Many people are now focusing on recycling as the main way to go about protecting the environment. In fact the most important way to protect the environment is to ‘reduce’. How does one go about reducing waste and consumption?
Step 1: Simplify your life. Only keep belongings that you use/enjoy on a regular basis. By making the effort to reduce what you own, you will naturally purchase less/create less waste in the future.
For instance, go through your closet and pick out clothes that you have not used in a long time. Chances are that you will not use them in the future. Donate these clothes to a suitable charity.
Step 2: Reduce Purchases. In general, think before you buy any product - do you really need it? How did the production of this product impact the environment and what further impacts will there be with the disposal of the product (and associated packaging materials)? When you are thinking about buying something, try the 30-Day Rule -- wait 30 days after the first time you decide you want a product to really make your decision. This will eliminate impulse buying.
Step 3: Create a Tree-free Zone.
u replace paper napkins with cloth napkins
u replace paper towels with a special set of cloth towels/napkins - store the used ones in a small container in your kitchen and just wash and reuse
u purchase bleach-free, toilet paper that is made from the highest post-consumer waste content you can find (80% minimum)
u if you print documents, print on once-used paper and/or bleach-free, recycled paper with the highest post-consumer waste content available (hemp / alternative-source paper, if you can afford it). Print on both sides of the paper. Also think before you print – do I really need to print this document?
u create and use note pads from once-used paper
u make your own cards/letters from once-used products or handmade paper
u if you will be doing construction on your house, search out alternatives to using newly cut wood. See this link for more construction information.
Step 4: Make Bulk Purchases. Avoid products that are packaged for single use (i.e., drinks, school lunches, candy, cat and dog food, salad mixings, etc.). Instead, buy in bulk and transfer the products to your own reusable containers. Many health food stores have bulk bins where they sell everything from grains to cereal to cleaning products.
Step 5: Avoid Trash. Avoid creating trash wherever possible: when ordering food, avoid receiving any unnecessary plastic utensils, straws, etc. (ask in advance), buy ice cream in a cone instead of a cup, don't accept "free" promotional products, buy products with the least amount of packaging, etc. Every little bit of trash avoided makes a big difference!
For instance, plastic bags used for shopping purposes can be replaced with cloth bags. One cloth bag (re-used over time) equals 6 plastic bags a week, 24 in a month or 288 a year. That’s equivalent to over 22,000 plastic bags during the average shopper’s lifetime. If 1 out of 5 Americans use cloth bags on a regular basis we’re talking about reducing plastic bag consumption by over 1.3 trillion plastic bags over a lifetime.
Instead of purchasing bottled water you may want to consider purchasing a filter system for your tap at home or purchasing a large water dispenser instead of small water bottles. Not only will this be saving the environment but it will also be saving your wallet.
Step 6: Reduce water consumption.
u Take shorter showers.
u Use smaller toilet tanks. A simple and economical way to conserve water in toilets is to place a 2-litre soda bottle filled with water in your toilet tank. Every time you flush you would be saving 2-litres of water. If you use the toilet 4 times a day you would be saving 8 litres a day, 56 litres a week, 2,912 litres a year and over 200,00 litres in a lifetime.
u Water lawn and garden in the evening time
u Use plants that require less water for survival, e.g. cactus
u Turn taps off when brushing teeth
u Turn shower off while soaping
u To wash dishes fill one side of the sink with warm water and use for rinsing purposes. Try not to use too much dishwashing liquid.
The media has done a wonderful job of selling us on the attractiveness and benefits of buying "new", "improved", "special", etc. products. However, we already collectively own so much that we could all survive for quite a while on the existing products - if we just reused them a few times!
Garage Sales: Shop at and hold garage sales – this is a great way to reuse products.
Reusables: Switch from disposable to reusable products: food and beverage containers, cups, plates, writing pens, razors, diapers, towels, shopping bags, etc.
Donations: Donate your old:
u household items - clothes, furniture, dishes, books, sports equipment, magazines, appliances, electronics, business attire, wedding attire, etc. (to charity)
u computer equipment
u building material (to companies who specialize in selling used material)
u cell phones and ink cartridges
u extra hangers (to your local dry cleaners)
u art materials (to a school or cultural organization)
u unwanted boxed/bagged/canned food (to homeless shelters, food banks, or soup kitchens)
u Buy/Sell Used Items: Buy and sell your items on sites such as:
u Barter Bee.
u Craigslit provides a great free way to buy/sell/give away used items in your local community (select your community from listings on the right)
u Recycler's World facilitates buying and selling used products (for home and work)
u Local second hand stores
Throwplace: Throwplace.com lets you list items online that you would like to give to nonprofit organizations, businesses, or individuals.
Community Swap: Organize a community swap program (i.e., designate a place where people can leave unwanted items for others to use).
Reuse Plastic Bags: These can be washed and reused or used as garbage bags, for shopping and any other way you can think of using a plastic bag. If you can’t use cloth bags at the grocery or supermarket then don’t just throw away the plastic bags, reuse them!
Buy Durables: Buy products that will last and take care of them. Often in the long run you end up saving more on maintenance cost and you don’t need to replece the item so many times.
Teach Thrift: Teach your children the value of being thrifty (the wise economy in the management of money and other resources; frugality).
Frugal Printing: Use both sides of each piece of paper – for note taking or printing documents from your computer (at home or work). Create note pads by stapling together once-used paper.
Kitchen Reuseables: Instead of buying these items new, save and reuse all: paper bags, rubber bands, twisties, boxes, and packaging material. Reuse your plastic bags with a handy bag dryer.
Library: Pick up books from your local library or used bookstore. The library is also many times a great place for finding magazines, CDs, books-on-tape, and videos.
Share with Neighbors: Join in with neighbors to purchase infrequently used products such as lawn mowers, ladders, etc.
Refurbished Computers: Buy refurbished computers for less
Rechargeable Batteries: Purchase rechargeable batteries and a battery recharger (some battery rechargers will also recharge regular alkaline batteries). Solar powered battery rechargers are available also.
Recycle Bins: Create designated holding "bins" for each type of recycled product and place in convenient locations in your home/garage
Recycling Fact Sheet: Create a local recycling fact sheet for yourself and interested neighbors. The local Yellow Pages, Internet Consumer Recycling Guide and Recycling Resources are great resources.
Find out where you can recycle:
u paper products
u plastic grocery bags (better yet - use cloth bags)
u plastic - including 1 - 7 identification codes
u tin cans
u scrap metal
u motor oil (one quart of oil can kill fish in thousands of gallons of water)
u ink cartridges
u household appliances such as refrigerators
u computer equipment and other electronic devices
u aseptic packaging (square boxes used for liquids)
u athletic shoes (contact a local sporting goods or athletic shoe store - some donate used shoes, others recycle them)
Recycled Content: Ask your local retailers to stock more products made from recycled materials and buy products made from the highest recycled content whenever possible.
Green Paper: In general, try to buy products/containers made from recycled material as often as possible to support the recycled product market. When purchasing paper products (toilet paper, etc,), look for paper that has been recycled using a minimum of 50% post-consumer waste. Also, purchase from companies that do not use chlorine to bleach their paper products (which creates dioxin waste).
Natural Fertilizer: Leave grass clippings on the lawn as fertilizer. Pick up manure from a nearby farm.
Composting: Start a compost pile with yard trimmings and food scraps. Learn more on how to create a compost pile here.
Pack-it-Out: If you are traveling and no recycle bins are available, pack your recyclables home with you whenever possible.
Hazardous Waste: The other key aspect of dealing with waste effectively is to dispose of toxic products at a hazardous waste facility. Products requiring special handling include:
u Building Materials - paint , varnish, paint thinner, solvents, rust remover, wood preservatives and driveway sealer
u Automotive products - gasoline, transmission oil, brake fluid, kerosene, charcoal lighter fluid, power steering fluid, used motor oil,used oil filters, used antifreeze
u Household cleaners - spot removers, rug cleaners, metal cleaners, bathroom cleaners, oven cleaner, drain cleaner
u Pesticides - insect killers, weed killers, flea products, moth crystals, fertilizers with weed killer
u Miscellaneous - photographic chemicals, acids and corrosive chemicals, pool chemicals, compact fluorescent light bulbs, Ni-Cd batteries