Sunday, February 19, 2012

Keeping a Waste-Free Home

If you find yourself taking out loads of trash every week, you might benefit from these suggestions for a healthier, more eco-friendly, and more inexpensive household. We all know the mantra "reduce, reuse, recycle," but here are some practical tips for how to do so on a daily basis. 

1. Reduce
A healthy diet yields the least garbage. Aside from being bad for our health, processed foods also tend to have an excessive amount of packaging. If you're cooking from scratch, there should be few items on your grocery list which fall under the "cellophane wrapped box containing a plastic-wrapped box of other plastic wrapped-boxes" category. However, even the diehard whole-foodist can stand some reduction tips: buy loose rather than prewrapped or boxed fruits and veggies, and bring your own bags to sort and carry them in. If possible, buy your grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes from a bulk distributor such as the Fourth Street Food Co-op (many health food stores also have bulk bins), and bring your own containers. Buying from bulk bins tends to be less expensive, too. Compost your vegetable scraps if possible. Ditch the Vitamin Waters and sports drinks and go for the stir-in packets of Emergen-C, which have a much higher vitamin content, are lower in sugar, use less plastic, and are cheaper. Get a water filter for your home and PLEASE don't buy bottled water-- it is hideously overpriced, often exploited from regions where people can't afford clean water, and the standards for its cleanliness are dubious at best. Finally, switch to reusable cleaning rags (Trader Joe's sells some good ones or an old facecloth will do) instead of constantly using paper towels, ditch your overpriced Swiffer products (some of which are reportedly toxic to pets) and sweep and mop the old-fashioned way (really, it doesn't take any longer), and consider making some of your own cleaning supplies.

2. Reuse
There is very little in my house which doesn't get used twice. Peanut butter jars get scrubbed out and double as travel mugs for coffee, smoothies, or soup. Old clothes too decrepit for the Salvation Army get cut up for cleaning rags. Plastic bags from bread or tortillas get rinsed out and reused as sandwich bags. Plastic bags from anything else get used for doggie duty or as trash bags for the bathroom or bedroom cans. Recently a new trend has popped up where take-out food no longer comes in a paper box but in a plastic tupperware-style container (really makes you wonder if anyone realizes we have a global environmental crisis when MORE plastic items seem to pop up at every moment.) In any event, hopefully other people are doing what I am and reusing, rather than disposing of, these new takeout boxes. They do work well for lunches.

3. Recycle
Each region is slightly different in terms of what can be recycled, but basically most plastic, glass, metal, and paper items can and should go in the recycling bin. NYC has those helpful refrigerator magnets which indicate what can be recycled and in what category. One little-known tip, however: an item which is NOT recycled in NYC is plastic bottle caps, whether from drinks, toothpaste, milk, etc. However, the skin-care company Aveda will accept these plastic lids and uses them to make containers for their products. The caps can be dropped off at any Aveda store. I usually go to the one in the Columbus Circle mall. Just throw your caps in a drawer in your kitchen and then make a delivery every few months! Sometimes Aveda even has free tea for your efforts :)

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