by Trish Adkins
When I was a kid, my mother always saved the cardboard insert from her pantyhose for me and my siblings to use for coloring and crafts. I thought those rectangle squares of card stock with the rounded edges were the perfect medium for drawing masterpieces. I had no idea my mom was reusing something most people see as useless and making a conscious choice be less wasteful!
Now, I have three kids of my own and although I absolutely never wear pantyhose (except under extreme duress), I do worry about the impact our habits will have on future generations. I don’t want my kids to worry about our planet—I want them to love it and respect it. Since love and respect start at home, I try my best to find ways to recycle more and waste less.
Not-so-fun fact: The average American generates 4.4 pounds of trash per day. If our family of five generated waste at that rate, that would amount to 154 pounds of trash in a week, making for one heavy trash can!
I detest dragging enormous over-filled trash cans to the curb once a week—and I bet you do too! So, here’s my lucky seven tips that contain (nearly) everything you need to know about recycling, reusing and reducing waste in your home.
Start with the bathroom
I know everyone immediately thinks the kitchen is the prime recycling spot—but really your bathroom is just as prime for recycling. Many of the items you find in your bathroom are easily recyclable. Plastic bottles – shampoo, body wash, medicine containers and lotion bottles – are all recyclable in most cities (just toss the pumps! Those are not recyclable yet.). You don’t need to thoroughly clean your plastic bottles before recycling – just use up the product, give it a quick rinse and toss it in! Cardboard – tissue boxes, toilet paper rolls, and toothpaste boxes – is also easily recyclable.
So put a small trashcan in your bathroom to use as your recycling container and get to it
Invest in reusable items
Convenience does not have to be wasteful! I’ll admit it, I sometimes commit eco-crimes like drinking pre-bottled water and forgetting my reusable shopping bags. One thing I’ve learned is that convenience items – those things that are easy to grab and go – really need to be at my finger tips or I won’t use them.
I’ve invested in several reusable water bottles that I keep filled and at the ready in my refrigerator. I truly love drinking from metal straws—which I can simply pop in the dishwasher. I keep my drawers stocked with bento boxes for my kids’ lunches and I pre-pack snacks in reusable containers for easy grab and go! Mason jars are inexpensive and do double duty as vases for flowers and containers for salads and soups! You can even find reusable wrap made from beeswax to wrap sandwiches all week long!
Of course, if you have reusable shopping and produce bags, make sure you have a stock stashed in your car, near your front door and in handy, easy to spot locations!
Recycle bags and wrap
Did you know that plastic bags, wrap and films can usually be recycled at your local grocery store? Save plastic bags from shopping trips, plastic film from mail order packages, cotton ball bags, produce bags and even used sandwich bags. Recycled plastic bags and film are typically made into new plastic bags, fencing and other products. To find a plastic bag recycling drop off location head here.
Reduce packaging at the source
The choices you make when you are shopping for products can make all the difference in minimizing your household waste! By opting for large-format and refillable products you can reduce the packaging you’re bringing into your home. Choose refillable containers for the soaps and detergents you use in the kitchen, laundry room and bathrooms – you can find many product lines that offer large bulk containers to refill your smaller containers or you can search for stores in your area that offer refilling stations for soaps and other items. Trade liquid soap for bar soap, which is easier to find without packaging. And use common sense when you pick products – does something have excessive packaging? Is there an alternative without the same amount?
Most of all, do your research on the brands you purchase from. For example, are they a Certified B Corp? B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the non-profit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. If the brand you buy from is a B Corp, you can look at their public profile on B Lab’s website to see how they scored in each of the areas above. Making choices to support companies who are also working to reduce their environmental footprint makes your decisions even more impactful!
My mom was ahead of her time when she had us using her pantyhose inserts for artwork. Kids love turning otherwise useless objects into fun crafts. There are endless ways you can reuse containers around your home – save small baby food jars for growing crystals or storing small craft supplies. Use pouch lids for sorting and counting games for your little ones. Empty water bottles can be transformed into jet-packs for your future astronaut. Old newspapers make fun, retro wrapping paper – the options are limitless (just check out Pinterest)!
Did you know that food scraps make up around 14-percent of landfill waste?! Composting your food scraps is an effective and impactful way to reduce your waste. By staring your own compost pile and using the outputs, you’ll also improve your soil (perfect for growing veggies!). Plus, you can also compost leaves, grass clippings and other yard waste. There are several ways to compost, and when you do it properly, your compost pile will not be smelly or attract pests. To get started with composting indoors (you can compost on your kitchen counter!) or outdoors, check out the resources from the U.S. Composting Council.
No space for a compost pile at your house? Some local grocery stores have compost bins and might allow you to bring in your kitchen scraps.
Give new life to old stuff
Just because you are finished with your old stuff does not mean it is useless! I love curbside pickup and free cycle groups on Facebook – both for unloading clutter and searching for free or low cost items. You can also research wish lists for animal shelters and other non-profit organizations in your community – some accept stuffed animals to use with rescue dogs, old linens for bedding and other household items. Of course, you can donate your old clothes in a local clothing drop (or post in your Moms Group on Facebook and see if there is a mom who could use your baby’s outgrown clothes.)
In the end, don’t get bogged down by trying to be the perfect waste-reducer – give yourself permission to do your best. Baby steps will add up to a big impact, so start where you feel comfortable. Happy recycling!
Trish Adkins is a writer and the mom to three very busy kids—ages 5-12. In addition to turning old oatmeal containers into drums, her family loves getting outside, cooking, traveling, hosting lemonade stands and bird watching! Trish is also the Happy Family Happy Mama (Brand Ambassador) in the Philadelphia region. All opinions are her own and she has not been paid to publish specific content.