstrual cups will be much better for both your wallet and the earth.
Replace: Disposable Diapers
Replace With: Reusable Cloth Diapers (+ for Fur Babies)
Cloth diapers might not be for everyone, but if you can handle the cleanup they’re pretty awesome. Disposable diapers are far from the cheapest and when you consider how many people use them every day you can imagine the environmental impact. Using reusable diapers instead (for both human and fur babies) is a great alternative for both parents and landfills.
Replace: “Regular” Pet Waste Mangement Products
Replace With: Reusable or Biodegradable Dog Waste Bags & Healthier Litter
Speaking of caring for fur babies… When it comes to cleaning up your pet’s business, the options for how to do it can seem a little overwhelming. Fortunately, the wide variety happens to include plenty of the environmentally-friendly type. For dogs, reusable waste bags are arguably the best. Unfortunately, you have to be rather “on it” to utilize them properly. If this isn’t you, the biodegradable kind should work just fine. For cats, it’s honestly just a matter of changing the type of litter (like from clumping clay to recycled newspaper pellets) and otherwise keeping the same routine.
Replace: Fabric Softener/Disposable Dryer Sheets
Replace With: Wool Dryer Balls & DIY Reusable Dryer Sheets
Doing laundry might not be the worst offender in our house as far as single-use items go, but it does have some room for improvement. A combination of wool dryer balls with a drop of essential oil and DIY reusable dryer sheets like the ones below from Popsugar eliminate the need for both fabric softener and disposable dryer sheets. Sure, bottles of liquid fabric softener aren’t single-use, but I’ll take the bonus.
Replace: Tossing Old Clothing & Textiles
Replace With: Investing, Recycling & Repairing
While clothing and textiles aren’t single-use items either, I think their great contribution to our landfills qualifies them for this list. It doesn’t matter what your budget happens to be, the idea is to keep textiles out of the trash. Love an old piece or can’t afford to replace it? Keep an inexpensive but comprehensive repair kit on hand. Have items you never use taking up space in your closet? Donate, sell, or trade them in. Random textiles that aren’t good to anyone in their current condition? Recycle them. As for where to take everything, it just takes a simple internet search to find a place near you. Personally, I prefer H&M’s recycling program. It doesn’t matter what it is, the condition it’s in, or where it’s from—if it’s a textile, they’ll take it, sort it, and make sure it gets the second life it deserves.
Replace: Circulars, Credit Card Offers, Etc.
Replace With: No Circulars, Credit Card Offers, Etc.
You know what’s better than no bills in your mailbox? Nothing in your mailbox (except maybe a thoughtful card, but you get what I’m saying). But how to make it happen?
Step One: Switch all bills and accounts to paperless. If you happen to be someone who relies on the physical piece of paper to hang on your fridge until it’s taken care of, no worries. Consider keeping an email address that’s used solely for this purpose. This way, things are still easy to keep track of, and your refrigerator looks tidier to boot.
Step Two: Check out this list the FTC put together to help you opt out of unsolicited marketing mail like preapproved credit card and insurance offers.
Step Three: Place a note in your mailbox that says “No Circulars, Please.” To be completely honest with you, I haven’t had the best of luck with the last one. However, I’ve heard of plenty of people that have, so it’s definitely worth a try for that last large packet of paper.
Replace: Wrapping Paper & Single-Use Ribbon
Replace With: Muslin & Yarn
Though it initially costs quite a bit more, when you break it down by square foot there’s only a couple of cents difference between some fabrics and the cheapest tubes of wrapping paper. When you factor in the amount of trash it prevents, especially around the holidays, it’s totally worth it if it’s something you can afford. For the days when wrapping skills are strong, it can be used the same way one would paper (straight pins can be implemented temporarily to hold the fabric in place before adding a tight ribbon). For the other days, a bag-type situation, secured by yarn or ribbon at the top works just fine.
Replace: Disposable Batteries
Replace With: Rechargeable Batteries
Oh, batteries! I don’t know about you but I feel like I’ve never had them around when I need them. Before it was because basically everything in the house required them so they were always gone as soon as you bought them. Now it seems like nothing needs batteries so we don’t really buy them in the first place. We decided to break the cycle about two years ago and purchased some rechargeable batteries. They’re a little more expensive, but I’m fairly certain they’re all we’ll need for the rest of our lives.
Replace: Incandescent Lightbulbs
Replace With: LED Lightbulbs
I have to admit the main reason we made this switch was to save on our energy bill. Though we’re definitely not mad that it helps the environment too. We had moved from an apartment that somehow only had five lights throughout the entire place to a condo with recessed lights everywhere. You’ll hear no complaints from us about how much better everything looks, but the bulbs were all incandescent so the first bill was not a fun one. We’ve since purchased LEDs that only use 1/10th of the energy and last for years to replace them.
Replace: Single-Use Items You Must Buy
Replace With: Recycled, Recyclable, and Biodegradable Single-use Items
Of course, there are going to be single-use items that, try as we might, we legitimately can’t get around. Things like garbage bags and toilet paper are probably always going to be necessary items for most of us. When it comes to buying them, opting for the recycled, recyclable, and biodegradable versions is absolutely the best way to go. They do tend to be a little pricier. However, if you’re taking steps to produce less garbage (the whole point of this post) the same amount of product is going to last you much longer. Just one more way helping the planet is probably going to help your wallet as well 😉
*You’ll notice that some items on this list are still made of materials that aren’t necessarily environmentally friendly on their own. It is in the waste they are replacing that I consider them to be “better”. If you’ve found that there are greener options for any of the items I have listed here, I would love for you to let me know so I can adjust the list (and my home) accordingly 🙂