Evaluate Your Waste

There’s an old adage, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure,” and this holds particularly true when it comes to our waste generation. The first thing to do to get a handle on how much waste you’re generating is to evaluate it by conducting a simple waste audit.

Here’s how to do that:

  • For a week, keep paper next to the waste receptacles in your home and take note of what you are throwing away, recycling, and/or composting.
  • At the end of the week, look at the numbers and see what is making up a majority of the waste generated.
  • Then, think about strategies to minimize the items making up the majority of your waste stream. For example:
    • If you are recycling a lot of plastic lettuce containers, consider getting a reusable mesh produce bag and putting loose heads of lettuce in that instead.
    • If you have a lot of shampoo and soap bottles, consider switching to bar shampoos and soaps.
    • If you generate a lot of food waste, work on planning your meals in advance and finding ways to use more of your leftovers.
  • Over time as you eliminate or reduce different types of waste, you’ll be able to see the overall amount of waste that you’re generating decrease.

Reduce Food Waste

  • Plan meals in advance. Start by checking which ingredients you may already have at home and write out a shopping list before you go grocery shopping.
  • Set up an “Eat Me First” section in your fridge, pantry, and on your counter to help you remember which foods and ingredients need to be used up soon.
  • Store your food properly: Some foods and produce items need to be refrigerated to prevent spoilage while others thrive at room temperature. (Save the Food has a good guide for this.)
  • Try re-growing your vegetable scraps – Celery, bok choy, and green onions are all produce that re-grow well in water. This is also a great activity to do with kids!
  • Use a recipe generator to help figure out what to cook with the ingredients you have on hand, such as Supercook or Big Oven.
  • Learn more tips and get more leftover recipes on DEC’s Reducing Wasted Food from Households page and from the Reducing Wasted Food Lunchtime Learning Webinar.

Start Home Composting

Home composting is a simple way to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills and can be done no matter where you live. For home owners with a yard, you can set up a composting bin or pile and for renters and homes without outdoor space setting up a worm composting bin works great. Learn more about how to get started on the DEC website and from the Home Composting Lunchtime Learning Webinar below.

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Home Composting

Reduce Use of Single-use Plastics

Single-use plastics, such as bags, bottles, and packaging are used for a very short period of time and then discarded. While they have made modern life more convenient, they have a dark side and are negatively impacting our planet by contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, polluting our waterways, soil air, and food supply with microplastics and littering our communities and natural spaces. It also negatively impacts fish and wildlife. The good thing is that you can do your part to stop this scourge by taking these simple steps:

  • Plan ahead. Bring a reusable water bottle, cutlery, or a bag with you wherever you go.
  • Think before you buy. Try and find items that have less packaging and buy in bulk when possible. Avoid individually wrapped items.
  • If you can’t reuse, refuse. If you don’t need a straw or cutlery from a business, let them know you don’t need them. Learn more with this GreenNY tip sheet and on the Reducing Single-Use Plastics Lunchtime Learning Webinar.

Quick Tips

  • Create a zero-waste kit to carry with you. It can include items such as reusable utensils, straws, an extra bag, and a napkin. To save space, put it all in a packing cube.

  • Make reusable cloth gift bags. Learn how with this DEC Instagram video.

  • Buy in bulk when possible and look for items with less packaging.
  • Use a French press for coffee.
  • Switch to rechargeable AA, AAA, and D batteries and dispose of them properly at the end of their useful life. Rechargeable batteries, by law, cannot be thrown in the trash. Find out more on how to properly recycle them on DEC’s website.
  • Go paperless for your bills and statements. Follow this guide to go paperless for your state employee paystubs.
  • Use bar soaps and shampoos for hair, body, hands, and dishes.
  • Recycle your textiles, such as old stained and ripped clothing and other fabrics, by finding a recycling receptacle near you. Learn more from the Textile Recycling Lunchtime Learning Webinar.
  • Repairing an item is always better than throwing it out and buying a new one. Repair Cafes, events where you can have items repaired, take place all throughout the state, and can help you keep something in working order. Find one near you. You can also learn more about repairing typical household items here.