My top 10 tips to reduce your waste

Sometimes when we want to reduce our waste, it can be really overwhelming at first. I wish there was a cookie-cutter plan that I could give you all that is fail-proof. However, we are all different, from our lifestyle, family, habits and the availability of bulk food stores. I have put together some of my top tips to help you on this journey. I would highly recommend starting with the first two first and then make your way through the rest of the tips, when you get to those stages. Reducing waste is also about changing our habits and this is something that might take some time, be patient with yourself and your environment. Take it one step at a time and one habit at a time and remember there is no “perfect” choice, only a better choice for the environment.  


1.Do A Bin Audit

This is always one of the first things I recommend people do.  If you want to reduce your waste it is always great to have a starting point and work from there. You cannot change what you can’t measure.  First time doing a bin audit? It is really easy. Either empty your bin (recycling and landfill bins) today (one weeks’ worth of trash) or place a pen and paper or my bin audit template and tick off every item that enters the bin. After a week take a look at what was the top five items that you threw away the most of.  Pick one of the five items and find ways to reduce or eliminate that item. Once this has become a habit move on to the next item on the list and continue creating new habits. I would also recommend only having one bin or bin station with your recycling set up in your house. This makes it easier to see how much waste you have instead of a lot of smaller bins scattered all over the house.  


2.The 5 R’s Mantra

Waste in our house is generated through items we bring into our lives. Therefore, it is important and a lot easier to reduce the amount of “unwanted or unneeded” items we bring into our house. To make this easier, I follow the 5R’s (REFUSE, REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE, ROT). It is almost like a little mantra I do when I want to buy something, it now comes automatically.

Do I really need it? – No, REFUSE it

Do I only need five new jeans because it is on sale? – No, REDUCE it

Do I need a single-use coffee cup? – No, REUSE by using reusables

It is ok to buy it because it can be recycled? – No, recycling should not always be our go-to, but if you can’t refuse, reduce or reused recycle is a great option.

Compost or ROT all your food waste.

I have also more recently started to put a 30-day ban on buying items (other than food). If it is something that I think I need, it has passed the 5 R’s then I will give it 30 days if after the 30 days I find I still really need the item then only will I make the purchase. 


3.Set Yourself Up for success

Create a few kits that are going to help you reduce waste. I have three kits, a sustainability kit (this is for items I might need during the day when out and about), an always in the car kit (a few reusable bags, produce bags, stashers and glass jars) and like the name states, these are always in the car ready whenever you need them. The third kit is a go-to drawer or cupboard close to your front door. (All of my sustainability items live in this drawer, reusable bags, produce bags, stashers, beeswax, coffee cups, cutlery and whatever else you would love to reuse. The drawer makes it easy to find the items when rushing out) Very important, never leave the home without your sustainability kit or at the least a full reusable water bottle. 


4.Fight Food Waste

Food waste is a big issue when it goes into landfill as it causes methane gas, extremely harmful to the environment. Almost 40% of what is in our bins is food waste. There are many ways to reduce your food waste like meal planning. Make sure you check your fridge, freezer and pantry first and use what you got before heading to the store. Only purchase what you need. (Bonus tip do not buy food hungry as this might lead to a few extra items too). When at the store have a lookout for items that are on sale due to the best before date being the next day. This will save you money and also sending the item to a bin that evening. Learn to store foo better that the food stays fresher for longer. (carrots in water, lettuce wrapped in a damp produce bag or tea towel etc. Google is your friend.) You can also save some of your food scraps and turn them into delicious stock or stale bread into bread crumbs that you can freeze and use when needed. 


5.Start planting your own food

Even if it just a few herbs. This process makes us really get more appreciation for what it takes to grow food and gives us more accountability for not wasting food.


6.Reduce the amount of packed food

When grocery shopping try to reduce the amount of packaging you buy. Bulk food stores are great to reduce wast as they allow you to use your own reusable containers, therefore no packaging need. Just make sure you weigh your container (weight or volume depending on what the store uses) Some mainstream stores might have a deli and bakery where you can also purchase package free. If you have your shopping list ready, make sure to take a container for each item you are going to buy. I do take one or two extra just in case. Remember the reusable shopping bags from your kit. In the case that you ever forget your reusable bags, ask for a box or trolley the unbagged items to your car or have the handbag double as your reusable.  


7.Avoid single-use takeout items

I always opt to have a coffee sitting down in the café or restaurants ceramic cup or mug. This way I do not take a take away container and I also don’t have to wash my own afterwards. I also have a few items handy in my sustainability kit when in need.  If you love a coffee on the go or take out this is a great time to use your reusables.  


8.Going Green with Cleaning

Phase-out your existing cleaning products as they get empty to a more sustainable option. If you want to move away from the chemical cleaners, see if there is not someone else that would have bought it anyway. A lot of resources was made to create the product, therefore do not just throw it out. I make the majority of my cleaning products myself from ingredients found in my pantry this way there are no chemicals in any of our products. . Some items I still buy from the bulk store like dishwashing liquid, dishwasher powder and my laundry liquid. I have also replaced my paper towels with reusables that I wash with the laundry. All of my dish brushes, bottle cleaners and scrubbies are made from compostable or recyclable items. (Bamboo brush, loofah, coconut coir products). I have also traded in the mop for a steamer, that uses a lot less water and also does not require any floor cleaner. 

Some of my go-to cleaning recipes

Hard watermark remover

Kitchen cleaner

Window cleaner

Toilet bombs

Scrubbing paste

9.Going Green in the Bathroom

Phase-out any plastic bottled items from your bathroom as well as disposable items that are not recyclable or single-use items. Just like with the cleaning products, please do not just throw them out to replace, rather use them or give them to someone that will use it. 

Switched from plastic bottled soaps, body washes, shaving creams to bars or have containers that you refill from your local bulk store.  A plastic Toothbrush can be switched for a bamboo toothbrush and maybe also look at your toothpaste to be packaged in a more sustainable container or refilled in your bulk store. The majority of disposable razors and razor blades are not recyclable, therefore opt for a razor that uses double edge razor blades that is easy to replace and can be recycled afterwards. These razors might have a heavy price tag at the start but you will make up for that with the blades only going to cost you $1 or $2 a year.  Disposable sanitary items can be swapped for reusable options, that is better for you and the environment.  Disposable makeup remover pads, cotton swabs and q-tips can be replaced with reusable options. I have also switched out my deodorants for a potassium crystal that last well over a year and switched to a perfume that can be refilled and is made from natural ingredients. 

Look at making some of your own face products where you can get the ingredients from your local bulk store.

Some of my favourite DIY recipes:

Foaming face wash

Day cream with sun protection

Night cream

Hydrating Mist

Eye oil

10.Get involved in your local community

Get familiar with your local community, buy nothing group and also find out what special recycling options are available near you for batteries, light bulbs, fabric, old sports gear, clothing etc. You could also check if there are any not for profit organisation that you would like to volunteer at. If there are items in your house you no longer need and do not see them being used in the future, rather give them a second chance and donate it to some that will use them. If you ever need to purchase something, why not try one of your local second-hand stores or online or asking for the item on your local buy nothing group. It is much better for the environment to purchase items that are already in circulation than making a new item.  


I hope you have found these tips valuable and that this can help you to reduce your waste just like it has done form me. If you are already using some of these tips let me know which one and how it is going.  

About the author, Mariska

Hi and welcome! My name is Mariska. I am originally from South Africa, but now call the world my home. I am an artist, designer, environmentalist, podcast host and speaker.

I started the Mama Earth Talk podcast in 2018 to share some of the things that I learned about just how easy it can be to reduce your impact on the environment. This then quickly grew into a forum that showcases the amazing things that many people are doing to make the planet better, and further into a source of hope and inspiration for many. A few of the amazing guests include Zero Waste Queen, Bea Johnson, Claude Silver, Kathryn Kellogg and zero waste chef Max La Manna.

If you do not already I urge you to follow me and my journey on social media (@designbymariska), and to refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot your own waste using the handy tips I post!

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