Not so long ago, my husband and I would drag our embarrassingly large trash can to the curb on pickup day every week—if we remembered. Forgetting meant entering full-on panic mode about where we would put the next week’s trash since our can was already overflowing. We were only two people, and we created that much trash, much more than the 4.5 lbs. the average American consumer tosses.
We were addicted to convenience, and we didn’t even know it. It wasn’t until Earth Day 2015, when we decided to pick up trash around our neighborhood, that it finally hit us. The ugly truth was that we were bitterly cursing all of the people who had "wastefully" thrown their trash onto the ground, yet we were just as wasteful.
We decided then and there that we were going to drastically cut down on our garbage and stop being environmental hypocrites. We spent days analyzing our trash and researching ways to eliminate our disposable habits. It only took a few simple tweaks before we saw major results. And now our family sends next-to-no trash to the landfill, and we've nearly cut plastic from our lives entirely. In fact, it's two years later and we have yet to put out a full garbage can for pickup. Here are the simple shifts that have gotten us here:
1. We started composting.
Once we started doing some research, we quickly found that most of our trash was compostable. We're lucky enough to have our own yard, so we took the plunge and placed a small compost bin next to our garden. Rather than throw food scraps, paper, lint, and myriad other items into the trash, we dump them into our compost to gradually turn into rich, dark soil. This little change actually eliminated two-thirds of our waste.
Of course, I realize that not everyone has their own yard to do this, but with citywide compost dropoff points popping up across the country, it seems easier than ever to keep compost no matter where you live.
2. We cut out fast food.
Before we started cutting down on our trash, my husband and I caved to convenience and ordered fast food more often than I'd like to admit. It was just easier to pick up dinner on my way home from work rather than make it myself. I was already worn out after a long day, and cooking was the last thing I wanted to be doing.
That convenience definitely came at a price, though, and once I stepped back I realized that my health, wallet, and the planet were suffering from this bad habit. The poor diet left me with very little energy, I wasted most of my money on food, and a good portion of our waste was takeout packaging.
While I want to say that this switch to home cooking was simple, it actually took a lot of practice and getting used to. The payoff was so amazing, though. We now seldom eat fast food, instead spending Sunday making lunches and quick dinners that can be reheated throughout the workweek.
3. We shopped smarter.
Once we realized that our consumption habits led to a considerable amount of waste, we had to rethink how we brought items into our home. We needed to find a way to avoid trash when shopping for food, clothing, and other day-to-day goods.
We started venturing to our local farmers markets to get loose, local produce and began utilizing our own containers in the bulk aisles at grocery stores. Refusing plastic bags, whether it was a grocery bag or produce bag, and opting for whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and beans, allowed us to cut out the overly packaged, processed junk. We stopped eating trash, as well as creating it!
As far as clothes were concerned, we stopped impulse shopping and started only purchasing items we absolutely needed. We also made the mental shift to seek out quality secondhand items rather than buy new whenever possible. Bonus: We've found that secondhand clothing shops often stock a lot of great household items too.