Easy ways to cut down on trash and starve the landfill

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The average person, that's you, me, your neighbor, your kids, produces over 4 pounds, that is about 2kg, of trash a day, which equals about 29 pounds, or about 14kg a week, and that means that that works out to over 1,600 pounds, or 800kg (that's nearly a metric tonne) a year. Seem like a lot? It is, but that is just in the household.

When you now consider and factor in commercial and manufacturing trash, and any other miscellaneous items of trash production, the average person contributes well over a ton of trash every year and most of this trash, if it is in “ordinary” bins, ends up in landfill sites and is not reclaimed and recycled in any way, shape or form, and most of this would not be necessary at all.

I want to give you here a few simple steps and ideas how you can do your part to lower that number. If each and every one of us would be doing so, we could really starve the landfill and reduce the waste that is brought there, help promote a more sustainable lifestyle, and better protect the environment.

It’s an interesting concept, trash, isn’t it? We ‘trash’ things that are no longer useful in anyway – they simply have to be buried or burned. But is that the only option? No, of course it isn't!

Let's start with the first “R” of the three “Rs” of waste management, namely the reduce. Too many people, media, and authorities always seem to be talking about recycling as the first priority. It is not. The first one is REDUCE.


Reduce what, you ask? I would say the first thing to reduce is, in fact, consumption. We must reduce our more, more, more approach and learn to be content with what we have so long it works and does the job.

Yes, I know that there are “consumables” (has to do with consumption but are the things are really you and I need for our daily lives) that we must buy on a daily and weekly basis. Reduction here must be in packaging, for starters, and we must pressure the manufacturers to reduce the over-packaging they so often indulge in.

While ideas, such as in Germany, where you can leave excessive, and indeed, all packaging that you don't want to take home in the store and it is their responsibility to get rid off it, we need to actually change the amount of packaging that manufacturers are using.

When I was a kid things could still be bought in a shop loose, especially dry goods, but not only dry goods, and you brought your own packaging, such as a small steel milk churn if you bought milk, or an old glass jar with lid if you were buying pickles, or just simply in brown paper bags – from the store – for beans, flour, sugar, tea, etc. It all was loose in big bins and no one died from it. We must get back to this in most ways.

Now we come to the second “R” and this still is NOT recycling; it is REUSE


What is reuse and what do I mean with reuse?

Reuse is what it says: you use the item again, you reuse it. You reuse, say, an empty tin can as a pencil bin or as a scoop for feed for your chickens; that is reuse. The same is true when you reuse a glass jar to put something else in it. You are reusing, and, maybe, re-purposing. You haven't even begun upcycling as yet, but then that starts with a U we will come to that later. Upcycling could also be called rework and here we have a “R” again, but I am digressing a little.

The short and long of reuse is that you make use of what you have got, what would be considered waste by some, without changing the shape of the item. Reuse also is in action when you use something secondhand that someone has sold or thrown away and which you may, or may not, have to fix up. That still, though, is reuse and reuse is after reducing the waste that we produce the most important one of the three “Rs” of waste management. Unfortunately it is rather very much neglected when it comes to media reports or to what the governments try to get us to do.

Whenever you can, reuse. This goes for plastic bags, paper, water bottles (which you shouldn’t use anyways!), and just about anything else.

My toothbrush head – for instance (yes, I use an electric one – have been ordered to do so by the dentist) lives in a plastic container that ones has cotton buds in it, and before recycling any paper, I always use the backside for notes or brainstorming. Card stock from cereal packs and other such kind of packaging, etc., I cut into blanks for making my business/visiting cards from, as well as 3x5 index cards for a variety of uses. Hand-me downs, which we, I guess, the only way we got our clothes when I was a kid, are actually a great example of this, so continue to pass things along!

I come across lots of lost and thrown away stuff on an almost daily basis and always look for ways of reusing and re-purposing those.

Now we are changing letters for a moment because it is still not time to recycle and go to the U for UPCYCLE.


Upcycle and upcycling, what does that mean? It is a little bit on from reuse and re-purposing in that you actually make something more from the item of waste, such as making key fobs from old plastic wine corks, a cork board from old wine corks, etc.

There are so many things that can be upcycled and really when I said that I make my business/visiting cards and index cards, and such, from packaging materials then that, really, in all honesty, is more upcycling than reuse and re-purposing.

Now we arrive at the third “R” in the three “Rs” of waste management and that is RECYCLE. This is the last and final one when it comes to treating rubbish, aka garbage, trash, waste.


One way to cut down your trash production is to recycle your waste instead. A great majority of the things we throw in the trash can be sorted, composted, or recycled in some other fashion. When you have to recycle you have already lost. Thus, before you toss something next time, ask yourself if you can use it again somehow. And if you cannot make use of it consider that someone else might and if you have the space to store it for a moment then do – for the “just in case” time. Or, you could put it up on the likes of Freecycle or such. Maybe someone wants it to make something from.

Other ways of cutting down on our waste are:

Reducing food waste

Food is one of those things most people in the developed world, bar those that don't have much of it – tend to take for granted. After most meals, we throw some food away without even giving it a second thought; most of us anyway.

Now, how can we solve this dilemma, that problem? One would be to eat smaller portions, another to organize your shopping and to plan your meals, and don’t buy in bulk unless you know you’ll use it before the expiration date, or it is dry goods, such as peas, beans, rice, etc. Any food waste that does occur should be composted or, if you can, get some chickens for your backyard. They'll generally make short work of tables scraps and in return they give you eggs. OK, they cannot entirely live off your table scraps alone and maybe not even that of your neighbors but it is one way to dispose of food waste.

Avoid Single Servings

The packaging needed for single servings of pudding, applesauces, jell-o, juices, and candies adds up quick. Instead, buy these things in their larger containers and use reusable containers to carry them on the go. You'll be surprised on how much less waste you’ll be creating.


A lot of the time, people simply toss their old electronics, clothes, or other miscellaneous items into the trash. Not only is this bad for the environment, especially with regards to the electronics, but it also bad for anyone trying to be sustainable. If the stuff is broken see if you can get your items repaired, and if you can, do so and donate them. If it’s too expensive, take your waste to the proper disposal plants. Clothes, on the other hand, should always be donated if they’re in good condition, or, alternative, if they are not good enough to donate, make reusable bags out of them, or other things; even using them for dusters and cleaning cloths is better than tossing them.


Bring your own cutlery, napkin and container rather than using paper plates, paper towels and plastic flatware.

The idea started somewhat in Japan, it would appear, with the “Bring-Your-Own-Chopsticks” and it is being extended to cutlery in general.

I have a set of chopsticks and a set of cutlery that I carry when I go out where I may want to grab a quick bit of food but don't want to use their throwaway cutlery or chopsticks. Both the set of chopsticks and the set of cutlery have their own leather holsters where they live. While I am lucky an have been able to assemble my KFS-set from stainless steel airline cutlery – thus being a little smaller than standard cutlery – it can be done with ordinary knife, fork and spoon too.

Wherever possible use cloth, whether diapers, napkins, sponges or washcloths. Do not use single-use items. This too reduces your trash, saves you money and is much better for the Planet.

Grow your own food – yes, I am serious

The last great way to cut down your trash production is to grow your own food. This mean fewer plastic bags at the store, less packaging, and less of a demand for transport and farmland. Start a small organic garden in your backyard and use the compost from your food waste to keep it healthy.

You don't have to have that much space for growing at least some of your own food. The so-called square-foot gardening method “developed” by the RHS the UK has been proven to be able to feed a family of four all year round from a very small patch of raised beds and the same could be achieved by planting in planters and other containers.

Make your own cleaning products, etc.

It is easy enough to do and not only will you save money and starve your trash can and the landfill you also will have a healthier and safer home. Making your own cleaning products is going to cut down on the containers of those products, and most of them are, inevitably, plastic, whether it be spray bottle or squeeze bottles and while they can be recycled they often are not because people cannot be bothered to put them in the right bin or, in some cases, the municipality does not have the facility for dealing with the particular plastic in question.

Making your own cleaning (and beauty) products also guarantees you that you know precisely what ingredients are in the stuff and you can chose to use safe stuff only.

In fact most, if not indeed, all cleaning in and around the home, etc. can be achieved with natural ingredients which are not harmful to the environment and neither to you or your children.

The one ingredient that is a little on the questionable side though very often quoted by those giving you recipes for natural cleaning materials is Borax. The jury is somewhat still out on that substance and having read what Borax is I would try to do without it.

You may need a little more elbow grease with natural cleaners than you do with some of the serious heavy chemical ones but you know that you don't harm yourself, your kids or the environment.

Vinegar is a great all round cleaning agent and it is not only the white distilled one that does the job; the cheap ordinary brown brewed one also has a great number of uses. In fact it can be used for most things where vinegar is required and where the color does not matter. It is a brilliant stuff for cleaning burned on foods from saucepans. Pour on neat, leave to stand for a couple of hours and then immerse in hot soapy water and wash. Even the toughest burnt on foods will come off easy.

Those were just a few ideas that, if but implemented, can already make a big difference.

© 2011