Waste Not: 5 Easy Ways to Cut Down on Trash | Vegetarian Times Skip to main content

Waste Not: 5 Easy Ways to Cut Down on Trash

Waste Not: 5 Easy Ways to Cut Down on Trash

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).

Multipurpose Cleaner
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.

Comments on this Blog

What kind of shelf life does the all purpose cleaner have?

Similar to #1, have you heard about Portland, Oregon's "GO Box"? It's a super smart system to give reusable containers to people who buy food at Portland's food trucks. You just turn in the used box when you're done, it's cleaned, and you get a new one next time you go to a food truck! It's so smart and is an inexpensive way to reduce waste. http://www.goboxpdx.com/

Exciting!! We are on a zero-waste challenge for our family of 5. Buying Bulk has been a very easy way to reduce our kitchen waste (and plastic packaging). We also have saved a lot on our grocery bill!! Looking forward to reading this book! ibikeubike.com

Jennifer - I can't imagine any of the items would spoil, so it's shelf life is as long as it takes for you to use it? These are the simple changes - I still struggle with pill packets. And foods that aren't in bulk. And bottles with removable foil caps under the screw cap (why?!!?). And things you can only buy in a moulded plastic case - thinking hardware items. It's something I struggle with on my blog! http://livetolist.wordpress.com/category/zero-waste/

Do you need to boil the water for the cleaning solution so the solids will disolve? Thanks.

I like the sound of the cleaner:-) I compost all raw food waste and the council takes away cooked food waste to compost. sometimes the over-packaging of products makes me want to scream, it's so ridiculous! good luck with your challenge

Be AWARE when you BUY to start with! Stop and think before you pick out that: box of crackers/cereal/snacks; small cartons of yogurt; drinks in plastic containers. Make a mental note! Whatever you buy ask yourself 'HOW am I going to dispose of it?' Not just at the grocery store - do this at the Craft / Clothes / Houseware store. Thank You!