Let’s Get Wasted!
We Waste Watchers have our own creative (and sometimes quirky) ways of reducing waste in our everyday lives. “Junkie Jacquie” still harvests treasures from the neighbors’ trash, Melissa dries her Levi’s on a drying rack, and Miranda trades Halloween costumes with friends. So, if you’re looking to reduce waste in your own life, you’ve come to the right place! We’re delighted to share what we do — and hope you’ll share your own ingenious ideas, too. We’ve arranged them in seven different categories. Come on, join us! LET’S GET WASTED together.
Durable, not Disposable
WasteWatchers believe in the saying “less is more,” and also, ‘less quantity and more quality.’ Think about it, wouldn’t you rather show off your few prized possessions rather than your mountain of stuff’? Come on, no one wants to end up on TLC’s “Hoarders”.
- Invest in better stuff. Snapple bottles boast their contents are “Made from the best stuff on Earth,” and so should all of your belongings. Choose fewer, better quality belongings that are meant to last instead of buying more “stuff” that ends up being of a lesser quality with a shorter life span. Appreciate and maintain those belongings and save money (as well as the time it takes to care for them for the more important things in life.)
- Don’t be a slave to fashion trends — buy classic styles. Forget about the latest runway designs and fast fashion frocks! Make classic white tops and black Capri pants signature staples in your wardrobe — and stay stylish for years to come.
- In with the old, out with the new. The old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has a WasteWatcher twist, “If it ain’t broken, don’t replace it.” Avoid the temptation to replace electronics with newer models that may not last. See Jacquie’s post “The Older it is the Longer It Lasts” if you need more proof.
- Avoid “Buy One, Get One Free.” Giving into this tempting promotion at the Clinique counter will just make you want to buy more “stuff” that will simply clutter your bathroom and cosmetics bag. Just buy what you need — and no more!
- Give the gift of history. For Christmas one year, Jacquie created a cookbook of recipes gathered from five generations of Ottmans. We’ll bet you can do something similar. (Don’t worry about getting fancy — it’s the thought that counts!)
- Carry a cloth shopping bag. Reusable cloth bags are super chic! Check out these bags on Reuseit.com. Just tuck one away in the side pocket of your purse, and you are good to go! Whip it out whenever you’re offered a plastic bag. Think of all the plastic bags you cut down on when you make this a daily habit!
- “Heirloom Products” that come with so much embedded value (special materials and embedded energy) and event sentimental value/ “stories”, that people want to keep them forever, pass them on to family members, e.g., Tiffany silver, Rolex watches and Montblanc pens, Le Creuset pots and pans.
- Embrace “virtual ownership.” Our friend Marissa Feinberg of GreenSpaces NY created a Pinterest account and “pins” her dream wardrobe there instead of buying it. This gives her a sense of owning something without actually having to go to the store to buy it.
Use it Up!
Don’t let a single morsel, drop, or smidge go to waste! Become a part of the 100% product use-up club! Manufacturers took the trouble to pack the toothpaste tube with so much product and charge you for every last drop. It’s our duty as consumers to make sure we use up the last scoop, ounce, and drop.
- Get every drop from liquid cleaning and personal care products. Make sure your toothpaste, lotion, body wash, dish soap, and detergent are totally used up before it’s time to recycle the bottles. Leaving no drop behind, Jacquie balances the Palmolive bottle on its head overnight just to let those last drops flow to the cap. Find out how Alex figured out ‘3 Ways to Get ALL Your Money’s Worth of Pantene’.
- Invest in some thin spatulas. Just ask Jacquie: her spatula picks up every ounce of mayonnaise from the sides of the jar and every last bit of cookie dough morsel from the sides of the bowl.
- Wind up the toothpaste. Get yourself a wind up key for your toothpaste and squeeze out all the toothpaste in that tube neatly and completely. You can buy them in most drugstores for under a dollar.
- Use up the soap. Jacquie brings home her half used bars of soap from hotels, just so she can be sure they don’t go to waste. (By the way, she’s delighted to see those new hotel soaps with the little hole in them — saves waste and saves money.)
- Use spray liquid laundry detergents. Try using Method laundry detergent. It’s not only ultra-concentrated, but you can squirt it right into the washing machine, cutting down on the wasted (and messy) detergent left in the cap.
- Coax that antiperspirant all the way to the top. That deodorant in your gym locker isn’t empty just yet. With just an extra nudge, you will discover an inch or more of product. To learn Jacquie’s own secret for getting more swipes, see her post, ‘The Secret to Getting More Swipes’.
- Reuse. If you have to take them at all, reuse plastic shopping bags as trash bags. (Or better yet, ‘Hold the Unnecessary Packing: Train the Checkout Clerk’.) Wash and reuse Ziploc bags and use them to organize those game pieces that always seem to get lost. Peanut butter jars make the perfect piggy bank. Use the underside of printer paper for notes. Return egg cartons to your local farmer. Chances are that you didn’t quite fill in that notebook you used last semester. Melissa reuses her binders, pens, and folders from semester to semester. Jacquie reuses manila folders in the office and puts a new Avery label over the old one.
- Refill. Get yourself a refillable water bottle. Refill it with tap or filtered water instead of purchasing packaged bottled water, (which is likely only purified by a municipality). Need more incentive? Check out Miranda’s post, ‘Finally, A Viable Alternative to Bottled Water’.
Fix it up!
Don’t get rid of something before its time is really up. Opt for repairing rather than replacing or get those creative juices flowing and find a new niche for an item. Get in the spirit of D.I.Y. to save money and reduce waste!
- Fix it, don’t trash it! Repair belongings so they stick around a long time instead of replacing them with a new one. Support local repair shops and check out the Fixit Collectives that are now springing up in some areas. Try your hand at fixing things yourself. If you’re like us, you’ll have a great day when you find you can fix something that a pro tells you is beyond repair.
- Repurpose. Try out your creativity by repurposing a product that can be useful as something else. Pinterest and Etsy are excellent sites for inspirational craft ideas for repurposing old items — over 50 new uses have been found for Mason Jars.
- Get creative with your wardrobe. So sure that your husband’s old shirt can’t be used for anything else but a shirt? This video shows you how to transform a man’s shirt into different styles of dresses and skirts instantly! Have a bunch of old unflattering t-shirts? There are many tutorials on YouTube that can help give new life to an old shirt. On the other hand, take that old shirt and make an awesome new bag! Turn that old pair of jeans you never wear into your new favorite pair of shorts!
- Change the way you think of “new.” The next time you get the urge to buy something new, satisfy it by thinking “new to me” instead of “newly bought” — and save a lot of money in the process. Vintage is in so take that grandpa style and start shopping at thrift stores or shop at sites like Freestyleclothing.com and give a new lease on life to an old shirt, skirt, or shoes. Our very own WasteWatcher, Jennifer Lee has just opened the world’s first swap store in NYC. Check it out at the Closet Dash Store.
Share, Don’t Consume
Think about all the things that you own that don’t get used day to day, week to week, or even year to year. Others could use them when you’re not and vice versa. It’s a new trend called Collaborative Consumption, and it’s being facilitated by the internet.
- Share, swap, lease, and rent! Get rid of those sappy trashy novels and that college statistics textbook you’ll never crack again by selling them on Better World Books! Lend out books, magazines, and newspapers to friends and family. Visit the Swap-O-Matic vending machine and begin a book exchange with friends. Check out Closetdash.com and learn how a clothes swap can be a fun social event.
- Evolve into a giver of services/time instead of material objects. Offer your time or expertise as a gift. Babysit for a friend’s child, or teach someone to play tennis or how to paint.
- Make money for underutilized resources like space in your driveway or an underused guestroom.
- Share your skills by teaching a course or take one offered by others at Skillshare. MOOCs, or Massive Online Classes, are becoming popular on the Internet. Sites like Coursera and Canvas.net offer free online classes for you to take!
- Make your cooperative apartment truly cooperative. Turn your building into a real community by promoting socializing, sharing, and cooperation.
- Share your ride. ‘Anybody Want to Share a Cab?’ How about a Prius? Car sharing programs like Zipcar and Carpooling.com are popping up everywhere. Why not take advantage of a sweet ride without having to buy your own.
- Pass things along to others directly or indirectly, by taking things to the thrift store, consignment store, putting it in the Freebox, or on Freecycle.
- Sell things directly, on eBay, or on Craig’s List to someone else who can use it for the primary purpose.
- “Shop” on the curb. One woman’s trash is another gal’s treasure! Harvest furniture, kitchen pots and pans — and just about anything — from curbsides. Start a “Curb Alert” in your neighborhood like the one that exists at Brooklynian.com and really kick clutter to the curb! Check out Material Exchanges like the one that exists in NYC and North Carolina. Start your own Free Box in your neighborhood or apartment building like the one in Telluride, CO and be amazed at the treasures you can find — and feel good knowing that your own stuff will be put to good use.
- Gift and re-gift. Think outside that gift box and openly re-gift items to friends and family in the name of resourcefulness and frugality. Jacquie started a new re-gifting tradition this year, by turning a rendezvous with old friends into a special occasion. Read Jacquie’s blog, Gift a Gift, Instead of a Re-gift.
Did you know that about 40 – 50% of all food ready for harvest in the U.S. never gets eaten? A lot of this waste occurs before the food ever comes to the table, but consumers can do their part by taking pains to carefully preserve food, reinvent leftovers, and eat all their spinach!
- Buy local. Buy from the local farmers market or visit your nearest co-op store. Not only do you limit your waste, but also you get healthier foods for your family.
- Eat seasonal. There is sufficient supply of all sorts of fruits and veggies in the supermarkets but you should become more conscious of what you eat and what time of the year it grows in your region. Adapt your diet to this natural cycle of life and you will appreciate some of your favorite foods even more when the season comes.
- Pickle it, can it, cure it. Take out those pickling jars and start making homemade jam. Make your favorite sauces in bulk and “can” them in a mason jar.
- Keep it fresher longer. Grab a Debbie Meyers “Green Bag,” Rubbermaid Produce Saver or Tupperware container, or even look into vacuum packaging your meals to keep leftovers fresh for as long as possible!
- Transform leftovers. Don’t discard dinner remains. Under the thoughtful guidance of our “Leftover Queen” WasteWatcher Jocelyn Deprez, leftovers can have a makeover! Check out her book, The Refrigerator Files, that’s jam-packed with recipes for turning last night’s leftovers into tonight’s gourmet entrées. Follow her recipes on our blog — Jacquie’s favorite: ‘When Life Gives You Lobster Shells, Make Lobster Bisque’. Check out the U.K. website “Love Food Hate Waste” for other creative ways to make all your food last.
- Shop consciously! Instead of filling up your fridge with groceries for a week’s worth of meals, think about what you want to eat during the next 1-2 days and just get the groceries you need. It saves you money and food from going bad. And by all means, don’t shop hungry — or risk buying more food than you really need.
- Food sharing. Do it like Jacquie who shares her big bag of Clementines with neighbors in her apartment building. Or even bring it to the next level and join/establish a food-sharing platform in your region like the Food Swap Network. This is a great opportunity to get rid of food that you would otherwise throw away (e.g. before going on a vacation), get to know new culinary delights and meet great new people! Nadine reports that in Germany the director of the documentary “taste the waste” is creating food sharing platform where private households as well as restaurants, bakeries, supermarkets etc. can share the food that would be thrown away even though it’s still perfectly fine to eat.
- Take that doggie bag. Don’t leave that extra food on the restaurant table, ask for a doggie bag instead. You can make two meals out of one! Moreover, bring your own container to the restaurant like Fredrica in “The Future of Doggie Bags”.
- Learn how to read expiration dates. A ‘Sell-By’ date, a ‘Best if Used By’ date, and ‘Use-By’ date all have different meanings. The important label is the ‘Best if Used By’ date. This is NOT a safety date — it is simply suggesting when the quality and flavor of the product will be at its best. So by all means, eat away! To learn more about how to read and understand food dating, visit the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service webpage.
- Buy in bulk, and save money while reducing packaging waste. Karen loves to buy spices, herbs, sugar, and flour in bulk from her local co-op. So, say goodbye to individually wrapped items and start shopping for bulk goods when you can!
- Cook in proper proportions. We love to use leftovers creatively, but we can try to reduce the amount of leftovers we have in the first place! Cook with proper proportions in mind and avoid “all you can eat” buffet lines. Don’t know how much that is? You should really only be eating meals that look to be the size of your fist. Check out this photographer’s photos of families and their weekly food stock from around the world — decide for yourself which country seems to be the most wasteful.
- Grow your food. Put on those garden gloves and start gardening. Growing your food is not only more nutritious, but it also means there has been no wasted transportation or wasted packaging involved in the process! A small herb garden or windowsill garden can do the trick. Just add water.
- Dumpster dive. No kidding! Check out the dumpsters behind Trader Joe’s and other favorite food stores and be amazed at all the perfectly edible foods.
- Redistribute food. City Harvest is a non-profit that keeps New York City from going hungry. It redistributes food from restaurants, events, grocers, farms, and many other places. If City Harvest can do it, then you can do it too. Got a doggie bag you don’t really need? Pass it along to one of the many homeless you see on the street.
Save Watts and Drops
The conservation of water, energy, paper, and other resources that are consumed every time we use our favorite products begins with new habits and some resource-saving designs.
- Update your bathroom fixtures. Invest in efficient bathroom fixtures. Like WasteWatcher Mark Eisen, make sure that your showerhead and sink faucet are low flow. You’ll end up using less water and you’ll love the money you’ll save!
- Shower with a buddy. Save even more waterby showering with a buddy — a Shower Buddy that is! A Shower Buddy has a timer that tells you when your five minutes of water are up. (Of course, if you have a real live buddy, by all means…) Read Jacquie’s post ‘Showering Without My Buddy’ to learn more about the benefits of a shower buddy.
- No buddy? Then, shower with a bucket. Think of all the water that’s wasted in the short amount of time it takes for your shower to warm up. Shudder to think of how much water goes down the drain during the entire time you’re soaping up and shaving. Try placing a bucket in the shower to catch some of that water. Your garden will love you for it!
- Turn off that faucet! Turning the faucet off while brushing your teeth, shaving, and washing your face are simple habits for conservation. Save some water altogether by participating in Movember and don’t shave for all of November! Try taking a “Navy Shower” and turn off the water while lathering up. Check out Mark’s post about special showerheads with chains that make it easy.
- Only boil the water you need. Don’t fill that pot to the brim! When cooking, try to use only the amount of water that’s really needed. When she has water left over after boiling an egg, Jacquie waters her plants straight from the cooled down pot. Plants won’t start smelling like eggs, in fact, they’ll benefit from the nutrients.
- Lather once, period. Who says you have to “repeat” — especially if you have short hair.
- Eat thoughtfully. Every pound of beef you buy took 2500 gallons of water — called “virtual water” to make. You can buy delicious locally grown and organic vegetables and fruit in city squares and markets, as well as at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Wegman’s. Participate in Meat Free Monday and eat vegetarian at least one day a week.
- Drive a hybrid or become a member of Zipcar and drive a car with a GPS instructed eco-route to the farmers market. Better yet, take the train, bike, or walk.
- Carpool. Save time by commuting in the HOV lane, make a new friends, and save money by sharing the tab for gasoline. Besides, it is a lot more fun to have company, especially on long drives! Check out Carpooling.com (they’re one of our sponsors) to learn more about how to link up with others in over 40 countries.
- Turn off the lights when you leave a room. Better yet, like Mark Eisen use light dimmers, and experience the mood uplift when the electric bill arrives. Rather than rely on a large ceiling light, which only disperses light (and can make your room hot), use task lamps on desks and install a reading light near your bed. Check out Team ENERGY STAR for more tips.
- Embrace natural light. Move your desk near a window. Using natural light not only conserves energy but also gives you a window to the outside world, opening up your living space. Invest in skylights. Check out Solatube to find out how you can bring more natural light into your home or business.
- Make your home energy efficient. The EPA tells us the average home uses more energy than a car. Make sure that your walls and attic are well insulated so that your house stays warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Upgrade your windows to EnergyStar-rated windows to help reduce your heating and air-conditioning bills. Plant trees around your home so the foliage will block the infrared radiation in the sunny months while the bare branches will let it through during winter.
- Put on a sweater. Jimmy Carter was right — don’t touch that thermostat! No need to waste energy on the heater when you can wear your favorite cozy sweatshirt instead. If you really need to use the heater, try to heat only the rooms you are using.
- Open a window. Summer days too hot? Before you rev up the AC, try opening a window and let the breeze flow in! Still not cool enough? Try using a ceiling fan. They are $100 in Home Depot, and will repay their investment many times over.
- Turn appliances off at the wall. Get a power strip, and turn it off when going on vacation and weekends away. Get a timer for air conditioners.
- Rent a kilowatt meter. Use the Kill-A-Watt to determine the amount of electricity used by the appliances in your house. Watching how much you use while you use it can help lower your electric usage.
- Get a drying rack or a clothesline. Imagine your sheets and shirts pinned to a clothing line billowing in a backyard. For the concrete jungle and college dorm rooms, a drying rack will suffice! Levi’s has determined that drying blue jeans in the air saves greenhouse gases. (Doesn’t make sense that jus Levi’s discovered this). Instead: Levi’s believes that greenhouse gases are produced when conventionally drying blue jeans. Opt for air drying them instead. Their color will last longer too! Melissa used one in her dorm room at Cornell to dry her towels in between showers. Learn more at Melissa’s post, ‘Sisterhood of the Air-dried Pants’.
- Use cold water. Did you know that washing your clothes in cold water can get them just as clean as using hot water? (Even for sheets and towels!) P&G even says so! Turn the dial down to cold the next time you launder clothes and see for yourself — and watch the savings add up.
- Stop the junk mail. No one likes seeing direct mailings even if they do go straight into the recycling bin. The Direct Marketing Association can help you get off unwanted mailing lists at this site, an easy and effective way to stop paper waste before it starts. To cut down on unwanted ads, simply put a sign on your mailbox that says: NO ADVERTISEMENT!
- Use cloth instead of paper towels/napkins. Save those paper napkins from the take-out packs to use instead of tissues. Hate seeing all that brown paper towels go to waste in public restrooms? Check out Peopletowels.com.
- Use both sides of paper. Cut down on all the paper you use each day by printing double sided. For years, Jacquie has been using the backsides of used paper for scratch and is proud to say in 24 years in business, she’s never bought a pad of lined paper. Word to the wise: if you try this yourself, be sure to cross out the side that’s printed on so you don’t get mixed up!
- No more plastic bags! Take your own bag or shopping basket to the grocery store. If you forget, simply ask the packer/cashier to use as few bags as possible. When you go shopping, refrain from getting a new bag from each store you buy from. Simply put subsequent purchases in the first shopping bag you get.
Live Small, Live Smart
The average home in America has more than doubled in size since 1970, and there are more cars than drivers. When homes have more space than necessary, stuff tends to accumulate. How many people do you know who no longer use their garage for a car? Having just as much space as you need challenges you to use that space wisely.
- Think efficiently. Think of IKEA’s small spaces instead of the sprawling suburban homes of America. Large homes need to be heated and cooled. Not to say one needs to live in a tent, but find a home with enough space to suit you and no more.
- Decorate for double duty. With so many people living in cities these days, design options have expanded considerably since the days of Bernadette Castro. Remember Murphy Beds? Those can really open up a floor plan. So can sofas that pull out to a bed, ottomans with hidden storage space, and coffee tables that expand like an accordion to seat ten for dinner. Treehugger’s Graham Hill’s 400 sq ft apartment in NYC, and his LifeEdited.com website demonstrate how to make a second use for everything and can inspire you to ‘de-clutter’. Check out Jennifer’s blog post, ‘How to De-clutter Your Home’ for some everyday tips.
- Walk, don’t drive. Forget the car — and walk! (Think of it as a way to show off the shoes you found at a thrift store.) If you can’t walk, use public transit. The train is fast and easy, and you don’t have to worry about getting stuck in traffic! If driving is a necessity, see if you can set up a carpool. Sites like Carpooling.com are a great tool to connect with others looking for a ride!
- Ride your bike. With Paris, Washington DC, soon NYC and other cities now having thousands of bikes available for daily rentals, and bike lanes becoming as common as bus lanes, biking is becoming a form of transportation, not just recreation. Avoid being stuck in the traffic for hours and save the time you usually spend in the gym by simply riding your bike! You don’t even need to own a bike to do so!
- Your Daily Commute — From the Bedroom to your Living Room. The best commute is the one where you don’t have to commute at all. Working from home or living near where you work is the best way to cut down on using energy in the morning (that is of course, not taking into account the energy it takes to get out of bed)!
Recycle and Compost
Ban the trash can! Compost the food scraps! Make sure products are sent to the appropriate place when their useful life is over. That torn newspaper blowing in the wind on a park bench — that could have been in a recycling bin. That leftover apple carelessly tossed in the garbage — that could have been in a compost container. When a product can no longer be used for primary or secondary purpose, capture the materials and energy embodied in by recycling, or composting, rather than disposing of them in a landfill.
- Recycle after use. Bottles, cans, paper, and cardboard can all be recycled at the end of their useful life. Recycle vigilantly. Make sure you know what is recyclable and where you can recycle it.
- (Vermi-)Compost. Provide a home for those red wigglers and earthworms by giving them the best food from your leftover meals. Got some moldy bread or leftover banana peels? Throw those in the bin. Red Wigglers and earthworms will give you black gold to fertilize your plants. Also, advocate for community composting projects such as the one in San Francisco that provides fertilizer for community gardens! Find a community garden in your area that composts. If it doesn’t have a composting program, start your own!
- Buy products that are recyclable or landfill safe. Be mindful when you buy products. What will happen to them when they live out their usefulness? Buy things you know are recyclable or are landfill safe.
- Buy products from recycled and composted materials. As Disney says it in the Lion King, it is the ‘Circle of Life’. Why not buy products that are made of recycled or composted materials instead of buying products made from brand new materials?
- Manage your waste at home. Create a system for recycling that works for your family. Do you need recycle bins in every room? A compost bin in the corner of the backyard where the dog won’t get it? Make it fun! Reward your kids when they remember to recycle. Embrace a system that everyone can follow and make it into a daily part of your life.
- Return for rewards. Many companies encourage consumers to return their used casings of their products so that they can be recycled. And they reward. Return your printer’s ink cartridges back to Staples and get cash back on a reward card. Return six primary packaging containers back to M-A-C, and they will give you a lipstick free!
- Redirect litter. If you are walking in the street and see a piece of trash, pick it up and place it in the appropriate bin for recycling, composting, or trash. Like Jacquie, you never know what you might find on the street. Read Jacquie’s blog post, The Richest Rag in the World.