Reducing Waste: Our Tried and True Methods

Public domain image created by U.S. EPA, 2012.

This month’s question: What are your favorite ways to reduce waste?


  1. Composting natural materials.  We compost kitchen scraps and leaves, but I also use a lot of materials in the garden under mulch for weed prevention, such as cardboard boxes, newspaper, and old cotton clothing or sheets.  I recently discovered that our county’s composting program has winter drop sites; participating in this will reduce our winter trash substantially (previously, we had two issues with winter composting at home: getting to the bin through deep snow, and the bin filling up with frozen materials early in the season).
  2. Reducing single-use objects.  Dishcloths last years longer than sponges, and old dishcloths become cleaning rags.  Old hand towels are folded and kept in the place where we used to keep paper towels. We’ve always used cloth napkins, and keep a stash of handkerchiefs available.  When we eat out, I try to remember to bring food storage containers for leftovers so we can avoid those awful takeout boxes.
  3. Thrifting.  By buying our purchases slightly used, we reduce demand for new objects, as well as costs associated with shipping new objects. Most thrifted items come without packaging, too.


  1. Secondhand purchasing.  I don’t so much go to thrift stores anymore; too much of a crapshoot and not enough time.  Rather I troll and use Facebook sale groups, Craigslist and Nextdoor. I try to get away from the trolling part for mindset’s sake, but I do put out a lot of requests and most are fulfilled.  And I started a free group for the moms in my neighborhood mom group, and it’s quite active. There’s a lot of “good” stuff on there, but also it is AMAZING who will take broken and quite worn out items for a specific use, extending their life a tad bit more before they land in the landfill.
  2. Rags in the kitchen.  We have bought few paper towels in the last 10 years, because we keep a drawer of rags for all the kitchen and dining room disasters.  I was making them out of old t-shirts, but they got so disgusting that finally we decided to use all the same color tan washcloths. We have grey ones for the bathroom so it makes it easy to know where they belong when washing/putting away.
  3. My reusable mug.  I have it with me all the time.  On those occasions when I am buying a coffee, I rarely take the disposable cup.


  1. Definitely buying second hand. The vast majority of the things that I own are secondhand. Especially kids clothing. My kids work hard and play hard, and it shows. With seven of them I just can’t justify spending full price on something they will wear out in a season.
  2. Discount stores. So much goes to waste in this country. We have a couple of really great discount stores in my area that stock food or other items that are perfectly good, but for a variety of reasons aren’t able to be sold at the big box and grocery stores. Rather than go to waste, the suppliers sell the stuff very cheaply to the discount stores, who sell it at amazing discounts. Last Friday Zach and I were there when the Target truck arrived and it was eye opening how much of the stuff that adorns the shelves at big box stores is discarded. They have huge boxes full of mixed items, clothes, shoes, toys, decor, etc. that are just dumped in together with no organization. We picked through and got some insane deals, but it bothered me to see how much excess there is in retail.
  3. Repurposing. Something really fun and waste reducing that we do at work is an activity we do with our seniors. We get the cast off jeans and shirts from the local thrift store. We cut the pockets out of the jeans, the buttons off of the shirt and cut the rest up into squares of fabric. It’s a good activity for the seniors to do while sitting and chatting, and the resulting product gets sold at the thrift store to crafters. The owners say they sells like hot cakes.

We’re all reducing, reusing, recycling every day.  Please share your ideas for reducing household waste so we can all improve!

Thrifty Thursday – Helping the Planet
Image by Trish Steel and Licensed through CC BY-SA 2.0

Thrift saves money, but it saves many resources, too. Reducing waste and maximizing use of resources can be a strong motivation in developing frugal daily habits. A few ways in which I consider our household reduces the national waste average are:

Reducing food waste: The planning begins when shopping – are the fresh ingredients in the cart enough but not too much for the coming week?  Once home, I cook most vegetables in advance – this saves weeknight time while cooking the vegetables at maximum freshness. When we do eat out, I plan ahead by taking a container and an ice pack.

Buying less new stuff: Manufacturing plants provide jobs, but they also use fossil fuels, water, and raw materials that have in some way been harvested from the planet. Shipping new items is also energy-intensive. Plenty of new items still enter our house, but I view any reduction as a positive.

Buying less packaging: Many new items are contained within single-use packaging. It seems silly that so many things are still sold in boxes or, worse, those hard plastic shells that must be cut open and discarded.

Reusing and upcycling: There is a challenge in finding new purposes for things that would otherwise be discarded. Old sweaters yield one-of-a-kind hats and mittens. Worn-out sheets and cardboard shipping boxes become weed barriers under mulch. Retail food packaging containers are often sturdier than purchased food storage containers. Before discarding, ask the question: What else could this be?