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!

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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269 thoughts on “Real Food Tips: 10 Ways to Be Less Wasteful”

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  1. Two little ideas in the area of recycle. 1) toilet tissue rolls – stuff them w/your dryer lint & use them as fire starters. I do an added step of wrapping them w/a single layer of newspaper as well. 2) recycle paper egg cartons, dryer lint & candle stubs. Melt wax (carefully!), pour into paper egg cartons, tap dryer lint down into melted wax. Let cool. Break apart. Voila! EXCELLENT fire starters, even w/wet wood. We call them “fire eggs”. Regarding your compost…I greatly encourage you to master that. It creates black “gold” for growing things. Much healthier for the environment than sending out in the garbage.

  2. Instead of buying cloth napkins, i had my mom sew an old tablecloth into squares as a birthday gift. That was almost 4 years ago and those napkins are still going strong.

  3. Your link to the cloth napkins is blocked on all my devices. Can you please advise the company for these cloth napkins?

  4. I like the idea of taking your own containers for bulk items. How does this work tough? I mean pricing of the food item only and not the weight of the container.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi there. You take your containers to be weighed before adding your items to them. You only pay for what is inside. :)

  5. We stopped using paper towels along with paper napkins years ago. We have a bin of rags under the sink and wipe up messes with them. They go into our regular wash with the clothes. Of course, the “pet messes” require a special rinse outside. However, those are thankfully rare!

  6. Each time you take your container of food waste out, grab some paper or cardboard as well – old newspapers, thin boxes, scrap paper, egg cartons, any junk mail that made it through, paper wrapping. Rip it up or shred it if you have a shredder and layer in top of the food/organic/green waste. This will add ‘brown’ stuff and help it break down properly. Plus it is a nice way to ‘recycle’ paper waste :)

  7. I save a long list of items for a preschool. The teacher I save these for shares with the other teachers of 3 and 4 year olds. I save toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, cardboard egg cartons (they make great caterpillars)), plastic coffee and sugar containers, oatmeal boxes. It’s amazing how much oatmeal we eat.

    1. I bought the reusable grocery bags years ago after seeing you recommend them and I LOVE them! I want to buy another set, but can’t find it anywhere. The link takes me to a different product. Do you know where I can find something similar if they stopped making them?

      1. Hi Rachel,
        Looks like they don’t sell them on Amazon anymore, but you can get them directly from their website still. – Nicole

  8. We purchased a double composting bin from Costco and absolutely LOVE it! You can be filling one bin while the other one “cooks”. It’s fantastic! :)

  9. I know there are uses for the toilet paper rolls but Scott naturals has “tube free” toilet paper! It’s weird at first but I like not having them fill up the trash can or some other container to reuse them later.

  10. I save any brown paper bags I come across and use them to soak up excess fat and cooking oil from pans before washing. Not-too-soiled paper napkins or towels are also good. This has the added benefit of preventing all that cooking grease from going down the drain.

  11. My mom is the ultimate in frugality and does all of these things. Her compost method is the easiest! Simply take your bucket of scraps out to the garden or flower bed, dig a hole, bury compost in it. Next time, pick a different spot and repeat! I’ve tried a pile, which worked to create great dirt, but required a block of time to transfer to my garden and was just too time consuming. New house this year and going back to mom’s way!

  12. A quick fix on compost: add your leaf litter and grass clippings, and be sure to aerate the bin (ie mix it up daily or at least as often as possible). You’ll have lovely dark stuff to add to your garden beds in no time.

  13. For composting: I shred a lot of paper (bills, old insurance info, etc) and I add this to my compost bin instead of the recycle bin. I’m not concerned about inks since I spread the compost on my lawn. I also will throw in paper towels/paper napkins that don’t have animal fat/grease/cleaning chemicals on them. I rip them up to speed up the process. And lastly, since I live in New England, we get a lot of leaves in the fall. I fill my compost bins with this and if I have any remaining, I sometimes save a couple trash barrels full of leaves, covered, and use this throughout the summer. As long as you can pile some brown material on top of green in the heat of the summer, it keeps it from getting yucky. And use a pitchfork to aerate and cover up the new green additions. I’m thinking of getting a spinning compost bin to save me some effort on that last step and it’s supposed to make compost quicker too.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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!

    1. 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. ;)

    2. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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! :)

  20. 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.

  21. 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:)

  22. 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!

  23. I don’t really understand how glass jars reduce waste. Even if you buy things in bulk, don’t you have to put it in disposable plastic bags at the store (so you end up using packaging anyway)? Or do folks use some sort of reuseable bags at the store? I’d love to hear how folks deal with this! Thanks! :)

    1. I bring glass jars to the store, tare/weigh them in the deli section, write the tare on the top of the jar, then fill them at the bulk bins and add the PLU next to the tare number. At the checkout, the clerk weighs the jar and item, subtracts the tare and uses the PLU to check it out. For beans I put them into a mesh/produce bag as the weight of the bag is negligible. Hope that helps :)

      1. wow I wish our stores did something like that! They refuse to :( though I do reuse the large bulk bags as trash bags and if they are paper bags (even the super thick ones) i recycle them.

    2. I use cloth drawstring bags for bulk shopping to eliminate the plastic bag issue (works for flour, sugar, grains, nuts…). I use them for produce, baked goods and veg too. I have the mesh ones also, but they are so huge (we are a family of 3) that they were too big. The cloth ones are various sizes. I also do the glass jar for peanut butter, (a cashier with no line will also weigh it for you).

      I love the Zero Waste (Home) Family! I read her book and it really goes hand in hand with 100drf philosophy – (you can’t buy hyper-processed food in a bulk bin).

  24. I was having trouble making myself go out to the compost bin every time I cooked, so I now have an “intermediate” bin that I keep in my fridge – an old plastic coffee can. The fridge keeps things from rotting and getting stinky, and I take it out to the compost bin once or twice a week. Works great!

  25. I switched to buying bottled milk rather than milk in plastic or cardboard. I simply return the bottles to the grocery store for my deposit. It’s kind of funny buying a bottle of milk with a Christmas Tree on it in July, but it shows that they are really reused. As a bonus, the milk tastes better.

  26. 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.

  27. 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!!

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. For my daughter’s birthday we usually ask guests to bring a new or used book for the exchange table. That way I don’t buy items for goody bags and she gets some new reads! We regularly donate to the library/school/etc. so we don’t get buried.

  32. Another topic that I don’t see talked about much is feminine care products. I switched to a menstrual cup about three years ago and I will never go back. I went with the Diva Cup, but there are others out there.

  33. Quality over quantity. I too am inspired by the Zero Waste Home family. I have implemented cloth napkins, mesh produce bags, bulk jars and try hard to resist freebies/giveaways. I actually met her at a book signing in Seattle where, ironically her hosts had a raffle and a ton of giveaways… (!?) I hope this year to start composting/ gardening. We recently moved across the country and went from a 3500sqft home to a 1500sqft home where I have learned the true meaning of less is more.

  34. Before you put the next junk mail/magazine in the recycling bin, take 30 seconds to find the email address on the back, shoot off a quick, one-sentence request to stop sending it. Also, if you order anything online or enter any contest or even send comments to certain sites, be sure to un-check the box that says “Yes! Send me info…”. For your kitchen compost container I hope that’s not your photo of a plastic bin with a wasteful plastic bag lining it! Skip the bag, just rinse the container after emptying it outside. Use a smaller container indoors, that will ensure that you empty it more often and then it doesn’t get yucky or moldy inside.

  35. For compost, paper is “brown.” Do not use the shiny paper in magazines, but mail, copy paper, newspapers, etc. are good for balancing the fresh waste.

  36. So many great ideas! We are already doing a lot of these in our home and we tried to recycle, donate and reduce waste from our home renovation a couple years ago. I don’t think we will ever get our waste down to a mason jar, but I am proud of what we do. But we can always do more :) Great post so close to Earth Day!

  37. I love all your ideas. But, you can keep your sponge. All you need to do is get it real wet and stick it in te microwave for 1 minute. Voila it’s sanitized.
    Also on that note, a bowl of water in the microwave for a few minutes and all the stuck on food wipes out clean. I bet with minimal effort, and some “new” ideas (new in quotes because I tend to find the old fashioned ideas are usually less wasteful), and I bet you could get your household cleaners to a minimum and be even less wasteful.

  38. Definitely hit your neighbors up for “brown matter” for your compost if you don’t have enough. I normally throw in some leaves and a shovel of sand once a week. I admit to only stirring once a week- but our compost seems healthy, and grows leftover seeds very well. We have squash, peppers and possibly pumpkins growing in our two compost heaps right now! Lol!
    I thought the clothesline was a good idea- we have one. I bought a retractable one off of Amazon, and put it on the screened porch. When not in use, you can retract it out of the way, and no one knows it’s there! :)(Oh- but for right now, with the pollen, you may want to hold off putting your clothes outside… I made that mistake once!)
    The only other suggestion I have is to plant a tree tomorrow! :) Imagine how many trees could be cleaning our air if everyone in the US planted one tomorrow!

  39. My kids have birthdays in the same week, so we celebrate them together, but we don’t have a party every year. Every other year is plenty and we make them feel special in other ways. We ask people not to bring them gifts, but instead to clean out their couch cushions and bring them change for their banks. They usually end up with dollar bills that I tithe and then put into their savings accounts. They have more money than us! When they are older I may let them use some of the money to buy something new. We cleaned up very little waste after their birthday brunch this year and we are saving money for college. Most people seem to prefer it.

  40. Great ideas and information! I do worm composting, aka vermiculture. I have a worm bin in my kitchen. There’s no smell and guests don’t know I have one. On several occasions I’ve said something to a friend about my worm bin and they reacted with surprise. I told them they’ve seen it many times in my kitchen and they’d never noticed it. All of my leftover/unusable parts of fruits and veggies go in it. I only put in some of the coffee grounds or it gets too acidic. I put the rest of them in the outdoor compost bin. I also use egg shells sparingly in the worm bin and the rest go in the outdoor bin.

    1. Susan
      April 22, 2014 at 12:27 am · Reply
      Kathleen, could you give me details and pictures if possible of your kitchen vermiculture system? I am very interested in seeing how it works!! You can email it to me if you’d like.

  41. composting..we live in Florida where fruit rats find your compost unless it’s elevated off the ground. I’ve replaced my composter twice in 6 yrs due to rust, so I got a Bokashi system for food waste. – I love it. No pests, and the plants love the fermented fertilizer you bury after a week. works for us.

  42. When it comes to #10, it’s can be hard to do, but last year my daughter had a birthday party/toy drive. We made it a combo since my daughter was not fond of the idea of giving all her presents away. I spoke to parents directly about what to expect, and told them they had the option of what to do, but please don’t buy for both my daughter and the toy drive.
    I spoke a lot about it with my daughter because she was really resistant to the idea. Over time, she got used to it and whenever they advertised the toy drive on the radio, she bought in even more. By the time we dropped off the toys, she was beaming. She even used her own money to buy a toy for the donation. It was easy for us in that her birthday is close to Christmas, but there are other times of the year that kids need items.
    That first year was tough, but I think as the years go on, it will get easier and easier. The party served a few purposes. My daughter likes to be helpful and she is starting to realize there are many other kids that do not have as much as she does. I want her to realize she can help others and I don’t want to be overrun by stuff.
    I want my daughter to be a

  43. I have a set of 6 small bottles that I fill and keep in the fridge. I still occasionally buy a bottle of water if I’m out and it’s the best quick option, but I have not purchased water for our home in years.

  44. I wholeheartedly agree with other commenters about checking out Norwex. They’re stuff is WAY better than other normal microfiber cloths out there, especially since their cloths are antibacterial so can be used all week without spreading germs, and only require water. Their stuff really is amazing!

  45. Lisa I’ve been reading your blog for over a year now, but never had the chance to comment. Great posts :)

    Some other tips:

    – Dry clothes on clothesline, it’s possible even with small space, my “terrace” is 1×1,50 meters
    – Use nylon grocery bags as garbage bags, at least in where I live we collect house garbage in bags and take it out to city container that are on each block
    – Unplug the hell out of everything, even DirecTV or WiFi when not using or going to sleep
    – Reuse glass jars of coffee and others to store small items
    – Wash clothes on cold water and on the economic cycle of the machine
    – Assing one cup – one dish – one set of cutlery to each person and wash it throught the day before using instead of taking out 100 dishes and cups
    – Wash dishes by hand
    – If not drinking tap water, use large gallons of mineral water (6 liters in my country)and refill other bottles or serve directly from it

    I still need to improve my composting since our apartment is so small

  46. We compost, all our scraps of food and eggshells and coffee grounds. In the fall when everyone is raking their leaves and places them on the curb we will ask if we can have them and we use that as our brown throughtout the year. Whenever we dump the green in we layer with brown and always make sure to mix it a couple times a week because the bacteria needs the air to grow and multiply and breakdown the food. Also make sure that it doesnt get to dry, by adding water every once in awhile. We have two bins. We fill one throughout the year while the other full one just sits and gets stirred, when springtime comes we sift out any large pieces and put them back into the other bin that is not broken down yet. We have some awesome earthy soil from the compost bins.

  47. Melanie Haspels

    Someone may have already mentioned this with regards to cloth dish rags (and other disposable cleaning supplies), but in case no one has, check out the Norwex products. They are amazing microfiber cloths/mop pads/dusting cloths, etc. that clean with just water and eliminate the use for chemicals and other disposable cleaning products. They even have cloths for your face to take off makeup (I love mine…no more face cleanser and my face feels cleaner!) and in the shower. Here’s a link to their site :)

  48. Regarding the produce bags. I don’t use them at all. I just put all my produce together in one reusable bag and hand them to the cashier that way. Yes they touch all your food but A.) How many people have already touched your food that you haven’t seen anyway and B.) I always wash all my produce thoroughly anyway (see A) so what difference does it make.

    1. I totally agree and do the same thing. I’m going to wash everything and I already know a ton of people have touched and breathed around the produce…what’s a few more points of contact. =)

  49. I will say I agree with everything EXCEPT – don’t stop buying raffle tickets they support a really great cause a lot of the time! Or make a donation in stead. You can always donate an item won back to the organization.

    Otherwise – love it all :) Fabulous as always!

  50. I’ve had really good luck running all scrap and waste anf newspaper through a shredder and adding handfuls of that into my compost bucket as I go. Shredded cardboard is good too. If you have any pets that use corncob or wood chip cage litter that can go right in there too. The secret seems to be layers -like at the end of the day’s veggie scaps etc add a layer of paper, cardboard, or cage litter. If you have a home and yard just take the compost bucket and dump it in an outdoor compost pile each day. And add in a lot of raked leaves and mown lawn clippings as you go. I am a “lazy composter; I build a small 4×4 foot raised bed and use layers of wet cardboard and newspaper laid flat in the bottom to kill all the weeds and grass. Then I just dump in all my compostable stuff (I even compost toilet paper ) and yard wastes. I don’t even chip up branches, just break ’em in short lengths. I use each raised bed as a compost pile until it is full up and heaping above the edge of the bed. Then I start on the next one. When and if I think of it I take a garden fork and turn the piles over now and then. In 6 months or a year when it “looks like dirt” I go ahead and plant in it.

  51. I, too, use cloth napkins & I love them! I also discovered that dish cloths are great face cloths. Dish cloths are not as thick, ergo they dry more quickly.
    I began using my mom’s napkins when I realized I was ‘saving’ these for a generation which would just toss them & buy their own.

  52. When using paper napkins, I only buy white ones, and I add them to my compost. For your compost to dry, buy some peat moss and add it generously to your bin, or coco fiber. I use either if I don’t collect enough leaves to use as brown matter. (The peat moss is great for summer time!)

  53. I’ve been using cloth napkins for years, and recycling and composting too. I need to remember to bring the mess bags and reusable bags that I keep in my trunk with me when I go into the store. I get to check out before I remember. Any ideas? Also how to convince my husband who works construction to did the plastic water bottles. We do recycle them, but, he uses them for convenience.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Kim. Put that prompt at the top of your grocery list. Also, there have been many times when I have walked out to my car during the checkout process. There is usually plenty of time…plus it is little added exercise. ;) Lastly, the amount of money saved over time by not buying plastic water bottles is usually a motivator for most men. Replace the disposable bottles with a big manly stainless bottle! :) ~Amy

  54. When our cloth napkins get worn out too much for the table, they go in the drawer with the kitchen towels and become the replacement for paper towels. We are getting many more uses out of the cloth napkins and have really cut our paper towel consumption.

  55. When I get unsolicited credit card offers in the mail, I immediately open them, find the business reply envelope and then insert all the remaining contents (and original envelope), seal the business reply envelope and drop it back in the mail. (I do usually rip up the original contents so they fit). This way the company which sent me the offer will have to pay to have their items returned to them and they will have to pay for the recycling costs. Let’s face it, even if we recycle significantly, we are still paying to do so through taxes or collection fees.

  56. Lisa, our compost tumbler says a 4:1 ratio of green to brown. My grandpa used to compost forever ago and that was about what he did too. He used to “eyeball measure it” by pounds, so if he put 1 lb scraps in the pile, he’d put about 1/4 lb brown (paper bags from the grocery for example, or newspaper, fliers from the mail, etc.). We keep a bag of paper stuff to add whenever the need arises next to the tumbler, which is in our garage. Shredding the paper you add helps too. Keep going- it does take a bit. I also have a larger pile I started with outside, it is JUST starting to heat up after several months of quiet rotting, covered in leaves… :D.

  57. I was wondering if you use norwex products at all?? And if not would you be willing to try them?? Just curious on your thoughts and opinions on norwex… if you do I sell norwex and you could try them if you never have! Thank you for everything you do… I really enjoy your blog!

  58. What’s worse are those tubs of cleansing paper cleaning cloths that everyone seems to be using. Waste of paper and toxic BPAs in the environment.

  59. For cloth dish rags we’ve switched to Norwex. They are embedded with silver which has natural antimicrobial properties therefore making me feel better about having them on the counter with our food, etc.

  60. Hi Lisa,
    I’m curious what your “routine” is when incorporating the reusable grocery bag system like the one linked in this post. Do you start out with the bags arranged in the cart and fill them as you shop or do you wait until checkout? Are you bagging your own groceries while the cashier is ringing your stuff through the conveyor (girl, you know the baggers are not going to like me telling them where to put my stuff! LOL!)? I know this sounds hilarious, but I’m trying to visualize my attack before I hit the store so I can be organized at the store as well as when I get home and make unloading more efficient. Thanks for your great ideas and for sharing them with the rest of us. :)

    1. Cashiers are used to people bringing their own bags. It’s 2013 for goodness sake! Reusable bags have been commonplace for at least a decade. I remember my mom bringing canvas bags to Safeway in the 80s. Some places even give you 10 cents off per bag. Remember to say “I brought my own bag” before they get that first item in the plastic… or else that’s when they might frown at you.

      1. Thanks Soshanna, We just recently moved to a more remote area of the country where, unfortunately, it isn’t commonplace to see people bring in their own bags, GASP! I’m the “progressive” shopper compared to most here. We love the privilege of living a military life moving from state to state but it comes with certain challenges when adjusting from the suburbs to the boonies. :) My question was more specifically about when Lisa is using these bags. If you check out the link in the post for the bags, you’ll see that each bag is labeled. Being labeled sounds like a type A’s DREAM come true but I was curious if Lisa is helping the bagger place items in the appropriately labeled bag or if the labels have become “just for looks”. Just curious if she had devised a system that makes using the labeled bags super snappy helpful. (i.e. my kiddos love to help unload so I’m very excited at the idea of them toting their own bag into the house and straight to the pantry etc.). Thanks!

      2. Tiffany – I am sorry to hear you are having challenges (or at least getting looks) when it comes to your reusable bags. No matter what – I say keep at it. I keep the bags folded together while I shop and then I hand them to the cashier when I go to check out. They actually follow the labels all on their own without me really even asking. If it’s busy I help bag, but I honestly never do as good of a job as they do for some reason :) I hope that helps!

      3. It is so interesting how people in different parts of the country react to this. Here in Berkeley there was a law passed about no longer using disposable plastic bags in stores, and paper bags cost 10 cents. I think the same is true in San Francisco, but I am not sure where else. I thought it would never work, but people adjusted rather quickly.

      4. I always put my bags right on the conveyer BEFORE my groceries. That way I never have the “oops I have my own bags!” problem.

      5. Tiffany, I understand just what you mean. Some cashiers just stare at my bags and want nothing to do with them. I always bag my own stuff. The key is loading up the register in the order you want to bag it. I start with produce, to slow the cashier down, so I put all my items on the conveyor belt, run over to open my bags, and start bagging. Ideally, I place my heavy produce first (bottom of bag), then rest of produce. Then all dairy. (I buy 4 gallons on milk at a time, and don’t use bags for those). Then cans, then dry/lighter items. I get my kids to help put some items on the conveyor belt. They’re not so helpful at bagging, but maybe they put the toilet paper under the cart, give the cashier my grocery card, etc. I use the 4 bag system that Lisa suggested and I love those so much more than dragging a dozen smaller bags to the store. Good luck.

  61. Great article! My compost finally took off when I added more leaves in with all the food waste, and when I added water occasionally, either with a pitcher or by opening the lid when it’s raining.

  62. Regarding your compost dilemma…we have a naturemill composter. We plug it in the garage, bring our scraps of food down when the bucket is full. We also get coffee grings weekly from our local coffee shop (thay have a bucket to put them it),and also pellets help. We have a trash can dedicated for our dirt during the winter when we build up a supply. It works great!! We had it in the kitchen, but when you are mixing the food and broken down food, it’s heated and stinky…

    Have fun!

  63. There’s a really helpful app called PaperKarma that’s free to download and helps cut down on junk mail. You just take a pic with the mailing and returning address and submit it, and they remove you from the mailing list. Super easy!

  64. You can cut down on your use of paper towels even more by using “old” dish rags to clean up spills from the floor (lots of those with small children in the house), window washing, etc. I keep a pile of them under the sink for quick cleanup. I use only 2-3 rolls of paper towels a year.

  65. I bought Bandanas at the dollar store and Walmart for a $1 a piece and in some cases 2 for $1. We use them for cloth napkins and they wash well, and I usually fold them right out of the dryer if I can, so they don’t get wrinkled. My kids love the fun colors.

  66. My sister makes her own clothe napkins from fabric scraps from other projects. I think this is another great way to reuse!

  67. I wish I didn’t have to go to work today, as I’d rather get started with some of your awesome ideas here! Thank you for simplifying the process and sharing your experiences!! I’m so excited to jump in!!!

  68. I am always surprised at the amount of cleaning people do with paper towels! this would never have occurred to me: we just grew up using rags and old t-shirts and then washing them. I’m glad you have switched :)

  69. I find if I help my kids pick a charity for their party guests to donate to, a charity where they either get to visit or one where they “get something” for their donation, then it becomes fun and they have never argued with me about it. We often pick a local animal shelter and ask their party guests to bring animal food or other items on the shelter’s wish list. Then we get to pack it up and take it over. We have a few different shelters to chose from so the kids get excited to see new places. The staff (at all the places we’ve been) has been so sweet and so grateful for the donations. They make a big deal over my child and what a great thing they did. We always get a “tour” and they let us pet the animals. In one case (the Upstate NY House Rabbit Society), you pick a specific rabbit and they send a sponsorship card with information and a picture and letter (as if it was dictated by the rabbit). AND they send follow up notes for a year. was also a great one as my kids could read about different people in different countries and decide which idea they wanted to sponsor. Then when the micro-loan gets repaid they can re-loan it again, so it is truly a gift that they can keep giving. Make it fun and you might get them to try it.

  70. With composting, our wet trash isn’t in the garbage anymore so we no longer use and buy trash bags. We just dump our dry trash into our curbside container. We have to put that to the curb about every three to four weeks.

  71. I spent the summer of ’72 in France, staying with a working class French family for ten days during that time. The French waste nothing! At the first meal, I was given a cloth napkin, and afterwards everyone folded his or hers and placed it in a basket in the center of the table. Each person remembered the color of his/her napkin. I was shocked at the practice, but after a few days, it made sense to me. I was 17 at the time. My French family thought it strange that I bathed and washed my hair every day!

  72. Love this post! We are down to one garbage bag a week, and that’s with a kid in pull ups. We buy in
    bulk, composting has been the biggest help. We have commercial composting and all of our
    food scraps, paper towels, napkins, egg cartons and even cardboard pizza boxes all go in with yard waste and are picked up by the city. Between that and recycling, we have very little waste. Every city + town should have this option.

  73. We have our laundry room upstairs. I put a container in there for convenient recycling. Don’t ask me why it’s so hard to walk a box downstairs! This one simple thing made a huge difference. There are a lot of bathroom items to recycle: boxes from tissues, medicines, etc – plastic containers of hair products and makeup. Having the basket so handy helped our family.

  74. I love the idea of asking for donations to a charity instead of gifts. I actually found a way to get my daughter on board with that this year (her 5th birthday). She is a cat lover but we had to find a new home for ours after her baby brother was born and we discovered that he is severely allergic. So, in lieu of gifts we asked that her friends bring a donation of cat food or toys, and then she and I planned a special “date” to bring everything to a local shelter and “help out”/play with the kitties. The special alone time with mom and the cats was enough of a gift for her, and she also still got a few special things from us and her grandparents, so overall I think everyone was hapy!

  75. we, too, use wood pellets in our composter. We have a compost bucket in the house on the kitchen counter. a gallon sized pail? – when full we dump in composter with a scoop full of wood pellets.

  76. Cloth Napkins. Years ago, I inherited some from my grandmother. Some were hers and some were from HER mother (my great-grandmother who had passed before I was born). I stopped buying paper napkins probably 10 years ago when I came across the box of long-forgotten napkins that my grandmother had given me. We use them wrinkled when I don’t feel like ironing (my least favorite chore), but when we have company, I press them with nice sharp folds. Not only do I feel good about not buying the paper ones, it warms my heart to be using something from the past that were then used at each and every meal. These lovely napkins will certainly be passed on to my daughter when I am done with them. LOVE this site! So much to take it. Thank you!

  77. I love your site, and these are certainly great ways to reduce things…but I’m actually quite sad that you buy bottled water at all! I understand in a pinch you may have to buy some (like you said for your child’s field day), but I personally think bottled water should be outlawed. What a waste of our planet’s resources. I hope more people will start carrying reusable water bottles, and I’m very heartened by the new water fountains that will fit Nalgene-sized bottles (I’m a geologist and have always carried Nalgene bottles-my own shameless marketing plug there). Thanks for your blog, keep up good work!

  78. I try to make my grocery in the same order as the grocery store I go to most of the time. That way I don’t have to bounce back and forth at the store and I tend to get what I went for.

  79. As for reducing birthday party gifts and having the kids buy into it – try a “5 and 5” party. Ask party guests in lieu of gifts to bring two five dollar bills – one goes to a charity of the child’s choosing and one goes towards a bigger gift of the child’s choosing. My kids got into it as they liked picking which charity they would support and they liked buying one bigger gift that they wanted/needed. And the bonus: Mom’s will thank you for making it easier for them!

  80. Thank you so much for the catalog website! I used gather all my catalogs once a year and start calling the companies individually to stop the service, only to have it reactivated if I did go online and buy something from them. I have entered about 10 this morning, here’s hoping it helps!

    I love the donations idea for birthday presents bc really my kids don’t need anything else (between grandparents, each other, parents & aunts they get plenty), so last year with my December birthday kids they collected for Toys for Tots in lieu of presents. They were both really proud to take their donation to the mall where Santa gave them a special sticker for their donation! I got the idea from your fellow Charlotte bloggers Ashley & Lisa from The Dose of Reality when their girls collected animal needs for your local shelter!

  81. At our locally owned natural foods grocery store you can use your own containers for bulk foods. They weigh them at customer service for the “tare weight” so doesnt matter if you want to use heavy glass jars or whatever. I use rubbermaid/large yougurt tubs and then tranfer to glass at home (I afraid of shopping cart full of glass alow with my toddler and preschooler!). Its so nice not to have bags/boxes/packaging not to throw out. Also I refilled a big cardboard oats container there too.

  82. Cloth Napkins–YES! I collect old books on etiquette and there is a whole chapter in one on cloth napkins, and how they are used for the day unless excessively soiled. How to fold them, where to put them at the end of the meal, it’s fascinating!

    Cloth dish rags–I’ve been using inexpensive wash clothes for dish rags for years. When the washcloth is too ragged to put in the bathroom, it gets re-purposed as a dish rag, cleaning rag, whatever.

    Junk mail–use the catalogs you still get as “brown” for your compost!

  83. Jamarys Hwang

    As far as your composting, you need the right balance of nitrogen and oxygen and all other stuff. Just food is not enough. So put your grass clippings, black and white news paper(shred) and maybe order some organic compost accelarator. That helps alot. My biggest problem with composting is that we always get an infestation of fruit flies. ANy ideas how to get rid of fruit flies?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Jamarys. The fruit flies actually help with the process. So, as long as this is an outside compost container, you should just be able to let them do their thing. ~Amy

  84. Great ideas! I went on a personal crusade to rid our mailbox of the stacks of junk mail that came every week. Credit card offers were the worst offender. I opened each offer, took out the return postage paid envelope, wrote a nice note which said ” We never use credit cards. Please take us off your mailing list. All future mailings will be returned to you in your postage paid envelope.” The original envelope and all other contents were mailed back to them. It was amazing how quickly the mailings stopped. It has been several years since we have been solicited.

  85. We try to use glass in place of plastic where we can, but I have not found a good way to keep vegi’s fresh in the fridge. Do the produce bags do well in the fridge?
    This winter a lot of tangerines came in wooden crates. We reuse these in our fridge for fruits. It is easy for our toddler to grab what she needs, and our shelves look organized.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Liz. I love my produce bags but have not found them to extend freshness. ~Amy

    2. Tupperware has a product called Fridge Mates that works really well. My hand picked strawberries lasted 10 days in the fridge.