30 Ways To Reduce Household Waste

30 Ways To Reduce Household Waste | areturntosimplicity.comDo you ever feel like you are constantly having to empty your trash cans, and take them out to the collection bin (or in our case, to the dump)?

I have definitely felt like that before.

It seems like EVERYTHING comes in a large plastic container of some sort, plus, cooking from scratch means lots of paper towel and napkin use, right?

Well, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Today, I am going to tell you about 30 different things we started doing several years ago to reduce household waste.

In our house we reduce household waste by trying to avoid any products that are a “use it and lose it”. Meaning, anything that can’t be re-used multiple times is not welcome.

Well, other than toilet paper, that is. For all his teasing about using the shower curtain when someone forgets to replace the toilet paper roll, my husband would never be on board with “family cloth”!

We avoid buying disposable products for several reasons:

1. Financial
Obviously, if you can re-use things over and over again, it usually saves you quite a bit of money.

2. Environmental
The landfills and oceans are becoming more and more full of toxic waste, and forests are being mowed down, with little regard to the environmental effects. We want to contribute as little as possible to that!

3. Health
Most disposable products are made with toxic chemicals. Even most paper products are bleached, and aluminum itself will leach into your food and drink. Plastic and Styrofoam are well known for their nasty chemical leaching as well.

Therefore, we reduce household waste by avoiding disposable products whenever we can.

*We also like to avoid any plastic products, even if they are technically reusable, because of the toxic element, so that is included in this list as well. 

There are a few affiliate links included in this list, but most of the links are to DIY posts on my blog that will show you how to make or use these items yourself!

Here is how we do it:

  1. Use reusable shopping bags when shopping.
  2. Use old rags for cleaning the house. This includes using a wet old washcloth as a cover for my Swiffer when I mop, and a felt square for when I use it dry! Works like a charm.
  3. Handkerchiefs instead of tissues.
  4. Wire and wooden baskets, large glass jars, and burlap bags for all storage.
  5. Cloth diapers and wipes for baby.
  6. Cloth gift bags for birthdays and Christmas.
  7. Mama cloth or a DivaCup instead of disposable tampons and pads for the ladies.
  8. Reuse any plastic or paper bags that happen to find their way into your house. We like to line trashcans with them, and avoid having to buy plastic liners.
  9. Reuse egg cartons- the cardboard ones only! I find that any kind of decent eggs from the store always come in the cardboard cartons, so if you are sourcing good eggs, you shouldn’t have to deal with the sytrofoam ones anyway. The cardboard cartons make fabulous fire starters, and you can also start seedlings in them!
  10. If you have a wood stove, save any paper products (un-coated junk mail, small pieces of cardboard, or used scrap paper) to be burned.
  11. Ditch the toxic dryer sheets. You can replace them with reusable wool dryer balls, or you may find you don’t need anything at all in your dryer!
  12. If you are brave enough, and your partner/spouse is on board, give family cloth a try!
  13. Use mason jars and glass “tupperware” to store leftovers instead of plastic containers.
  14. Buy food in bulk, and use mason jars instead of the plastic bags usually provided.
  15. Use cloth napkins instead of paper.Work With Me!
  16. Wrap food or dishes in this easy DIY cloth “plastic wrap” replacement.
  17. Use dinner plates to cover bowls. I find that a standard dinner place fits perfectly over most mixing bowls, and salad plates fit over soup bowls.
  18. Use old rags in place of paper towels. We always use a hand towel to dry our hands, a dish cloth to wipe counters, (these both are replaced daily) and an oily cloth for wiping down our cast iron after we clean and dry it.
  19. Cook your food from scratch, and very few disposable food containers will make their way into your kitchen.
  20. Garden and preserve your harvest! Also, put your food scraps into the compost pile!
  21. Use wax sandwich bags, or stainless steel containers for sending in lunch boxes. Some schools won’t allow glass to be sent to school, and most kids are pretty rough on their lunch boxes, so glass can be iffy anyway!
  22. Use glass bottles, and stainless steel or glass sippy cups for babies.
  23. Acquire a collection of stainless steel straws. Trust me, kids LOVE all the different sizes and shapes that are available!
  24. Use silicone smoothie/yogurt holders and ditch the plastic go-gurt tubes!
  25. Silicone muffin tins and mold require zero paper or plastic liners, and pop out your muffins, homemade jello, and homemade “Reese’s” cups like a dream!
  26. For the coffee lovers, there are very inexpensive reusable mesh coffee filter
    reusable mesh coffee filters for your usual coffee maker, or you can use a glass french press or a stove stop espresso maker that require no paper filters! Personally, I am a french press lover.
  27. Having a set of real dishes and silverware is a bit of an investment, but it will pay off in the long run, and keep you from having to use toxic and wasteful disposable tableware.
  28. Invest in some naturally non-stick cookware like enameled or regular cast iron, and stoneware dishes. Coat with a thin layer of healthy fat before baking, (lard, butter, coconut oil, etc…) and it will eliminate the need for lining with foil or wax paper.
  29. If you must use plastic ziplock bags (see my dilemma here!), wash and reuse them until they leak, or fall apart.
  30. Make your own detergent’s and cleaners, and store them in glass bottles and jars. Before I started making my own apple cider vinegar, I saved all the glass bottles that ACV usually comes in. Most sprayer lids from plastic spray bottles will screw right on the top of the glass bottles! That is how I store my homemade cleaners now.

Our freezer is where we are still running into a bit of a plastic dilemma. When we butcher our pigs in the fall, we plan to use a non-toxic butcher paper to wrap all of the meat. I’m still figuring out a plan for the chickens we butcher though, and our frozen garden veggies still reside in quart and gallon zip lock bags. 🙁

Thankfully, I can convert all of my stock into bouillon, and eliminate the need for freezing it in plastic bags!

These are ALL things we do every single day in our house, (well, except for the family cloth 🙂 ) and they have become easy habits that we don’t even think about anymore.

30 Ways To Reduce Household Waste | areturntosimplicity.com

What tips and tricks do you do to reduce household waste?


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24 responses to “30 Ways To Reduce Household Waste”

  1. I love this list! We do all of these except I really want to try making your bouillon recipe and your DIY “plastic” wrap. Your comment about family cloth and the shower curtain made me laugh. My husband has made it clear that under no circumstances will he participate in this idea. However, I have my own set of “family cloth” squares which I use just for peeing. Oh, I just talked about pee! Sorry!

  2. Dés says:

    Great tips!
    We are completely onboard with you and do many of these. HOWEVER, there is one thing I always wonder about: what is truly worse for the environment: using plastic (sparingly of course) or continuously needing more water, energy to heat the water, and soaps to clean the extra containers, towels, clothes, diapers, etc… I really, really would like to see someone do a scientific study on that. We do this stuff for health reasons as well as environmental concerns, but I always have this little doubt nagging in the back of my mind, whether we are maybe not doing more harm than good this way.
    ALSO, here is an idea for replacing plastic in your freezer: my dear mother-in-law always uses large glass jars with wax paper under the metal lids to store her pre-cooked spaghetti sauce. I don’t see why that wouldn’t work for your produce as well. It may not be quite as space efficient as the gallon bags, but she has been reusing the same jars for DECADES 🙂

    • Angi says:

      I understand your dilemma Des! However, there are lots of ways we can conserve and reuse water, but there is no way to deal with the horrible environmental consequences of plastic. Plus, the few extra rags, napkins and towels have not changed the amount of laundry loads I do each week, (Diapers yes, but not anything else). I make my own soap from wood ash lye and lard, which would be thrown away in most houses. Therefore, the “extra” soap has zero environmental impact. So, when we make a concerted effort to conserve and reuse our water, I feel like there is a HUGE environmental benefit, even after the concerns you mentioned. Thanks for the thoughts, I love hearing other people’s insight and opinions!

      • Suze says:

        Someone else brought this up on another blog I read. Part of the response was to also consider the amount of water and other resources used in the manufacturing, packaging, and shipping of the plastic and paper products. It made me feel better about maybe using a tad more water when I factored that in. Hope this eases your mind a little.

    • Sherrie says:

      I’m on board with you Des regarding what’s worse – tissues and napkins going to the landfill or using water to wash reusable cloth. Natural soap is the answer to the detergent problem. I haven’t made the switch to reusable tissue and napkins yet because my electric and water bills are high enough already. I suppose if I sewed them up myself and line dried them, maybe the impact wouldn’t be as great. A trial is in order. Another dilemma is whether or not to recycle canned food cans that require a lot of water to rinse out. Example: refried beans and beef stew. No matter how much I scrape, there’s always a lot of sticky/greasy food left that has to be washed out before they can go into the recycle bin or be reused. If I don’t have enough dirty dishes for hand washing that day, I pitch them. If I have to run dishwater anyway, then I wash them at the end so as not to use water only for that purpose. Good post Angi, thanks.

      • Dés says:

        Here is what I do to deal with gunk and especially grease on dishes and to-be-recyclables: I save the used napkins and paper towels and wipe out those containers or dishes. Not only does it save water, it also saves your pipes from getting clogged from all the grease going down the drain. Works great, even on peanut butter jars (which husband reuses in the garage for nails, bolts, etc…

  3. Saskia says:

    My stephfather is Indonesian. He grew up in a country without TP. The alternative there, which is just as clean, is a bottle of water next to the loo. All you have to do then is dry after 🙂 . Each person has his/her own bottle and is responsible for cleaning and filling it.

    • Angi says:

      Cool! That sounds a bit better than just a dry cloth 🙂 That’s actually how I clean my baby’s bum when I’m changing his diaper too!

      • Dés says:

        🙂 Used to use water or cheap sunflower oil on my babies instead of baby “wipes”. A nice side benefit was that they hardly EVER had diaper rash…never needed any silly powders or other creams either…

  4. Green Bean says:

    Great lis! I just wrote a similar post brainstorming ways to avoid the landfill here (http://www.greenphonebooth.com/2015/02/82-ways-to-avoid-landfill.html) but I missed some that you have here. Like the muffin liners!!! I sometimes use the metal pans which are a pan to clean. I could try the silicone but is it really that much better than plastic? I think it is supposed to be but for some reason I am leary.

    • Jo Carter says:

      I think silicone is *supposed* to be better. I know medical grade silicone is, especially as it’s generally when menstrual cups are made of. I’m not sure what grade baking trays are though.

    • Angi says:

      Silicone is not a perfect solution, but it is definitely way better than plastic, so it’s what I am using for now. 🙂

  5. I almost want to ask if you were peeking in at us! We’re the same way! 🙂 I avoid buying products that are not in glass as I hate that plastic isn’t environmentally friendly and I don’t appreciate the leaching of toxins into our foods. I make all our own ferments, we raise our own animals, garden and preserve our food. What we can’t raise we buy in bulk.
    We are still working on family cloth though. 🙂


  6. Great tips. For a lot of the unavoidable “throw-away” stuff you still have, you can ask about donating to your local school. They use it in the art room, as well as K-2 classrooms in the craft corner. (I’m talking about newspaper, toilet paper rolls, anything plastic, egg cartons, tinfoil, yarn, etc.)

  7. Great list, thanks! There are lots of studies on the effects of plastics vs. reusable products (reusable wins out in all of them except for one funded by a disposable diaper company and I believe that one was later debunked). The thing that always comes up is not only are you dealing with having to dispose of all those plastics… it actually takes just as much water (sometimes more) and oil to make the product prior to getting it to you. Machinery and industry sucks a lot of water. So rest easy, it is definitely better for the environment.

  8. Kirie says:

    You mentioned using wood ash lye and lard to make your own soap. Do you have a link or something for the recipe? I have a hard time finding soap recipes that use wood ash lye. (:

    • Angi says:

      Kirie, unfortunately, I do not have a link with the recipe. I have always just used my lye in place of the granulated lye that you add to water in most recipes. I am hoping to do an actual blog post on the subject some day.

  9. Amelia Hill says:

    These are so smart and useful ideas! I’ve recently decided to try reducing the waste I produce and it seems like I’ll handle with all this. Your tips gave me some great ideas to try. Thank you for sharing!

  10. Suzanne says:

    Thanks for sharing these great ideas! I was very surprised by how much less waste I had once I started home cooking more. Much better for the environment and my health.

  11. Vanessa says:

    I love the idea of bringing back the cloth napkin too! They are much prettier and reusable! Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  12. DumpsterCo says:

    I thought I knew most of what it took to produce less waste, but picked up some real gems from reading this article. Great list!

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