Real Food Tips: 10 Ways to Be Less Wasteful

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!
    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!
    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!

    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.
    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.
    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. :)
    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.
    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!
    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?
    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!

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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  • Comments

    1. Kim H. |

      Good to know I do all of the above. Some more than others. I too often forget the produce bags, but for some things like lettuce, cucs, peppers, broccoli, I usually just lay them in my cart b/c I know I will be washing them when I get home or before I use them anyway. Thank you for sharing!

    2. Jackie S. |

      I use the app called Paper Karma to get rid of my junk mail/catalogs. It’s super easy and has worked really well.

    3. Patti |

      On the jar topic:
      I like to save jars from sauce, pesto, olive oil or any other decent sized things and wash them reuse them for new stuff.
      As for seeing the toilet paper rolls, I saw word on a big brand eliminating the roll inside and just using paper rolled up. Trying to eliminate the extra waste they use. Can get back on brand later.
      Thanks for all the tips:)

    4. Helen |

      Composting has been the biggest change for me. My local Council Authority (I’m in Sydney, Australia) runs free composting courses a few times a year, so an expert took us right through every little detail of successful composting. I’m sure lots of other civic authorities would offer something similar. Even if I never returned the soil made in my compost back in to my garden, just the massive reduction to the amount of waste leaving my home and going to land-fill was amazing.

      My new favourite thing is to make my own yoghurt. I was buying a kilo of plain, natural yoghurt, in a plastic tub, for around $5 to $6.50 each week.Once the yoghurt was eaten, I was throwing the tub away – probably $3 worth of waste.
      Making my own yoghurt in recycled glass jars is enjoyable, easy, less wasteful and tastes so lovely.

    5. Theresa |

      My most recent way to reduce waste was to make a bunch of single use hand towels to replace our paper towel usage. I love paper towels because of how they have reduced the spread of germs in our houseful of nine children. However, I also have realized just HOW MANY we use each day since we are home all day (homeschoolers) and wash hands frequently. I bought a bunch of square kitchen wash clothes, cut them into quarters (so approx. 6″x6″)and hemmed the two cut sides. I have to admit even that was a big undertaking. It is surprising how long just hemming those two sides can take, though it would probably be even more cost efficient to cut up a bigger towel and hem all four sides. Anyway, we just stack the squares on a plate in the bathroom (no folding needed) and drop the used towel in a basket which is emptied into the wash each day. So far, it has worked remarkably well! :)

    6. Gillian Michell` |

      Napkins: Get everyone a distinctive napkin ring and you won’t have to leave the napkins looking like laundry on the back of the chairs.

      Sponges: Microwave them for two minutes after use apparently gets rid of the germs.

    7. Christa |

      Do they end up looking really dirty after all the stains? How do you get rid of the stains on the cloth napkins? I’m wanting to purchase cloth napkins but haven’t made the leap because of worrying about stains!

      • Amy Taylor (comment moderator) |

        Hi Christa. You just launder them like you would anything else. Napkins with patterns show less wear than those that are solid. My good friend buys a bunch of inexpensive white napkins and tie dies them for her kids to use. Once they show way too much wear, at least in my home, they become dish towels and cleaning cloths. ;)

      • Cheryl S. |

        Christa, I’ve used paper napkins for years. I just wash them with the regular laundry & I’ve found stains usually come right out. Any food stains that remain after washing, I just don’t worry about. Life’s too short. I don’t bother folding them either. I just pile them all in a drawer & we each get ourselves a clean napkin from the drawer at breakfast & use them same one all day, unless it gets really messed up, of course. If we’ve having something really messy that might stain badly, like barbecue, we use paper towels instead, just for that one meal.

    8. Sue |

      I easily reuse plastic produce bags by stuffing them into a empty paper towel tube in the kitchen and when it’s full, keeping it with the reusable grocery bags stored in my car. The produce bags stay neat and clean and are easy to dispense in the store. Then back inside the tube when I unload the produce at home.

      • Linda |

        Great idea!

    9. Mary Mazur |

      We use Colibri snack bags instead of ziplock bags for everything from apple slices or Cheerios to small toys or baby wipes. We also use their xl wet bags for swimming gear. The bags are nylon or PUL lined and have zippers for easy opening. They wash easily when turned inside out. Only available in Canada but you may have something similar in the USA.

    10. Jodie |

      When composting it is hard to get enough ‘brown’ materials when you live in the city or suburbs. A system of beneficial bacteria has been developed called bokashi. It comes in spray on or granules you add to a closed composting container. This means it doesn’t matter what your brown/green materials ratio is, and you can even compost meat and fish scraps! It doesn’t smell or get yucky, then you add to your garden.

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