How to reduce waste with (almost) no extra work

November 08, 2018 3 min read

Following the UN report on climate change, many of us are thinking about how we can reduce our impact on the environment. Obviously the changes that will have the most impact are policy-level ones (hello carbon tax!) But there are so many changes that we can make as individuals. As we make these changes and talk about them with our peers, we create a domino effect of people taking action to reduce their impact.

However, often times the changes we think of require a lot of extra work and that can be intimidating. Big changes will be so important, but the small changes add up to (and perhaps make us feel more confident in our ability to make bigger changes.) So in the spirit of celebrating the simplest changes, here’s a list of simple ways you can reduce waste (and therefore carbon footprint) in your household with (almost) no extra work:

  • Ditch the sponge. Look: we all know sponges are nasty. They quickly get filled with germs that no microwave can zap out. Plus, they are almost entirely made with plastic that may never break down in a landfill. These nasty buggers are a perfect item to swap out. Instead, wooden scrub brushes work really well, can go in the dishwasher when needed, and can be composted when worn out. Pro-tip: the scrubber part alone can be replaced so you don’t need a new handle each time.

Wooden dish brush


    For cast iron: get a a chainmail scrubber or bamboo scraper to remove the gunk. If you are using pots that have coatings that can’t use scrubbers, you may want to ditch those (they leach nasty chemicals anyway) and replace them with something that’s more resistant to a little elbow grease.

    For other gentle things: cut small rags from old towels or knit up your own sponge from scrap wool (these don’t need to be pretty so they are great for novice knitters too or get some compostable wool sponges from Lady Farmer--a fabulous small company outside DC supporting sustainable living.

    • Ditch the paper towels. We haven’t bought paper towels in years and I very rarely miss them. We have tons of dish towels and small junky towels for wiping down surfaces. Yes, your dish towels will start to get raggedy. Repeat after me: stained is not dirty! I save the ugly ones for wrapping veggies in the fridge or wiping up messes. And put the newer, prettier ones out for drying hands by the sink. We keep a bag or bucket in the kitchen and then wash these items once a week. The only time I miss paper towels is the rare occasion when I fry something. But, if you place a cookie cooling rack over a plate, that lets the grease drop down and results in perfectly crisp fried foods (hello latke season!!!)
    • Wash your clothes in soapnuts from time to time. These little nuts work! Be sure to activate them in warm water first. This can either be done by just placing them in a cup of warm water or running a warm wash (perfect for those kitchen towels mentioned above!) And over time they will reduce the waste of plastic laundry soap bottles.
    • Use bar soap where you can. My brother hates bar soap because he always gets soap under his wedding ring. Personally, I don’t have that problem (and I wear rings on both hands!) Maybe we buy harder soap? Maybe I rub it in my hands differently? I don’t know. But I love having bar soap all over our house. It is a great way to reduce the plastic from liquid soap. Plus, it is the perfect souvenir when you travel or way to support a small maker. I’m happy to pick up a bar or two at a market wherever I go!

    What are your simple tricks to reduce waste around your house? I’d love to hear from you!