Talking Trash Part 2 :: Minimizing Waste

Salvatore Vuono

In February, Kai and I volunteered to participate in a study of local household waste.  The study, prompted by a co-worker’s desire to learn more about the local waste cycle and composting, and sponsored by the Chittenden Solid Waste District, required us to take a hard look at our consumption and waste.  Throughout the month, we measured what we threw into the trash, what we recycled, and what we composted (you can see our results in part 3 of this series of posts).  If you want a reality check on how much waste you produce, we recommend you do the same for at least one month.  In this series of posts, we’ll talk trash and discuss ways in which to minimize or eliminate waste.


Part 2 : How to minimize waste

The simple answer:  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

We’re serious about weighing your own trash for a month to get a really clear picture of how much waste you dispose of but if you don’t want to weigh it, try looking through your trash before you throw it out.  What makes up the majority of your trash?  Do you have items that could be repaired or sold or given away?  Why not pull them out and do just that?  Did you throw away a lot of food?  Examine why you threw it out – did it go bad or expire before you had a chance to eat it?  Once you take a gander and have a better idea of what you’re throwing out, you can determine how to better reduce, reuse and recycle.


To help get you started, try to incorporate one or more of the following suggestions into daily practice:

  • Try repairing products before trashing them.


  • Don’t throw usable items away – just because you don’t use it anymore doesn’t mean someone else won’t find it useful.  Donate to local Salvation Army stores or make some extra cash by consigning items through second hand stores.


  • Buy used – there are plenty of “gently used” clothing and product stores popping up in reaction to both our consumption habits and the most recent economic downturn.  Craigslist and eBay are also great places to look for deals.



  • Don’t buy disposable products, purchase reusable items or items that can be recycled.


  • Don’t buy single serve disposables like napkins, plastic utensils, individually wrapped sugar or cream packets – buy washable and reusable utensils, cloth napkins and bulk sugar or creamer.


  • Implement portion control – don’t overbuy food at the store, try to load your plate with the minimum amount of food you think you’ll need then load up again later if it isn’t enough to satisfy you.Image: Simon Howden


  • Consider additional uses for excess food before throwing it away or composting it.  For example, make croutons out of leftover bread, fry rice that is a couple of days old, or donate excess food to shelters or local food banks. Click here to find a local food program in your area.


  • Compost food waste, yard waste and other compostable materials (even your hair or your pet’s hair!).  Use the compost each spring to replenish the soil in your yard or garden.


  • Start gardening – grow your own vegetables and reap the reward of fresh food sans the plastic wrap.  For one of the easiest ways to garden check out the Square Foot Gardening method.


  • If you use plastic bags when shopping, keep them and reuse them the next time you go out versus grabing a new plastic bag each time.  Better yet, there is a plethora of cloth bags in the world that could serve the same purpose as those plastic bags.  Added bonus:  most stores are offering small reductions at the register if you bring your own bag.


  • Try to use glass or stainless steel over plastic anything.


  • Use plastic bags from bulk or larger product packaging as garbage bags instead of buying boxes of plastic garbage bags.


  • Reuse twist ties.  If you use them at grocery stores, take them with you to reuse the next time your shop instead of using new ties.


  • Post things you don’t want any longer to Craigslist, on eBay, local distribution lists (like our own Front Porch Forum), or Freecycle.  I guarantee you, someone will want your “trash”.


  • Purchase items you use frequently in bulk.  Find stores (like our City Market Coop) or groups (like our own Food Buyer’s Coop) that sell in bulk.  Bonus: you save money, use less packaging and make less trips to the store.


  • Consider packaging of items before purchasing.  Is there another brand or place that sells the same or a similar product with less “theft-proofing” blister packaging?  Or could you buy it in larger sizes, thus reducing the overall packaging material that will go to waste?  At the very least, can you find a comparable package that is recyclable?


  • Buy high quality, durable products versus lower quality, cheaper products that won’t last as long.



  • Use glass jars or containers to store food instead of using plastic tubs, wraps or foil.


  • Bring your own reusable containers with you to the local food bar where you pick up lunch instead of using their throw-away containers.


Food Waste Recovery Hierarchy

  • Invest in a stainless steel or reusable cup/mug and stop using throw-away cups.


  • Recycle as much as is allowed through your local recycling centers.



  • Make shopping lists and stick to them.


  • Don’t food shop when you’re hungry and don’t clothing/product shop when you’re sad or feeling something is lacking.


  • Contact companies that you get junk mail from and ask them to remove you from their mailing lists.  You can find out details on how to do this through most companies websites, through their “Privacy” links or you can contact the DMA to register to remove yourself major mailing lists.


  • Use paper till it’s completely used up.  One sided printed paper turned over works fine for non-professional, home printing projects, lists or notes.   The same goes for envelopes or the back of junk mail letters.


  • Instead of buying books, use your local library or join a book swapping club like PaperBack Swap.


  • Use rechargeable batteries.


  • Stop using disposable razors!  Buy a replaceable blade razor, a straight razor (if you’re up for a challenge), or an electric razor.


  • Learn how to sew in order to hem, repair or alter clothing.  You’ll save tons of money on alterations and will be able to alter clothing you may have thrown out or that you find a size too big at the thrift store.  If you don’t have access to a sewing machine or you don’t know how to sew, look for places like our local sew bar, The Bobbin, where they’ll not only teach you how to sew but will give you all you need to get the job done!

Hopefully, this list will help you think about your trash more than you’ve ever thought about your trash before.  In our next post, we’ll talk about our own trash and the daily habits we use to reduce, reuse and recycle.


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