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The List

The List: 5 Ways to Reduce Waste in 2016

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Make this year the year that your family creates less trash. Here’s how.

So we’ve survived the holidays. Whew! And if you’re like me, you probably spent much of December making a mental list of things you’ll accomplish in January: Eat less, get the house back in order, finally tackle those projects you’ve been putting off….

I was shocked when I learned just how much more waste we all generate during the holiday season, and in general it seems that the amount of municipal solid waste Americans generate is growing annually. So for me, I am most excited this year about offsetting that excess with some sustainable changes in my life.

Along with my usual resolutions, I decided to make a list of ways my family could minimize waste. Hopefully our habits will last longer than our resolutions typically do! Here are some of the things that we — and you! — can do to make 2016 the most sustainable year yet.

1. Go Even More Digital: Every so often my husband and I practically have to take a shovel to the table inside our front door where our mail piles up. But this is the year I’ll finally take my utility companies up on their offer to send me paperless bills, and I’ll renew my subscription to Next Issue (a great way to read magazines digitally). I might even see if my daughter’s pen pal wants to swap emails instead of letters. Maybe I can even put some air-cleaning plants on my entry table once I’m rid of that heap of mail! (If the idea of going digital with important documents makes you nervous, here’s a useful read.)

MORE: Get free digital magazine subscriptions with your Recyclebank points.

2. Be Smart About Office Supplies: Minimizing waste shouldn’t only be a priority at home. Take a look at how you work and see where you can make some changes to be more efficient with your office supplies. Instead of opening up a big box of pens and taking a new one every time, only take a couple out of the box, and use them frequently, which keeps ink from drying up and clogging. Opt for a reusable tape dispenser, and use paper clips, which can be reused, instead of staples. Use a whiteboard and dry-erase markers for jotting reminders, instead of sticky notes, and take notes on your smartphone or computer in meetings rather than in a notebook.

3. Batch Your Errands: Time is just as valuable as gas, and you’ll save both if you are smarter about the errands you have to run. At the beginning of each week make a list of everywhere you need to go, and mentally map out your route and your schedule. Can you go to a post office that’s closer to the supermarket? Can your husband drop off the dry cleaning on his way to work? I’ve even been known to trade errands with friends, asking someone to pick up a few things while she’s at Trader Joe’s if I can get her what she needs when I’m at Target.

4. Opt for Refillable: One of my girlfriends has the prettiest ceramic soap dispenser by her kitchen sink. But these decorative touches aren’t just pretty, they’re eco-friendly too. While buying in bulk is nothing new, the concept of liquid refills for things like shampoo or cleaning products is just starting to take hold. A growing number of retailers are specializing in a concept known as “refill stations,” where consumers can bring their own reusable vessels to purchase bulk liquids. If you don’t have one near you, then another good alternative is to seek out products with concentrated refill options; you can mix the concentrate with tap water to make more of the cleaning product.

5. Rent, Rather Than Own: One of the best ways to minimize waste is to buy less. You’ll cut down on product packaging, not to mention the big-picture use of resources and raw materials that it took to manufacturer and ship those products. Luckily, there’s a whole crop of subscription services that enable you to rent everything from toys to clothing. Locally, you can look for services that allow you to rent extra China for a party, home improvement tools, even furniture. Even better than renting is borrowing — consider asking around next time you need camping gear, a special piece of kitchen equipment, some sporting goods, or other items that are only used occasionally. And of course, there’s always the library for borrowing great books, too!

How will you minimize waste in 2016? Share your goals in the comments below!

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

  • Lynn T. 13 days ago
    I save paper that I no longer need for note taking at my computer.
  • Gina L. 1 month ago
    Homes, schools, offices, etc need to go back to manual pencil sharpeners. The electric type work well but don't last long. Think of the electricity saved. People are just getting lazy and becoming a throw away society with even the smallest of common sense issues.
  • Bonnie R. 3 months ago
    I too save any/every piece of paper for notes, etc. Especially when I print out coupons! I could drown in the extra paper I have around. The problem with phone/computer notes, is it uses energy, and to turn the computer on and open an extra app, is problematic sometimes. On the other hand, I end up with all these pieces of paper...but still, that's what I do. I particularly like bill envelopes. both the ones sent as well as the payment ones, since I pay online. Have gone green, on some, but then need to print the bill for my records, and only do this if it saves the cost/fee for online payment. Fun fact: some of my credit cards that I have consistently paid online, have stopped sending the payment envelopes, stating you've been paying online, but not all of them, yet. fwiw
  • Debra T. 3 months ago
    I keep my junk mail for my niece. Now that she has learned to write she likes to make up names and addresses and fill out magazine subscriptions, credit card applications, life insurance applications, AAA, sweepstakes entries. We have lots of stickers for her "stamps". Next time she is here we are going to make her a mailbox (out of recycled materials of curse). I am sure her mailbox will always be full. It's a great "use your imagination" game and keeps her busy for hours.
    Can we recycle junk mail? Obviously nothing with my name and address on it, but the rest of it. The return envelopes that come with all my bills that I pay on line? The piles that are left over when my nieces mailbox is full? Can this be recycled? And if so, how does it have to be left for the recycle staff.
  • Peg R. 3 months ago
    I save the backs and any other usable parts of junk mail to use for note taking which can then be recycled. I haven't bought a note pad in several years.
    • Debra T. 3 months ago
      I do the same, I have enough scrap paper to last me the rest of the year. That is a shame. I use for grocery lists weekly, and if I need to write down any information from a message left on my phone.
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