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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.

  • Michael B. 19 days ago
    Good information.
  • Renee D. 19 days ago
  • Yolanda J. 19 days ago
    I recycle our cleaners metal hangers, I take back to the cleaners so they can reuse them. I plan my route when doing my errands. My local recycler takes laundry detergent containers and I get paid to recycle them. I carry my recycle bags for grocery shopping. I pick up cans and bottles in my walking path and put in my recycle bins. Reduce my carbon foot print!
  • lisa p. 19 days ago
    I agree with many of these but depriving your child of a paper & Stamp Pen-Pal experience is just plain mean and unwise. This is where kids learn the lost art of writing a "friendly letter" and a parent should teach them the proper format for that as well as the proper format for business letters, encouraging the child to begin writing them BOTH as soon as they are mature enough. There is still a special thrill of getting a letter from a pen pal and later in life, it will serve them well when it comes time to write Thank You notes for gifts, interviews and more. If you teach a child that every type of communication is best done online, you will end up having them perceived as rude and uncaring. A handwritten note of condolence or to thank Great Aunt Mary for the lovely birthday card is the hallmark of a well-raised boy or girl. Have them make their own paper if you must, from recycled bits or choose personal stationary that is made from certified recycled content. Put those free cards you get from Charities to good use. You CAN encourage proper care of the planet and truly proper etiquette at the same time!
    • Donna C. 17 days ago
      I agree. A handwritten note is still so nice to recieve. I was very surprised to know kids are not even taught cursive in school any more.
  • TheConnoisseurOfClean-com C. 20 days ago
    I have a home office, and I often have misprints (like an error on an invoice). I always save any waste paper and then fold it into fourths. I then use that as my to-do list. When all the sides are used up I recycle it.

    I also always use reusable shopping bags, but a lot of other people don't. I will pull tons of clean grocery bags out of the blue recycling bins (they're not supposed to be there anyhow) and reuse them as temporary bags to hold dirty cleaning rags when I'm cleaning a home or property. After 2 or 3 uses I put them inside another plastic bag, and when I have enough, I drop them off for recycling at the grocery store.

    You can see pics of all the stuff I salvage (mostly from dumpsters or picked up as litter) here. Scroll about halfway down the page:
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