Ten Super-Easy Ways to Reduce Waste

By Alexandra Beane — December 03, 2012

Most people want to reduce their carbon footprint and be responsible residents of the planet, but we all can’t be Ed Begley, Jr., peddling a bicycle to generate energy for our home. We’ve got jobs to go to, kids to raise, animals to feed, the fifth season of Mad Men to watch on DVD. Well, you get the point ‒ we’re busy. We can, however, make a few very simple changes in our lives that will reduce the amount of stuff, including energy, generated on our behalf, and recycle what we do use.

We’re limiting this list to ten things, but we’ll be sharing others in the future, and welcome your ideas as well, in order to provide a global perspective on recycling.

1. Receive and pay your bills online. As you probably know, you can pay most bills online through your bank or individual websites. American Express, for example, will let you view your statement and pay your bill on their site.  You can also arrange to get your bills sent to you online (or to get an e-mail that directs you to a site to view the bill). Most utility bills can now be paid online. It’s quicker and more cost-effective for everyone involved.

2. Go totally paperless with your paycheck. Many companies allow you to forgo a paper paycheck, and will deposit your check automatically in your bank account. There’s still MORE you can do! Instead of getting your paycheck stub delivered to you, sign up have your paycheck viewable online through a payroll processing site like ADP. Don’t worry – all of your paycheck information is available whenever you need or want to see it, and you’ll still get the year-end documentation you need for your taxes. Check with your human resources department to see if these paperless options are available. If they are, show your co-workers how easy and convenient it is to go totally paperless.

3. Buy a stainless steel or aluminum water bottle rather than the plastic ones. Aside from the plastic bottles creating waste (recyclable or not), the plastic bottles are made with Bisphemale (BPA) a toxic chemical that has been linked to cancer, obesity, and erectile dysfunction. There’s no limit to the colors and designs, so you can express your style, or support your favorite cause or team.

4. Bring your own container when you go out for coffee.
Did you know that Starbucks will give you 10 cents off your beverage when you bring in your own reusable cup, mug or travel tumbler? And if you want to tell the world you’re drinking Starbucks (even if you aren’t), they sell their own reusable containers, as do many other coffee retailers. Check with your favorite coffee or tea house to see if they offer a discount for bringing in your own container.

5. Cancel any print catalogs you receive. For the retailers you like, you get a better selection by shopping online, and you can sign up for special offers via e-mail. If you’re getting catalogs from retailers you don’t use, who needs the hassle (not to mention the temptation)? All you have to do is call the toll-free customer service number (usually on the back of the catalog). It only takes a couple of minutes, and they’re very nice about it. Just tell them you prefer to shop online.

6. Keep your cloth bags in your car, and use them when you shop for anything ‒ not just groceries. They come in handy at the drugstore, pet supply store, hardware store, and even at clothing stores. Just be sure to keep your receipt handy when you leave in case you need to verify that the stuff is yours.

7. Unplug all appliances and chargers that you aren’t using. They generate electricity even if they aren’t in use if they’re plugged in. It’s called standby power. Note: Be careful about doing this with a DVR. Those are constantly running in order to search for and record shows.

8. Limit unnecessary trips. There are so many ways in which we can cut back on time we spend in our cars (and the gasoline we consume).

– Do you go out to lunch every day? Why not bring your lunch and take a walk. It’s less expensive and better for your health than driving to the nearest restaurant or fast food place.

– Plan your errands. Think about where you need to go, and get all of your errands done in one trip. If your favorite grocery store, pharmacy, or gas station is on the way home from work, take care of those errands after work, and free up some time on the weekends.

– Find out about public transportation and carpooling options at work. Many companies offer rebates and incentives for employees who use public transportation, and/or offer vanpools. Check into those. Even if your company doesn’t do that, ask around. If you have co-workers who live near you, even carpooling a couple of days a week will save you money on gas.

9. Be an eco-friendly traveler.
– Most hotels now have signs you can put by the bed notifying the housekeeping staff that you don’t need your bedding changed. Use them. If they don’t have a sign, make your own. Same goes for towels and washcloths. Make it clear what does and does not need to be washed.

– Bring your own travel size containers of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash instead of using the miniature ones provided. Wouldn’t you rather use your favorite brands rather than what the hotel supplies anyway?

– If your hotel room doesn’t have a recycling bin, create your own. You can designate one wastebasket as recycling with a sign, or ask someone at the front desk or in housekeeping for an additional one (worst case, a plastic bag) for recyclable materials. There’s no guarantee that they’ll end up with the recycling, but it’s worth a try, especially if you’re going to have food containers and/or newspapers. Before you check out, ask if they have a recycling program. This is another opportunity to spread the word.

10. DONATE, DONATE, DONATE. There is no excuse for throwing something away that can be used by someone else. We’ve probably all donated clothing, furniture, and books at some time, but don’t forget about a couple of other things:

– Phones and other small electronics: There are groups that will take your old phones and give them to military personnel, or to survivors of domestic violence who need them for protection. A couple of these groups are Cell Phones For Soldiers and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. An organization called Music and Memory accepts donations of iPods for people in public and private nursing homes so that they can reconnect with the music of their past. These groups are all in the U.S., but check the Internet for worthy organizations in your own country, and specifically in your area. You can find out where to send your items, and some have drop-off centers as well.

– Bedding and linens: If you have towels and sheets that are a bit worn or stained, but still clean and soft, animal shelters, rescue groups, and veterinary offices can always use them for animal bedding and cleaning. Some pet supply stores collect bedding for rescue groups. Check with nearby rescue groups and shelters to see what they can use.

If you’re already doing all of these things, excellent! Then share them with family, friends, co-workers, and others who may not be as conscientious as you. Don’t hesitate to spread the word and lead by example, and please share your ideas with us! We can all learn from each other.

Courtesy Image: US Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) and Judy Rich

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