Green Living

Create Less Waste

How to cut back on how much you toss.

Create Less Waste
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When I was in sixth grade, our class took a trip—a five-day stay in the wilderness of upstate New York. It was the usual trust- and communication-building rigmarole, but what really stood out for me was the challenge our counselors gave us at mealtimes. We were encouraged to put on our plates only as much as we could eat; any leftovers went into a large “slop bucket.” On our first night, the bucket was overflowing with garbage after dinner; we were made instantly aware of the waste we had so casually created— and how much of it. By the last night of our trip, the slop bucket remained pristinely clean, even after dessert.

I had learned an invaluable lesson at age 11; but as I toss my trash these days I wonder, “Am I, again, creating too much slop?” Granted, there’s more than just food waste in my typical trash pile. My new definition of “slop” extends to rubbish of all kinds, and if I’m anything like the average American, I create about 1,600 pounds of it per year. Determined to have a smaller (and emptier) bucket going forward, I asked Colin Beavan, author of No Impact Man (Picador) for simple ideas that will have me, and you, tossing less.

Purchase mindfully » “The time to worry about creating waste isn’t when you get to the garbage can,” says Beavan, “it’s when you’re doing your purchasing.” Forty percent of landfill waste comes from packaging, so avoid it when you can: Buy food from bulk bins, purchase home goods secondhand and resist buying disposable things like one-use plastic razors. “Only bring into your home what you want,” Beavan says. You want the apples, not the bag they come in.

Repurpose scraps » Instead of throwing kitchen scraps away, start a compost bin in the backyard. No outdoor space? Buy (or better yet, make) a self-contained, no-smell compost bucket you can keep right in your kitchen. You can also save vegetable scraps and boil them down to make free, homemade veggie stock.

Challenge yourself » If something is broken or “used up,” consider how you might repair or repurpose it before you chuck it. For example, could that torn shirt be mended or turned into napkins? Also, think about accumulating (and giving) less stuff in general; spending money on experiences makes us happier than spending on things— and creates less waste. “There’s a certain elegance and mindfulness to being careful about what you bring into your life,” says Beavan. “Automatically you become mindful of what you’re disposing of as well.”