Real Food Tips: 10 Ways to Be Less Wasteful

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It has been gradual, but over the last couple years we’ve been making small changes toward reducing waste – inspired by the Zero Waste Family and the fact that after an entire year they only produced one mason jar full of trash (if you can believe that!). I am the first to admit that we will likely never even come close to such an accomplishment, but I immediately recognized that we could do much better than a big trash bag full of garbage every few days.

We’ve all heard that we should Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, but my favorite “R” is actually one I just learned about recently and that is to REFUSE. Say “no, thank you” to the free pen at the trade show or hotel, stop entering those raffle contests, and don’t buy any more cheap plastic toys that you know your child will forget about in 2.4 seconds! Already being a type-A “purger” at heart, this motto has really hit home with me. I strive to have all our rooms and closets clean and neatly organized, but guess what – I would have to spend a lot less time doing that cleaning and organizing if we had less unnecessary stuff! So I am doing my best to stop those garbage bags full of unnecessary trash and Goodwill offerings before they even happen.

So in light of this new motto (and Earth Day today!) here are 10 ways we’re working to “reduce” our footprint that others can easily adopt:

    1. cloth napkinsCloth Napkins.
      Ditching paper napkins was something I considered for a long time before I actually did it. Then once we made the switch (and I realized how easy it was!), I couldn’t believe I had waited so long. The first step for me was to clear out a drawer in the kitchen to store our new cloth napkins (they take up a lot more room than a little stack of paper ones). So I finally dedicated a day to getting rid of more unnecessary stuff, ordered some attractive napkins that didn’t appear to hold too many wrinkles (because I knew ironing them was an unrealistic expectation), and came up with a new routine. We decided we didn’t need a “fresh” napkin every single meal so in-between uses we just hang our colorful new napkins on the back of our chairs. I also created a new spot in the laundry room for the dirty ones that I just add to a load of laundry as needed. And let me tell you what – this new routine is easy peasy and not only do we save money on not buying paper napkins, but we also enjoy the more “upscale” feel of using real napkins at the table!
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    2. Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 2.06.11 PMReusable Grocery Bags.
      This is nothing new, but what’s new for me is that I finally have a good grocery bag “system” (so I don’t constantly have bags scattered across the back of my car and in some cases throughout the house), and I also finally got the hang of this new routine so I remember to actually bring my bags into the store with me. My grocery bag system is big/strong enough to hold a week’s worth of groceries – so I never run out of room. It took some getting used to, but I finally have this one down!
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    3. Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 2.07.45 PMMesh Produce Bags.
      I was finally doing so well with the reusable grocery bags I decided to take things a step further and get some reusable produce bags as well. But I admit I’ve forgotten to bring/use them the last couple times I’ve gone grocery shopping. I do have the best of intentions though and am determined to make this part of my new routine as well!
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    4. Less Bottled Water.
      If I were to say NO more plastic bottles of water I would just be lying to myself. Let’s face it sometimes you just need disposable (for example it was a requirement that I send a disposable marked bottle with my kids for field day). Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 2.09.10 PMAlso sometimes I am already super late and flying out the door and don’t feel like I can spare the extra minute to fill up my own water – and maybe I went running that morning so I am super parched. That may sound ridiculous, but that is just reality on a rare occasion. I will say though that we have reduced our disposable bottled water purchases a great deal, which is not only less wasteful but also a great way to save a little money as well. And that’s in part because of how much I LOVE my reusable thermos cup. I seriously bring this thing almost everywhere I go including trips when I bring it empty through airport security so I can fill it up on the other side. The best part about this cup is that it’s insulated and will literally keep ice for almost 24 hours, which – for someone like me who loves super cold water – is quite the incentive to choose this over the plastic bottled stuff that will be lukewarm in an hour! My thermos also does not “sweat” or leak so really a great all around investment if you are looking to make the switch.
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    5. Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 2.12.27 PMBuying in Bulk + Glass Jars.
      Let’s face it – the more processed food you buy the more packaging ends up in the trash. If you buy in bulk it’s typically cheaper and you can store everything in your own reusable glass jars, which I also think looks kind of pretty in the  pantry. :) I am not going to lie though when my neighbor recently came over she looked in my pantry and said, “Where is all your food?” I laughed because she was looking at it! I guess it’s quite a different look than all the typical packages.
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    6. Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 2.14.54 PMCloth Dish Rags.
      I have a feeling I am little late getting on this bandwagon, but up until recently we were cleaning our counters with paper towels. I have some slight germaphobe tendencies therefore I usually feel like our sponge (that I regularly wash in the dishwasher) is probably dirtier than it is clean. But once again, for me it’s all about coming up with a new system, and I’ve finally settled on one I am comfortable with and can keep up with here. I bought enough reusable microfiber dish rags to have a fresh one each day. I just plop them in the little basket of dirty reusable napkins I mentioned earlier, and all is well in the world. :)
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    7. TP RollsRecycle More.
      We’ve always recycled, but were admittedly never very “hard core” about it. After a free little tour of our local recycling center last summer – along with some education on what can and can’t be recycled - we finally kicked things into high gear. Down to the cardboard toilet paper rolls all the way in the upstairs bathroom we are much more diligent about not just trashing everything in sight.
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    8. compostCompost.
      Composting – or as some call it “rot” – is another one of those ideas we considered, and watched other people do, for a long time before trying it ourselves. And getting a compost bin for Christmas last year was exactly the push we needed to get started. I was surprised at how quickly we caught on to what to save (carrot peels, coffee grinds, egg shells, etc.) without accidentally putting those things down the drain, but what we still haven’t quite caught on to yet is how to actually turn that waste into nice pile of beautiful compost instead of…umm, muck. We think we need more “brown” stuff, but we haven’t quite nailed down the right combination just yet so to be honest our composting is currently on hold until we figure this thing out. Advice in the comments is welcome!
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    9. catalogsStop Junk Mail.
      Another area where we’ve really been wanting to “reduce” is all those catalogs that oftentimes go straight into the recycle bin (which is certainly better than the trash, but still not as good as not getting them at all)! So we recently set up a free account with Catalog Choice and have already opted out of about 20 or so catalogs. They say it may take up to 90 days to take effect…does anyone else use this service or recommend another?
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    10. ticketsRefuse.
      As I mentioned above…my new favorite way to be less wasteful is to refuse anything that may become waste in the first place! One great way to do this is to “gift” experiences rather than more stuff. Consider going on a small trip together or giving tickets to a special ball game or a fun concert for birthdays. I also love the idea of asking party guests to donate to a charity (Bright Blessings would be a great one) instead of giving presents to the host – although I have not been able to convince my children to try this out yet. I am still holding out hope that one day they will agree it is a great idea!

Sponsor Shoutout: Cultures for Health

I also want to make sure you know about one of our newest sponsors, Cultures for Health. They offer products to help you make your own homemade yogurt, cheese, kombucha, tofu, sourdough bread, and more. If you are new to some of theses projects be sure to check out their how-to videos for information on how to get started and to also learn the health benefits of these foods as well!

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In addition to the suggestions above we also try to send an almost waste-free lunch to school everyday as well. Please share your own tips on being less wasteful in the comments below!

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238 comments to Real Food Tips: 10 Ways to Be Less Wasteful

  • […] Real Food Tips: 10 Ways to Be Less Wasteful | 100 Days of Real Food […]

  • Kaitlyn H.

    Add straw to your compost bin. We layer compost with straw.

  • Allison Clark

    I haven’t read all the comments, so I don’t know if this was mentioned or not… But, I also save all paper towel and toilet paper rolls. When the tote under my bed (small house, very little storage space) is full, I take them to our local humane society. They use them to make treat toys for the dogs in the shelter. I like the idea of something being reused in this manner, rather than just recycled.

    I know that our humane society also loves to receive newspaper for lining the bottoms of cages.

    Getting lots of great ideas from your website as we are moving from a processed food family to a real food family! Thank you so much.

  • Amy U

    We keep a small recycling bin “all the way upstairs” for the toilet paper rolls, empty kleenex boxes & mostly paper waste the kids produce at their desks. When my daughter empties the garbage, she takes the upstairs recycling bin to the garage & separates the paper from the cardboard, etc.

  • Erin

    This has made a huge difference in my world to encourage composting. Our city basically made it mandatory about 2 years ago. They gave each household an indoor bucket, and reduced our garbage pickup. We now have a locked compost bin outside & once a week it goes to the roadside for pickup. Is it my favorite chore? No. But do I feel good about it? Yes. And, it has greatly reduced our garbage, since we are a real food kind of family. (as a side note, many homes in our city are dual-family homes with suites in the lower floor, so 3 garbage bins in 2 weeks can be tricky).

    “The Abbotsford curbside compost program includes the following features:

    All food waste can be combined with your yard waste;
    Recyclables and compostables (food and yard waste) are collected weekly (unlimited number of containers allowed); and
    Garbage is collected bi-weekly (three containers allowed every two weeks).
    The following items can be combined in your compostable waste container:

    Yard waste, including grass and branches;
    All food scraps, including meat and bones;
    Paper towel, tissue and food-contaminated paper; and
    Food-contaminated pizza boxes.

  • Stefanie

    We have baskets that go up the stairs at night and then emptied and fill with stuff that needs to go down the stairs in the morning like recycling. The baskets are small and sit on the stairs each day.

    I definitely believe in the refuse category!!

  • Mary Mazur

    I wouldn’t put meat or bones into garden compost because you could attract unwelcome visitors but newspaper can be added as brown waste, and leaves and grass clippings are great too. Don’t use weeds gone to seed if you don’t want those weeds in your garden later.

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