I hate throwing things away. Not in a hoarder way, but in an anti-waste way. Few things get me riled up quite like throwing away food – I’ll get to that later. It wasn’t until moving to Nashville, where recycling seems to be rare, that I was forced to wrestle with this more seriously. Do I succumb to the throw-out nature that is my new community or do I figure out a way to make it work for me? It took some trial and error but I am happy to say that after living in Nashville for nearly a year, I am making it work for me. Today, I’m sharing what I do to minimize our household waste. That includes food, single-use items and larger things.
One thing to keep in mind as you read this post is your household size and purchasing habits. Our household is Tuck, Jace (our 12-lb doggo) and myself. I also handle majority of household purchases (grocery, office supplies, dog food, etc.) so it is relatively easy for me to make purchasing changes. As you read the rest of this post, keep your household size and purchasing habits in mind and see where there are some opportunities for you and your household to make some of these changes. Change, in general, is not always easy to come by especially when other people are involved. If parts of this post (or all of it) overwhelm you, I highly recommend being as transparent as possible in what changes you want to make with those around you and taking it one room at a time.
Now, onto the good stuff.
To really drive it home I must reiterate: I hate throwing away food. Something that works in my favor as far as this is concerned is that I’m also not a picky eater. If I see that something has a few days left in its lifespan, I usually have no problem whipping it up alongside something else (or just by itself as a snack) and making sure it gets eaten. That being said, I know that many people are not like this *ahem Tuck*. Here are the things I do to minimize our food waste:
Freeze What can be Frozen Not all items from the produce aisle in the grocery store can be frozen (things with high water content, lettuce, melon, cucumbers), but many can. When I buy kale, spinach or other non-lettuce greens, I make sure to clean them properly, dry them completely and freeze about half of the bunch. As much as I’d like to think that I’ll eat all of the greens before they go bad, I’ve learned far too many times that it’s not a realistic goal for me. This way, whenever I want to add a bit of greenery to a pasta sauce, sauté or eggs, I grab a handful from the bag in the freezer and don’t have to worry about them going bad. Another great item to freeze is bread. Whenever I buy bread from Aldi, I buy it in 2’s and keep one in the freezer. This is great for planning ahead if you’re entertaining. Let’s say next weekend you’re hosting some of your friends for brunch, but you only have time this weekend to shop. The freezer is your friend.
Prep Your Food & Save the Scraps I dedicated an entire post to extending the life of your produce. The key? Cleaning, prepping and storing it correctly. Click here to read the full post, but the gist is that by prepping it, you’re doing two things: giving it the longest shelf life possible and making it more appealing to use because half of the slicing and dicing has been done already. The easiest way I’ve been able to make this habit is by doing it as soon as I get home from the grocery store. I’ll put away anything that needs to be immediately chilled, frozen or stored in a cabinet and separate anything that needs to be prepped. Before I cut anything, I make sure to grab a gallon sized bag (I’m looking into these reusable ones – has anyone used them?) to collect my scraps. Once the bag is full, sometimes after prepping or a week later, I’ll use the scraps to make homemade vegetable broth which I store in both the fridge and freezer.
Eat the Leftovers Whether we eat at home or go out, there are always leftovers. I eat the leftovers for lunch either as they are or doctored up. If there are a lot of leftovers of one particular thing, we’ll eat them again for dinner with a bit more spices added to them. Another thing I’ll do is use leftover veggies as part of a completely different dish. For example, I have leftover unglamorous mashed potatoes. I use them to make homemade pierogis or vegetarian shepard’s pie. Both dishes may seem complicated, but the potatoes are the most time consuming part of either dish. By repurposing them, I’m giving them more flavor and, most importantly, they’re getting eaten.
By container waste, I mean anything that comes in a container. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? That’s because it is a lot. Everything from jarred olives to shampoo to paper towels and beyond. This is the area that I am constantly working to improve; we’re getting there, slowly but surely. You may see a trend in this section. I rely heavily on our trusted “reduce, reuse, recycle” slogan and so far so good.
Buy the Big Sizes Things like dish washing liquid, shampoo and other items that you consistently use are better to buy in one large item rather than many of the smaller sized item, in my opinion. Since there’s little doubt that you won’t use the item, it makes more plastic (and often financial) sense to buy the jumbo sized version. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend buying food items in such quantities unless they will be eaten immediately (like if you’re entertaining or have a lot of mouths to feed), can be frozen, or you’re completely confident you will go through. For us, those are things like: dishwashing liquid, dog food, toilet paper and cereal.
Make Things at Home How does this make sense to include for container waste? Because all of these items come in containers that are usually plastic. In general, cooking from scratch will also help in this arena if you usually buy frozen and/or prepared meals. Here’s a blog post to give you some ideas, others may be: iced coffee, breadsticks, mac and cheese. If you’re a frequent buyer of frozen meals, I highly suggest making freezer crock pot/oven meals. It does take a bit of planning and strategic shopping, but they’re a great way to maximize a grocery shop and make delicious meals when you’re short on time.
Reuse the Container This isn’t always possible, like when items come in cellophane or vacuum-sealed, but it is doable. For example, I save glass jars from food, candles and other items and repurpose them to hold other items. I use old pasta sauce jars to store my rice and quinoa, old salsa jars to hold my ground coffee for the week (I grind the beans at the start of every week) and old pickled jalapeño jars to bring my homemade salad dressings to work for my lunch. I always have a few on standby in case one breaks or a random need arises; they always do.
Recycle!!! While great, recycling should be the last option when possible. I read an article the other day that informed me that most of our recyclable waste in the United States actually gets shipped to China to be recycled – how does that make any sense? In Nashville, it doesn’t seem that household recycling pick-up is very prevalent which I find bizarre. If you’re local, here is a list of recycling centers across the Metropolitan area. Luckily, there is a recycling center right near the highway by my work so I plan for my trips there every Monday. That being said, the main objective should be to reduce the amount of containers you buy not solely relying on recycling.
Are you feeling overwhelmed? If so, start room by room. Making one change a day, no matter how big, is a step in the right direction. If not, *high five*. Below you’ll find a list of small swaps you can make to start your journey to reduced household waste. Bonus points if you do some of these already!
Use reusable bags (I keep three in the trunk of my car at all times)
Don’t use single-use straws
Save plastic take-out containers and (wash!!) reuse them
Ditch the dryer sheets for wool balls
Pop your own popcorn on the stove
Remove makeup with olive oil
Donate old clothing
Grow your own herbs
Reuse old school folders to keep organized
Donate unread/old books to a local library or school
Doing the things I’ve listed above, I have managed to reduce our household waste to one 13-gallon trash bag a week. Again, keep our household size in mind – know it can be done. I will continue to update this post with additional action items that work for us and if you have any suggestions for actions, I’d love to include them as well!
On a completely separate note, I am revamping the My Little Box of Tricks newsletter! It will be sent out on the first of every month highlighting that month’s posts, posts to come and also recap the month in general. I hope it will serve as a more intimate way for you to get to know me and vice versa. If you’d like to receive the newsletter you can fill out the below form with your name and email or do so in the side bar – same list! As a bit of a disclaimer about the newsletter, I want to reassure you that by signing up, I will only be sending you the newsletter and that your email is safe with me – I won’t selling your information to anyone.
How are you working to reduce household waste?