Reducing our family’s waste has been a personal mission of mine for several years. While it continues to be a journey, here are 8 simple tips we have done that have helped reduce the trash we put out AND saved us money along the way!

Originally published 5/2016. Last Updated 4/2021

It is amazing how much trash a family of three can make in a week.

Depressing actually. Between the packaging of our food, cooking ingredients, hygiene products, and all the other things that go into living a modern day civilized life….the trash quickly piles up in the garbage can. However, it seemed so hypocritical to be putting so much effort, thought, and money into taking care of our bodies…yet we were contributing to the MASSIVE pile of garbage that is rapidly taking over our beautiful planet.

Making a change

Several years ago, my husband and I started to look for little ways we could change how we live. We wanted to find sustainable changes that we could make that would result in less waste going into the trash and, ultimately, less waste into a landfill or ocean.

Changes that wouldn’t feel overwhelming or that weren’t realistic for our busy family with full time jobs and full time school and just a full full schedule.

So we took a beat. Did some talking and started making a changes…one at a time.

That is very important to note. We didn’t make these changes to reduce our waste all at once, just one little change at a time so that it all seemed less overwhelming.

But, you know what? Those little changes added up to a lot less trash being dragged to the curb each week and some even helped us save some money along with doing a little something extra to save our planet. 

Could we do more? Oh yes. Do we continue to look for ways to make less trash? All the time! Just like my healthy lifestyle is a constant journey of learning and discovery, so is my family’s mission to reduce our carbon footprint. I embrace that I am not perfect and constantly look for ways to grow and evolve. Its what keeps life interesting and me humble.

Here are some of the simple and easy changes we made. Perhaps they will inspire you to make a little change in your own life to put less trash in the can.

1. Reusable food storage containers, lunch containers, and bags.

I cringe at the idea of how many little sandwich baggies there are floating around in the world. So, that is where I started.

We we invested in reusable silicone bags  to make travel snacks and lunches lightweight. Bought my daughter kid-friendly lunch containers . And my husband and I opted to invested reusable lunch bags for us.

We started using glass food storage containers and mason jars for keeping leftovers fresh (and that lasted longer than any plastic option I have found). Rinsing them and throwing them in the dishwasher at the end of the day is barely any extra work and we feel good about the money and waste we are saving.

2. Reusable water bottles.

I’m a big believer in the importance of hydration in staying healthy. However, those plastic water bottles really pile up quick! And they are expensive…especially if you are drinking your recommended water every day!

While you can recycle them, recycling is still not the perfect solution to the waste issue we have. A reusable water bottle is a really great way to keep yourself hydrated without adding to the landfill. Also, if you don’t like the way tap water tastes, invest in a water filtration system (my husband and I have a reverse osmosis faucet built into our sink, but you don’t have to be that fancy). Again, after your initial investment, you will also save money in the long run along with saving our planet. My family love love loves these insulated water bottles. They do a great job keeping our water cold and helping us drink more water white also reducing waste!

3. Buy used clothes and house goods.

My family and I buy most of our clothes  and even household goods at consignment stores. True story.

I love hitting thrift stores and garage sales to discover treasures (most of my food photography props you see in my pictures came from garage sales, flea markets, or thrift stores). This little trick has not only helped us save money, give life to something someone else didn’t want anymore, AND end up with some pretty cool finds! I found an amazing Le Creuset pot at a thrift store this weekend for $15! A quick cleaning and it was good to go! I was on cloud-9! What was one person’s trash was a total treasure to me!

Unless you need it immediately, check out thrift stores and consignment stores in your area! And when you are done with something around your house, consider donating it or selling so that it doesn’t just take up room in a landfill! Again, you will be saving (or heck, even making) money while still helping our planet. Check out this great article about tips and tricks for thrift shopping.

4. Reusable bags at the grocery store.

Depending on where you live, this might be something you already do, as some states have banned the use of plastic bags!

And I know, I know…..they can be so hard to remember sometimes! I found that I was always forgetting mine when I needed to just stop for a few quick items midweek, so I invested in a couple of reusable bags that fold into a nice little pouch and that store easily in my purse…so I am never without a bag to carry my goodies home in!

However, I’m not just talking about what you carry your groceries home in, but also the produce bags! Yes, they make mesh produce bags for you to pile your apples, oranges, avocados and all your other goodies from the fruits and veg section of the store. They weigh next to nothing, so you don’t have to worry about paying extra for bulky bags and they are also great for buying things from the bulk section of the grocery store. Which brings me to my next tip….

5. Buy in bulk

I’d love to never have any waste from the products I use. However, due to food and safety regulations, most food has to come in some sort of a package. So, whenever possible, I buy from the bulk section of the grocery store. I can just scoop out however many pounds of nuts, shredded coconut, coffee or whatever I want into my reusable mesh bags and there is no extra waste! I store my bulk goods in 32oz mason jars in my pantry.

Mason jars are great since they are super easy to measure ingredients from, are pretty to look at, and are clear so you can easily see when you need to restock a pantry item. Plus, since you aren’t paying for all that extra packaging, bulk items are usually less per unit than their packaged counterparts. Oh look! You are saving money and the planet AGAIN!

6. Buy local 

Depending on where you live, this one might be a bit tricky. But during the warmer months, buying things at local farmer’s markets or that are simply locally grown is a great way to reduce waste….and score some yummy seasonal foods!

Why is this helpful in reducing waste? Look at the label on some food kicking around your kitchen. Where were those strawberries grown? And what about those eggs? Are they from a farm close by or from some country that would take you at least a day to travel to? Think about how much fuel it took to get those strawberries to your breakfast bowl…and what that is adding to the planet’s air pollution. Our environment is one of the many reasons I am a passionate farmer’s market groupie. The food at the market didn’t have to travel as far as most of the stuff in the grocery store, plus it was also picked at its peak of freshness…meaning it got to absorb more nutrients from the planet before it was harvested. More nutrients in my food means more nutrients in my body. Yes please!

 While I know that I am blessed to live in Southern California where you can literally grow food locally year round, I also know that not everyone lives in such a climate. If you can’t buy local all the time, that’s fine! Sieze the opportunity when you can! A little change is better than none at all!

7. Use cloth instead of paper when possible.

Cloth napkins at the dinner table and in lunch boxes.

Old wash cloths, towels, or rags in the kitchen for wiping up messes or cleaning.  

It’s so simple but can make such a huge impact on the health of our environment! It does add a little bulk to the laundry pile, but I personally find it worth it! The cloth napkins at the table make dinner feel like a special event every night (and I enjoy the fun patterns and colors you can find them in) and the towels for cleaning the kitchen do a better and faster job than paper towels! I do keep a roll of paper towels around for extra yuck messes I don’t want in my washing machine (like “pet messes”). But I use faaaaaaaaaar less paper towels now than I used to. And I’m saving a bundle at the grocery store! The initial investment in the cloth napkins won’t make you feel like you are saving money, but after you buy them…you can use them again and again! And the kitchen towels/rags don’t have to be anything fancy! I just used our old beat-up ones that were on their way out.

8. Walk it…. Or bike it.  

Again, not possible for everyone depending on where you live, but look for ways you can skip the car ride and get some extra steps in.

Is your kiddo’s school half a mile from your house? Or is the grocery store right around the corner? For real TNNers, put the car keys back on the hook and walk it or bike it! Not only will you save gas, money and help good ‘ol Mother Earth, but you’ll get some fresh air and exercise in! Talk about killing two birds with one stone! There is a grocery store 3/4 of a mile from the school where I teach, so on my lunch break I will listen to a podcast or audio book while I hoof it there to pick up odds that we might need (in my reusable bag, of course) and hoof it back. I get my errands run, exercise, and a little me time!

Have kids to lug around? Throw them on their bikes, in the stroller or encourage them to walk too! Not only are you helping yourself and the planet, but you are instilling healthy habits and lifestyle choices in your little ones. 

I can think of another half dozen things I should put on this list (like composting…I just can’t quite master it for some reason), but this is a solid and sustainable jumping off point for someone who is just embarking on cleaning up their lifestyle in all ways. You can do them all or just pick one or two to start with. A little goes a long way in all facets of health….even the health of our planet. 

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