Growing up in a suburban town outside of Houston, I never really thought much about waste. My family didn’t recycle, and I didn’t even learn about composting until college. It wasn’t until I moved to Austin after high school that the concept of living a less wasteful lifestyle came on my radar. Austin is known for it’s “hippies”, and so I quickly became immersed in a less wasteful culture. Then, when I started working at a larger corporation a few years later, I realized how quickly waste really adds up. It really started to bug me when I was able to see, right in front of me, how many things we throw away day after day. On a very tangible level, I was able to see the opportunity we have to be more mindful of our waste.
So, around that time I embarked on a journey of living a less wasteful life, by making small changes over time. Below are the 5 areas I’ve focused on incorporating over the last few years. Why didn’t you do all at once, you may ask? For me, it just wasn’t realistic to expect myself to make drastic changes over night to my lifestyle. Also, I enjoyed the process of finding new things to focus on over time!
A couple of quick call outs:
- I totally recognize that some of my suggestions below involve investing in something. I know I’m very privileged to be able to invest in things to be less wasteful, and not everyone will be willing to spend their money. There are other things you can do other than spend money, but it’s worth mentioning that in most cases you’re actually saving money in the long run when you make an upfront investment in being less wasteful. With that said, take or leave the suggestions I list below, and do what works for you!
- Living a less wasteful life is NOT a competition. I’m definitely not 100% perfect at it, but I do the best I can! There’s no need for everyone’s journey to be exactly the same!
Without further adieu, here are 5 Easy Ways to Live a Less Wasteful Life:
1. Mindfully shop for your food
Food is an extremely wasteful industry, but you can make a big difference by making a few, small changes.
Shop at your local Farmer’s Market
I personally need to get back in this habit now that I’m further away from my favorite Farmer’s Market, but when I do go to the Farmer’s Market I LOVE it. Not only am I supporting local farmers and vendors, but purchasing local produce and meat means that food didn’t have to travel long distances adding pollution to our air. PLUS, because it didn’t have to travel so far, the produce was able to ripen a bit longer, which means it’s more nutritious. I know not everyone has a farmer’s market year round, or in their area at all, for that matter. If that’s the case, go when you can, or shop at the closest thing to it in your area.
Shop the perimeter
When I do shop at the grocery store, I try to mostly shop the perimeter of the grocery store, and avoid the center aisles as much as possible. The perimeter of the grocery store is where you’ll find produce, meat, dairy, and the bakery. Alternatively, in the center aisles you’re more likely to find processed food in containers. By avoiding the center aisles you’re more likely to avoid being wasteful. Plus, when I only shop in the perimeter of the store, my cart is way more colorful and healthy!
Shop the bulk section
Another gold mine at the grocery store is the bulk section. Instead of purchasing a plastic container of nuts or rice, you can bring your own bag with you and grab it in bulk. Plus, you save money this way!
Bring your own bags
My last tip for the grocery store is to bring your own bags, instead of having your groceries packed up in a plastic or paper bag. In Austin, plastic bags have been banned, and if you don’t bring your own bag you have to pay a small fee for paper bags. I avoid that altogether and bring my own bags that I got fo free from retailers like Free People or Outdoor Voices. Another tip for the grocery store is to bring your own produce bags, instead of using the plastic ones provided. Alternatively, what I do is just let my produce chill in the cart… bagless. (Gasp, I know!) We’re conditioned to think produce needs its own little plastic home, but it really doesn’t! Then when I get home I pop them in my produce bags made by The Swag. The Swag bags are amazing because they help your produce stay fresh longer. Which brings me to my next point…
2. Don’t waste your food
On Thursday of each week, I start planning for the next week. In terms of food, I create a schedule of what meals I need to plan for. This helps me stay focused at the grocery store so I’m not spending frivolously, and allows me to meal plan more efficiently. When I create a plan of meals for my week, I’m less wasteful with what I purchase. Plus, when I’m more thoughtful about my purchases ahead of time, I tend to purchase healthier things! For example, I probably would think twice about writing down brownies or cookies on my grocery list haha
Try to consume all the food you purchase
I absolutely hate throwing food away. Not only is it like throwing money away, it just feels so wasteful. For those times where I don’t use all of something, I’ve tried tossing any leftover veggies into a pot at the end of the week to make a soup. In the fall and winter this a great alternative to ensure I eat all the food I purchased for the week.
Compost what you can’t consume
Sometimes you simply don’t get to all the food you purchase. This can be because it’s no longer fresh, or you just don’t want it. For those times, you can compost! A couple of months ago, our neighborhood started offering a composting service, hooray! This has been a huge game changer for the amount of waste we produce. Now that we have recycling and compost bins, we only throw out one bag of trash every other week. I know, nuts right? You’d really be surprised by how many things you can compost or recycle, depending on where you live of course. Don’t have a local compost pickup? It may seem a little intimidating at first, but it may be worth it to look into how you could create your own compost bin at home! Speaking of being less wasteful at home…
3. Make your home less wasteful
We all have our little creature comforts and home rituals, but when we pause to think about it, a lot of them are super wasteful! You can totally keep your same daily habits at home, but tweak them just a bit to be less wasteful.
Use a dryer sheet alternative
I personally really hate static-y clothing, so I’ve always used dryer sheets. But I recently found these cute little reusable hedgehog dryer balls, and will start using them as soon as I’ve gone through my current bin of dryer sheets. These dryer balls function by separating clothing in the dryer; which disperses heat more efficiently, saving energy.
Change up your cotton round routine
If you’re like most women, you probably use cotton rounds to apply your toner or micellar water. I recently learned that you can purchase multi-use cotton rounds. After using it, you can toss it in your laundry and reuse it again and again! Here’s the ones I plan to purchase after I finish my current batch of cotton rounds.
Use reusable towels instead of paper towels
I try to use cotton towels instead of paper towels as often as possible. The easiest adjustment is with drying your hands. From there you can move your way up to using cotton towels as dinner “napkins”, then swapping to rags to clean with, etc. Even though paper towels are compostable in my area, it’s so simple to just use a cotton towel instead! Plus, you can purchase really cute towels for your house. (I found ones at a local shop called Take Heart that I love!)
Consider your morning caffeine addiction
Before you look at me like I’m cray, I’m definitely not suggesting anyone should stop drinking coffee for the sake of living a less wasteful life. What I AM saying is you can mindfully continue your coffee addiction by being a little more thoughtful about the choices you make. Coffee grounds, filters, k-cups, you name it… they put a dent on the Earth, that’s for sure. For me, I was totally judgmental against companies like Nespresso, until I learned they have a recycling program! I save my pods and either mail them in with prepaid bags they provide, or take them to my local Nespresso shop to be recycled. Here’s the Nespresso machine I have. If you’re a coffee grounds and filter kind of gal, you can compost coffee grounds and many styles of filters! Or, you could purchase a reusable filter.
Invest in Reusable Containers
I cringe thinking about all the single use plastic bottles, cups, to go containers, and sandwich bags I’ve used in my life. Not only is plastic obviously terrible for the environment, it’s also terrible for YOU. Here are some of my favorite reusable containers:
Use a water filter
Instead of purchasing bottled water, invest in a water filter and pour your water into your reusable water bottle, or a cup. Earlier this year I finally bit the bullet and purchased a Berkey water filter that I’m obsessed with (you can see mine in the photo above!). Before you let your jaw hit the ground looking at the price of that bad boy, consider that the filters only need to be changed once per year, at the most, and the Berkey filters out WAY more than your typical filter system (like a Brita or PUR). Plus, I look at it like a lifelong investment.
4. Use alternate forms of transportation
I’ve spoken about this before, but I’ve started being more mindful of my car use recently. I ride my bike. or walk to work when I can (not in these 100 degree days, that’s for sure!), and drive my scooter around for longer distances. Other options could be mass transit, carpooling, or even using Lyft Line instead of a regular Lyft.
5. Think before you spend
This is the area that’s the most challenging for me, as I’ll be the first to admit I’m a total shopaholic. I’m a sucker for a handful of brands, and in general tend to spend money frivolously on things I love. But let’s face it, for most major brands it’s inevitable they’ll be wasteful just by their mass nature. With that said, there ARE things you can do to spend more mindfully.
Support local and/or mindful vendors
Shopping locally is not only investing in your local economy, but you’re saving in shipping waste! I love living in a city where there are so many amazing local vendors, makers, and artists to support. (I’m thinking about doing a post on some of my favorites soon!) A couple of my favorite hats, in the photo above, are by a local maker named Jamie Slye. On the other hand, brands like Everlane and Reformation have many mindful practices that are much less wasteful than traditional retailers. Find those tried and true brands that mesh with your style, and support them!
Purchase quality items
It may require more of an upfront investment, but if you purchase quality items they will last longer in the long run, eventually costing you less money and wasting less. For example, it may be tempting to purchase cheaper furniture from a retailer like Ikea, but how long will that really last? You’ll likely ultimately save money by investing in more quality items.
Purchase timeless items
Instead of focusing on the current trends, I try to purchase items that are timeless year over year. I get more use out of these items, and will be less likely to toss them later. For example, in previous years I’ve purchased trendy booties for the fall and winter that then are out of style the next year, for whatever reason. This year, I decided to purchase a timeless pair of leather brown boots with no details on them, so they’ll be more timeless.
Invest in things that invest in you
Before purchasing something I try to ask myself questions like, is this going to improve me as a human? Will this improve my well being? Investing in things that invest in you is a version of self care that is a lot more meaningful than your typical ‘treat yo’ self’ mindset. (Although… sometimes you just gotta treat yo’ self, no judgment here!)
Take care of the things you do have
When I do invest in things, I try to take care of them so they’ll last longer! For example, every Fall I take any boots that need a little love to my local shoe hospital for a spruce up. I’ve saved many shoes that way, therefore cutting back on waste!
So there you have it, 5 easy ways you can live a less wasteful life! Now go get ’em, tiger!
What mindfulness practices do YOU have for living a less wasteful life?