Reducing waste in your home
Achieving zero waste is a major trend in the world of sustainability, as everyone looks to take bigger, more far-reaching steps to preserve the environment we all live in. From USGBC's new LEED Zero certification and GBCI's TRUE Zero Waste program to New York City's zero waste plan and upcoming Loop consumer waste-reduction pilot, it seems zero is the new 100.
How can you join this movement at the level of your home? Taking your house or apartment out of the waste stream completely may seem like a daunting goal, but there are ways you can get close. Here are a few tips for starting your zero waste journey.
Try your hand at composting.
According to the U.S. EPA, food scraps and yard waste make up 20–30 percent of what we throw away and are the largest category of municipal solid waste going into landfills and incinerators. Home composting can help reduce this burden, and it's actually pretty easy to get started. You can use your compost as garden fertilizer or even sprinkle it on your lawn to keep the grass healthy.
No garden or lawn? Give the rich soil away to a neighbor who has a green thumb, or drop it off at a central location. Here at USGBC headquarters in Washington, D.C., we are lucky enough to live in a city that provides additional options for handling compost. Find out if your city or state provides composting resources or drop-off locations.
Buy smarter, consume less.
In the kitchen, there are plenty of ways to reduce food waste to begin with, by buying produce more frequently to reduce spoilage, using glass or stainless steel storage containers, and eliminating plastic wrap and sandwich bags. Use cloth napkins instead of paper, and visit more farmers markets, where you can pick up lots of fresh food without all the packaging.
Reducing waste also means rethinking your habits of consumption. When it comes to household goods, clothing and entertainment items, the small ways to cut waste are limited only by your imagination. Buy supplies in bulk, make your own cleaning products from what you've already got in the cupboard, and shop vintage or thrift stores for new clothing.
Make sure you're recycling right.
Stricter recycling process guidelines mean it's time to review what you're tossing in the bin. Check your local requirements for what's allowed, and avoid throwing plastic bags full of your recyclables into a community bin—it can cause the whole load to be rejected.
If you're freshening up your home with a remodel, minimize waste by sidestepping actual demolition where possible and by repurposing older elements like cabinets and light fixtures. Have a talk with your contractor at the start of the process to discuss waste reduction options, and donate excess materials to places like Habitat for Humanity ReStore after the job is done.