We are all constantly reading about the consequences of the amount of waste we produce. But with so much waste to think about, how should you go about reducing the amount you produce?
A good rule for any lifestyle change is to make gradual changes, rather than attempt the whole lot at once. With this in mind, we have gathered 59 ways to reduce the amount of waste you produce, reduce your reliance on plastic products and help you live a healthier lifestyle too. Have a read through the list and start by giving 1 or 2 of the easiest changes a go this week then, as you get used to that, try another 1 and another. Lots of people reducing their waste imperfectly is always going to be more effective than one person doing a perfect job.
WasteSURE is all about ethical and environmental waste management and we believe that the more we can all do to reduce our waste, the easier it will be to manage our environment and eliminate pollutants. This is a team effort and everyone needs to get involved so give it a go!
1. Focus on experience, not stuff
The most obvious way to reduce waste is not to buy things in the first place. By treating yourself to experiences, whether that’s a walk, a bath or something more cultural, you won’t fill your house up with junk and you won’t produce as much waste.
2. Use your bag for life
Using canvas bags is much cheaper that buying endless 5p plastic bags. The bag charge is set to be rolled out to more stores around the UK soon and may even rise to 10p too. Keeping a canvas tote in your handbag, spare bags in the boot of your car and a bag by the front door for local shopping should remind you to use them!
3. Take a set of cutlery to work
It’s so easy to take a set of cutlery to work that there’s really no excuse for relying on plastics. If Joey Tribbiani was carrying a floor in his pocket back in the 90’s we can do it now (although eating stolen cheesecake from the floor isn’t quite as acceptable!)
4. Buy a reusable coffee mug
Most disposable coffee cups are plastic lined which makes them difficult to recycle in most places. The reusable coffee mug is a great investment that will significantly reduce your waste, is suitable for all hot drinks and likely to get you a discount in most chains.
5. Use food boxes and jars to store things
If you are buying in bulk, preserving things or just need somewhere to store fresh food while it’s in the fridge, food boxes and jars are ideal.
6. Use beeswax wraps
Clingfilm is great for all sorts of things but beeswax wraps do the same again and again. Use to cover your sandwiches, fresh fruit or anything else you fancy eating later. The beeswax wrap can be washed and dried and used again.
7. Use tea towels instead of paper towels
Having some paper towels to hand is great for use in the kitchen but most spills can be mopped up by the humble, washable tea towel.
8. Use cloths instead of wet wipes
If you’ve ever seen a fatberg, you’ll know what wet wipes are really capable of. What’s worse is that the UK goes through 11 billion each year. Even flushable wipes aren’t great and for the most part could be replaced by cloths and sprays.
9. Use old t-shirts, socks and other materials to make rags
Buying cloths for cleaning is a great way to reduce waste but reusing old clothes is a step further. You may need to sew a seam so they don’t just disintegrate but that’s easy enough for most people.
10. Buy in bulk
Bulk items require less wrapping and packaging and therefore produce less waste than individual items. Buying long-life items in bulk will reduce waste and you can keep them in storage, decanting into your jars and food boxes as you need them.
11. Shop at a waste-free store and take your own refillable containers
As more people are changing their shopping habits, waste-free stores are opening everywhere. Even Waitrose has launched a packaging-free trial in their store. The more consumers show their enthusiasm, the more stores will adopt this approach.
12. Swap to washing powder in cardboard boxes
If you’re unhappy about the amount of plastic you go through, a simple swap from plastic boxes of washing tabs to cardboard boxes of powder is a good idea. The cardboard can be recycled where the plastic often can’t.
13. Buy paper, bamboo, reed or steel straws
Plastic straws are going to be banned soon anyway so if you are a fan of straws, try using different materials. Paper, bamboo and reed straws are all recyclable or compostable but a steel straw can be reused again and again and won’t get soaked into a much!
14. Buy a reusable water bottle
You thought wet wipes were bad but the UK goes through 13 billion plastic water bottles each year and only 7.5 billion are recycled. And when you could just buy one bottle and refill it, this problem suddenly doesn’t seem so hard to solve.
15. Swap to loose leaf tea and a strainer
Loose leaf tea is better than tea bags for two reasons: first is you aren’t left with a bag to dispose of and second is that the tea has more room to expand so it tastes better. All you need is a strainer and you are good to go.
16. Try bar soap, shampoo and conditioner instead of liquid
Bars of soap, shampoo and conditioner can now be found in lots of health and beauty stores and are usually wrapped in paper rather than plastic. No matter what your skin or hair type is, there’s plenty of choice to find the perfect one.
17. Buy handkerchiefs instead of tissues
Just as you can replace wet wipes with washable clothes, hankies can replace tissues. Just make sure that you put hankies straight into the washing machine after use.
18. Use a silicone mat instead of baking paper
Silicone may not be a perfect, natural product but if you want to reduce waste, it is the perfect replacement for baking paper. Silicone can also be shaped into reusable cupcake, cake and bread moulds of all kinds to suit all your baking needs.
19. Make your own kitchen cleaning products
If you aren’t a fan of buying plastic bottles of kitchen cleaner, you can make your own with a few ingredients you probably have anyway. Use this spray with baking soda or soda crystals for more persistent cooked-on foods.
20. Use wool or plastic dryer balls instead of dryer sheets
Dryer sheets help to soften fabrics but a plastic or wool ball works just as well and can be used over and over again.
21. Ditch disposable sanitary products for period underwear or a menstrual cup
According to Elle, the average UK woman will use 11,000 sanitary products over her lifetime, generating at least 200,000 tons of waste per year. This number is easy to reduce with the use of products such as moon cups and period underwear and switching to biodegradable products will help too. And, even better, you will save a significant amount on these “luxury” items.
22. Choose reusable nappies instead of disposable
Similarly, which disposable nappies are handy, reusable nappies are cheaper and better for the planet. Again, even a switch to biodegradable products will really help.
23. Make do, mend and buy second hand
We are all too conditioned to buying new instead of fixing things. From fashion to technology, getting into the habit of repairing and remodeling before disposing is a good habit to get into. And, once again, this is a cheaper option too!
24. Choose natural fabrics instead of polyester
Lots of people simply aren’t aware that their clothes are made of plastics like polyester. Swapping to natural fibres such as cotton, linen and silk will make your clothes easier to recycle and they will biodegrade at the end of their lifetime too.
25. Compost biodegradable wastes
Making full use of your compost bin is a great way to reduce waste. This comprehensive list of 100 things you can compost will help but the general rules are that if it is made of organic material, it will decompose.
26. Wrap gifts in reusable fabrics, reuse gift bags
Wrapping paper, particularly metallic wrapping paper, is really difficult to recycle and normally just ends up in the bin. Choosing a fabric wrap that can be reused or a fancy gift bag that can do the rounds is much better.
27. Choose recycled toilet paper
Lots of toilet paper is now made from recycled paper which is much better. Some brands like Who Gives a Crap have also swapped out plastic wrapping for recyclable paper wrapping, stepping things up another notch. Check for the FSC label too.
28. Switch to a bamboo toothbrush, hair brush, nail brush, toilet brush
Bamboo is fast-growing and brilliant for use in all kinds of products. Swapping your plastic brushes to bamboo is an easy switch which is much better for the environment as the bamboo will eventually biodegrade.
29. Swap your plastic shower pouf/ loofah for a natural sponge or loofah
Another plastic swap, changing to a natural sponge or loofah reduces waste as the natural products will biodegrade, where the plastic won’t. Sea sponges are a renewable, natural resource and harvesting them actually encourages growth.
30. Swap toothpaste for tooth tabs or natural toothpaste in a glass jar
Toothpaste tubes can’t be recycled (most of the time) but swapping to tabs, especially if you can take a jar to be refilled, is a great alternative. Just as shampoo bars are gaining popularity, tooth tabs are also getting easier to find and come in a wide range of flavours.
31. Try silk or bamboo dental floss
Dental floss is made from plastic but it doesn’t have to be. A silk or bamboo alternative will biodegrade naturally and these products are often packaged in cardboard instead too.
32. Try making your own deodorant
Aerosol deodorants aren’t good for the environment but you can get the same results with a 3 ingredient recipe and a basic spray bottle. Try this recipe of 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 1 teaspoon of himalyan pink salt and 2 oz of water and your favourite essential oil if you prefer a scent. Boil the water, add the other ingredients and stir to dissolve; wait until cool before putting in a bottle.
33. Make your own ready meals
Black plastic ready meal trays can’t be recycled which is, obviously, a big problem for cutting back your waste. Making your own ready meals by cooking in bulk and freezing using reusable food boxes is a much better solution. Plus, you can control the ingredients you use to create healthier meals.
34. Make soup with leftover veg
There are lots of recipes you can use for left-overs but vegetable soup is the easiest one. Just chuck everything into a pan, top up with stock and bring to the boil before blending. You can freeze portions of soup too for easy lunches.
35. Use cotton pads or muslin instead of cotton wool pads for makeup removal
Cotton pads are just as comfortable for taking make-up off and cleansing but they can be washed in the washing machine and used again and again. Muslin is also great for make-up removal and some pads come with a rough muslin side and a smooth cotton side.
36. Choose loose veg, not plastic wrapped
When you are buying loose veg, there’s often a plastic bag there but you don’t have to use it. After all, you’re going to wash your veg any way. Going to your local greengrocers is another good way to reduce your waste, support local business and reduce food miles.
37. Choose ice cream cones instead of cups
An edible ice cream cone is the natural way to eat ice cream and even if you don’t fancy eating the cone, it will biodegrade faster than a cardboard tub anyway. Many cardboard food containers like ice cream tubs and disposable coffee cups contain plastic which means they can’t even be recycled in most areas of the UK. Besides, a cone is much tastier!
38. Go to the butcher with your own container and buy exactly what you need
Most supermarket meat is heavily plastic wrapped but your local butcher will be happy to fill your own food boxes or wrap the meat in paper instead. Furthermore, you can choose exactly the cut and quantity you require so you won’t waste as much food. Even better, buying local supports your local businesses and reduces food miles too.
39. Buy bakery bread in paper bags, not plastic
Another local buy, bakery bread is usually wrapped in paper bags rather than plastic. Again, buying at your local bakery will reduce food miles and support local business. Of course, you can also choose the paper wrapped bakery bread in the supermarket.
40. Choose plastic-free chewing gum
You probably didn’t realise that chewing gum contains plastic but many use polyethylene – the plastic used to make supermarket bags. This is why chewing gum on the street doesn’t biodegrade. However, if you are a gum-fan, you can buy plastic-free gum that will biodegrade.
41. Try a coconut scourer
Kitchen scourers are usually made using a rough plastic but you can easily swap to a coconut scourer instead. The coconut version works just as well, won’t scratch your kitchen-ware and will biodegrade at the end of its lifetime.
42. Use biodegradable doggie bags
When a dog has to go, a dog has to go and a responsible owner will pick up their leavings for safe disposal. Using a biodegradable bag means you can at least compost the waste, whereas a plastic bag would most likely end up in landfill or be burned for energy reclamation.
43. Choose paper stemmed cotton buds
Plastic cotton buds will soon be banned any way but making the switch to paper versions now seems sensible. Paper or bamboo stemmed cotton buds are biodegradable and a much better alternative.
44. Bake your own pet treats
If your pets are anything like ours, they will demand regular treats but most pet foods and treats are plastic wrapped and full of fillers like grains. Making your own cat treats and dog treats will reduce the waste you produce, could be a great solution for leftover ingredients and help you ensure a healthy diet for your furry friends.
45. Buy, sell and swap with local neighbours
When you don’t need something anymore, it is always worth posting on local social media groups to see if anyone else might like it. Sometimes you’ll make some cash but most of the time, it saves you a trip to the tip and reduces your waste. Facebook Marketplace, Ebay and Etsy are all good options to try. And, buying and swapping locally works well too.
46. Swap disposable coffee pods for a reusable K-cup or French press
Coffee pods are really convenient for offices but they generate a lot of waste plastic that can’t be recycled. Using reusable K-cup or swapping to a french press will significantly reduce your waste and will probably turn out cheaper too.
47. Make your own oat milk instead of buying milk
Unless you have a local milkman who delivers milk in glass bottles, you will probably have to buy milk in plastic bottles. Oat milk is a greener, vegan alternative that is really easy to make at home and works as regular milk does. You can even add a bit of sugar to sweeten it if you like.
48. Shop locally
Shopping at your local greengrocers, bakers and butchers will inevitably reduce your waste as these local stores are usually quite happy to fill your food boxes. Shopping locally also reduces the carbon footprint of your stuff because you simply don’t have to transport it as far. And you will be supporting a local business which is brilliant too.
49. Grow your fruit, veg and herbs
Lots of fruits, veggies and herbs are quite easy to grow in your back garden and even if you aren’t particularly green-fingered, it’s fun to see what happens anyway! Growing herbs and salad leaves is a good way to get started as many behave like weeds and once they get going, there’s no stopping them. Even if you only have a windowsill, most herbs are happy to grow in a small pot in the kitchen.
50. Buy reduced items in the shops and then freeze or preserve
Supermarket waste is a big problem but you can help by buying reduced items nearing their sell-by and simply freezing them at home. This works brilliantly for bread which can be toasted, soups, ready meals, and vegetables. Fruit nearing its sell-by is ideal for making jam or fruit liquors.
51. Buy reusable picnic plates
If you’re the kind of person who loves a picnic or a party, paper plates might seem like a good solution. Unfortunately, once covered in food, paper and cardboard can’t be recycled, which is why takeaway pizza boxes should go in your normal bin. This is one of those rare occasions where plastic is actually better. If you don’t want to risk your normal plates and need something lighter, plastic plates are reusable, lightweight and, as we know, plastic will pretty much last forever.
52. Buy a metal dish drainer next time
Plastic dish drainers are cheap and common to most kitchens but they are also likely to look less than happy in a short space of time. Instead of buying yet another cheap drainer, try buying a metal one instead as this will last longer and can be recycled at the end of its lifetime.
53. Swap to a wooden chopping board
Another way to reduce plastic in the kitchen is to swap your plastic boards for wooden boards. Wooden boards will last forever and are much easier to recycle or biodegrade at the end of their lifetime.
54. Swap plastic baggies for reusable silicone baggies
A small plastic sandwich bag is great for your lunch and other snacks but once used, has to be thrown away. A silicone bag can be washed and reused over and over again which is much better. Add these baggies to your food box and jar collection to perfect your reusable kitchen storage options.
55. Buy a reusable razor instead of disposables
Disposable razors may be convenient but they cost a lot for what they are and can’t be recycled. Buying a reusable razor and looking after it is much better for the planet.
56. Don’t accept unwanted freebies
Companies give out all sorts of rubbish like flyers, balloons, bags, stress balls, and pens that most people accept without really thinking. If you don’t accept them, you won’t have to throw them away, it’s as simple as that.
57. Dilute concentrates such as washing liquids, juice and other cleaning products
Buying concentrated products usually means less packaging which is obviously great if you want to reduce your waste. Everything from washing up liquid to juice is now being sold in concentrate so have a look to see what you could be replacing.
58. Swap your biros for a refillable fountain pen
The fountain pen might seem like a post option but refillable ink is an ideal solution for reducing waste, especially if you go through a lot of pens at work and at home. Pens are often made with plastic that can’t be recycled so swapping to a refillable will reduce that waste. Plus, if you have a pen you really love, you’re less likely to lose it.
59. Make your own sourdough
If you’re a big fan of bread, making your own sourdough is a fantastic way to completely reduce your waste and fill the house with good smells. Once you have your sourdough starter, you will find it easy to keep up with and baking doesn’t take very long either. There are also health benefits to sourdough bread as it contains fewer additives and is generally easier to digest.
So now you have an idea of what you could be doing, do you have any further suggestions we can add to our list?
We looked at lots of different websites when compiling this list and want to credit them for their suggestions and insights.
So, here are our sources: