The average American creates a whopping three pounds of landfill-bound garbage every day. This sobering statistic was enough to inspire Amy Korst, a teacher and longtime vegetarian based in Pacific City, Ore., to go trash-free for a year. In her new book, The Zero-Waste Lifestyle, she describes the inevitable challenges she faced (like, say, figuring out what to do with empty medicine bottles and kitty litter) and offers simple ideas for us all to try at home. Here, five of our favorites, plus a recipe for Korst's DIY cleaning solution.
1. Bring reusable containers to restaurants. What better way to pack up leftovers or take-out, minus the eco-guilt-inducing (often Styrofoam) "doggie bag"? Don't fret if you get a surprised look or two: "It's a great opportunity to tell other people about this excellent lifestyle," says Korst.
2. Organize a clothing swap with your friends. You can clear out your clutter and get new threads. Korst's rules of thumb: suggest a minimum number of items for people to bring, serve festive grub, and provide "dressing rooms." Oh, and be sure to donate leftovers to Goodwill. Some shops will even take raggedy clothes, so there's no need to toss hole-y pants and shirts in the trash.
3. Avoid food products with excessive packaging. Think single-serving trail mixes and itty-bitty raisin boxes—convenient but wasteful. Instead, buy larger sizes, or hit up the bulk foods aisle. Korst recommends checking out smaller natural foods stores, which are more likely to carry both bulk dry goods and liquids (such as olive oil, shampoo, and dish soap).
4. Compost to keep food scraps out of landfills. Turns out, food scraps like apple cores can sit in landfills for decades and not decompose. Korst is all about "lazy composting," which takes a little longer but requires minimal work. If you live in an apartment, consider composting in a worm bin. Some stuff you might not know you can compost: wine corks, sticky notes, dog fur.
5. Make your own cleaning products. It's surprisingly easy, and you can use the same spray bottle over and over. We've been cleaning up a storm with Korst's sweet-smelling Multipurpose Cleaner (below).
Makes 2 cups
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. borax
2 Tbs. white vinegar
2 cups boiling water
20 drops essential oil of your choice
Mix all ingredients except essential oil. Allow the mixture to cool, add essential oil, and pour into a spray bottle.
Reprinted with permission from The Zero-Waste Lifestyle: Live Well by Throwing Away Less by Amy Korst, copyright © 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group.