A lot, if not most, sustainable practices can start within your home. Think about it -- where do you produce the most waste? If your mind jumped to the kitchen, then, yep, I’m right there with you. Our kitchen bins, even when we sort recycling from food waste and other non-recyclables, can give us major insight on what we’re throwing away the most. I’m not saying you should go digging through your trash, but if you become a bit more aware of what’s getting tossed with a second thought, you can begin to curate ways to reuse, repurpose, and extend the longevity of certain items and food scraps.
The Simplest Bits of Sustainability
For starters, composting is a relatively easy method to reduce waste when it comes to food scraps. Raw/uncooked food, including coffee grounds and certain teas, that is organic and pesticide-free can go into a compost bin. You can easily build one in your backyard, or seek out a local composting center in your area. Rather than going to sit and decompose slowly with the plastics and papers, your food scraps can return to the earth quickly when left to compost.
The key to compost is layering. Start with a base layer of soil, then add your scraps and top off with more soil. Repeat this pattern and soon enough you’ll have your own hearty soil to start another garden bed or share with friends and neighbors. A helpful tip: Rather than going outside after every meal, keep a smaller, sealed bin or bowl on the counter top or next to your trash can so that you only have to take a trip to the main compost center once per day (if that).
Beyond food waste, you can make an effort to learn what your town/state considers to be a-okay to go to recycling. In recent years, some states and local governments have changed what can be recycled. Stay up to date on your area’s guidelines so that your sustainable practice in this realm remains efficient, for both you and the folks that will eventually sort through your boxes and bottles.
Here’s a relatively little known fact: Don’t put your recycling in a plastic bag; they’ll take it to the dump, not the local recycling center. It’s dangerous to have workers digging into bags where they can’t see exactly what will be in there, so the risk is avoided and the bags get sent elsewhere.
Using Food Scraps
Before you dump your compost outside or take it to a friend’s compost bin (chances are someone you know already composts & would love your food scraps, coffee grounds, etc.), take a look at what you’re throwing out. Lemon peels? They have a purpose. Same with apple, orange, and lemon peels. Coffee grounds? Keep those, too.
Citrus peels can be turned into great home cleaning sprays. Depending on the purpose, you can often just add some vinegar and you’ll be set with a DIY counter top spray or bathroom cleaner. Pinterest is loaded with recipes based on what you’ll need to be cleaning, so give it a go.
Coffee grounds can be turned into a skin exfoliant. Nowadays, scrubs featuring coffee go for a lot at major skincare shops, but you can make your own. Not only does this save money, but it adds to the coffee’s purpose, thereby extending its longevity. You’ll want to ensure that your coffee grounds are sustainably sourced and organic so that your skin is absorbing only good things. Look into the practices shared by your favorite coffee company and you should be able to find the truth behind their sourcing and harvesting rather quickly. If it’s not transparent, chances are those beans aren’t good for you or the planet.
Where else do you produce a lot of waste? You probably guessed it by the subtitle -- boxes, bubble wrap, & plastic wrappings from online shopping. How often do you hop onto online shops, especially during quarantine? If you’re anything like the rest of us, online shopping has increased during these times when we are encouraged to stay at home, even when some orders have begun to shift. Saving a trip to the shops is a bonus, especially nowadays. But, how much more waste are you producing by ordering online? Whether you’re ordering groceries, clothes, beauty products, some new workout materials to build your at-home yoga/gym space, a lot of places still ship out their goods in plastic bubble wrap, packing peanuts, and excessive cardboard packaging.
The easiest shift you can make here, beyond cutting out all online ordering which might be excessive, is to reuse these materials. Keep the boxes. Use them for storage or to ship out something of your own sometime soon. The plastic wrap and packing peanuts might not be of much use to you now, but if you move in the next few years, they definitely will be. Create a designated area in your house, tucked away from clean and shared spaces, to store these goods. If anyone asks why you have one too many cardboard boxes full of bubble wrap, share this tip with them. They might think it’s a bit odd, but really, you’re saving both money (you won’t have to buy a wad of bubble wrap from the post office anytime soon) and Mama Earth.
When possible, see if you can find goods from alternative sources. There are plenty of plastic-free and sustainable-living shops out there now. I’d be willing to bet more than half of those online. There’s a sort of ‘mission’ in recent years to practice zero-waste living, and with so many alternatives, so to say, lifestyles trending online, zero-waste offerings have made the shift online, too.
If you’re looking to buy some new kitchenware sets or even a new toothbrush, search for what you’re looking for and include ‘package free.’ See what you can find. If you’re ordering from small businesses, reach out to them and express that you would like minimal packaging or alternative packaging - such as newspaper or old holiday wrapping paper - to be used to protect your goods.
The more demand there is for package-free shipping in this age of online convenience shopping and rapid delivery times, the more of a shift we’ll see towards Earth-friendly practices. These shifts might start small with local mom & pop shops, but they’ll grow to the big leagues soon enough.