25 Ways to Waste Less

Don't you hate to walk through a park, or even a parking lot, or drive along the highway and see the garbage that people have tossed from their cars?  Is there anything uglier?

Well, actually, yes there is.  How about this beach near a resort in the Dominican Republic?

garbage on the beach

The threat of single-use plastics

Plastic is a fantastic invention and has many wonderful uses.  It has especially revolutionized medical care (imagine IVs without plastic).  I'm certainly thankful for the plastics in my eyeglasses.  And the use of plastics in autos and trucks is one of the main contributors toward improved gas efficiency.

But plastic waste and other trash is as great a threat to the health of our planet as global warming.  Both the making and discarding of disposable consumer goods takes a toll on our environment.  Even recycling uses resources and causes pollution, but alarmingly, the vast majority of plastic is never recycled.  Much of it enters our waterways, choking marine life and creating a sort of plastic soup in gigantic areas of the ocean.  It may be used for only a few hours (or even a few minutes!), but it takes thousands of years to decompose.

Please, reduce waste as much as you can, especially of single-use plastics.  Work toward eliminating disposable products from your household.

25 ways to reduce plastic and other wastes

1.  Instead of plastic shopping bags, bring your own reusable tote.  Do this not only at the grocery store, but everywhere.  I keep a handy Chico bag* in my purse for clothing and other small purchases, and larger grocery-size bags in my car.  I thank my kids for nagging me until using those bags became a habit.

* This blog is reader-supported.  If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.

2.  Instead of plastic wrap or bags, pack your lunch in a bento box or reusable snack and sandwich bags.

3.  Instead of plastic produce bags, bring reusable bags to the farmers' market or grocery store.

4.  Instead of using a plastic straw, carry a stainless steel straw in your purse, or simply do without.  If you go through the drive-thru, remember to tell them you don't need a straw.

5.  Instead of using plastic drink lids, avoid the drive-thru unless you are traveling.  You don't need the lid if you're not drinking in your car.

6.  Instead of using disposable cups, lids, and sleeves at your coffee shop, ask the barista to prepare and serve your latte in a mug.  Enjoy the foam art!  I'm always sorry to see the predominance of takeaway cups used by people who chat or work for hours in the store.

7.  Instead of plastic utensils, use the real thing, even on picnics.

8.  Instead of making coffee with single-use pods, use a drip machine or a pour-over setup.  Use a stainless steel filter instead of paper.

9.  Instead of drinking water from single-use bottles, fill a reusable bottle from the tap.

10.  Instead of accepting Styrofoam or other plastic takeout containers, bring some of your own Tupperware to the restaurant for leftovers.  Again, my kids nagged me until this became a habit.

11.  Instead of a throwaway plastic razor, shave with an electric razor or a reusable one with replaceable blades.

12.  Use refilled ink cartridges in your printer, and only print when absolutely necessary.

13.  Use refillable pens and mechanical pencils.

garbage in the Himalayas

14.  Opt for items with minimal packaging.  

  • Avoid snack packs and products that are individually wrapped (they're more expensive anyway).  
  • Buy pantry items from the bulk bins when you can, and be sure to bring your own reusable storage containers.  
  • Support brands that don't package their goods in excessive amounts of plastic. 

15.  Consider using disposable diapers and wipes only when traveling, while using cloth diapers and wipes at home.  I know it's a big commitment, but my mom (and everyone of her generation and before) did it with three kids in diapers at the same time.

16.  Consider using a menstrual cup or cloth pads instead of disposable feminine hygiene products.

17.  Instead of paper towels, use cloth to wipe up spills.

18.  Instead of paper napkins, use cloth napkins.

19.  Instead of paper baking cups, invest in reusable ones made from silicone.

20.  Instead of dryer sheets, use wool dryer balls.

21.  Instead of tea bags, try a stainless steel tea ball and loose leaf tea packed in a tin.

22.  Consider using facial tissues only when you're sick, and a handkerchief the rest of the time.

23.  Reuse paper gift wrap, or present your gift in a small cloth tote.

24.  Avoid glitter on greeting cards, wrapping paper, in makeup and body creams, and in art supplies and craft glues.  Glitter is a microplastic that is finding its way into every water source.

25.  Buy food more consciously to avoid waste.  Each year we discard millions of tons of expired food while millions of people go hungry.  

  • Avoid buying economy sizes if you're unlikely to use them, and shop daily or every few days for immediate needs, rather than stockpiling.  
  • Serve smaller portions so you don't wind up scraping food into the garbage.  You can always serve seconds if they're desired.

  • Compost as many of your food scraps as possible.

Small steps in the right direction

I don't practice all of these suggestions, but I'm working toward that goal.  Why not pick a disposable item you use regularly and replace it with a reusable version?  Practice for several weeks until it becomes a habit.  Then choose another item and go on from there.

Francine Jay (aka Miss Minimalist) author of Lightly, suggests that one key to generating less waste is awareness.  To that end, make your kitchen trash can your only trash can.  You'll begin to see exactly how much you throw away.  Challenge yourself to extend the time it takes to fill a trash bag to a week or more.  Such a goal will inspire you to reduce your purchases while reusing, recycling, and composting as much as possible.

Updated January 2023


  1. I really appreciate this post and will take on 3 of your suggestions to become new habits. I too cringe when I hear of all the plastic in our oceans. I saw this large art piece in the Monterey Bay Aquarium a few years ago by Chris Jordan-his version of the Wave.

    1. Thank you for your comment and the link to that amazing art exhibit at Monterey Bay Aquarium. I haven't seen it, but it makes me want to visit the aquarium (it's been several years since I was there). This comment about Chris Jordan's piece is so sobering: "His piece is made out of 2.4 million bits of plastic, which is the estimated number of pounds of plastic that enter the ocean every single hour." It seems like our small efforts are useless, but I have to believe they are not! If we can create new habits, so can others, and maybe we will be the inspiration for someone else. Good luck in establishing your new habits!


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