Reduce Your Waste in Five Days

Americans produce a ton of waste—2,000 pounds per person per year on average. Reduce your waste by examining what in your life isn’t serving you or the planet.
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Ready to start living your green life? The 5-Day Waste-Less Challenge is designed to help you kick start your green journey to zero waste!

Day 1: Conduct a Trash Audit

Before we can reduce our waste, we must first dig into the trash we make—both figuratively and literally.

If you have a full trash bin already, you can start immediately by digging in and separating items by type—paper, food, plastic, etc. We recommend putting the items in separate containers, like brown paper bags or plastic bags from the grocery store, or taking it outside to keep your house from getting too dirty.

If you don’t already have a full trash bin (or if getting elbow-deep in your garbage seems gross), you can set up individual trash bags for each type of trash to collect throughout the week. Once it’s all laid out, ask yourself: Which bag is the biggest? Do you notice that you use a lot of paper towels, napkins, or something else? What could be recycled?

Day 2: Make A Zero-Waste Kit

Now that you know what’s in your waste, it’s time to build a zero-waste kit: a simple, personalized collection of reusables to replace the single-use items you use daily.

Make a list of the items you use every day or weekly, then identify which ones are disposable and could be replaced with a reusable item. Some common items to swap in could be reusable products, like shopping bags, coffee cups, cutlery, cotton rounds, coffee filters, straws, menstrual cups, razors, produce bags, beeswax wraps, and water bottles.

Day 3: Quit Food Waste

If food waste were a country, it would be the third-highest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. Food scraps in your trash go to the landfill where they do not decompose organically (as they would in a composter) and release methane, contributing to the climate crisis. For day 3, fight food waste by finishing your leftovers! Check your fridge for produce on the cusp and use older pantry items to make a stew, stir-fry, or casserole. 

If you need more of a challenge, commit to buying your next round of groceries from your farmers market. Most foods in our grocery stores travel long distances and are grown in ways that damage the soil—by purchasing from local farmers, you are voting with your dollar for a resilient local food system. 

How To Make An Indoor Compost

Day 4: Curate a Sustainable Closet

Our clothes have an outsized impact—the fashion industry produces more carbon emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. It also pollutes waterways with toxic microfibers and reinforces wealth inequality and social injustice for garment workers.

Use Day 4 to start a capsule wardrobe. A capsule wardrobe is comprised of a few versatile basics that are appropriate for various occasions. This exercise helps us rethink how we wear clothes from trendy, fast fashion pieces to beloved, quality items that will last a long time and remember the pieces we still love but may have forgotten.

Go through your closet and find 25 or so versatile pieces for the next month. Try wearing just these items for the month. At the end of the month, ask yourself, were you able to come up with fun and sufficient combinations with just 25 items?

Unraveling the Fashion Industry magazine issue

Day 5: Buy Nothing New

Day 5 is designed to help you be more intentional with your purchases. Try not to buy anything new, except for necessities like prescriptions, transportation costs, and food. Find ways to give old things a fresh purpose or look for something used on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Freecycle, or your local Buy Nothing group.

This day is about thinking critically about your needs versus wants. How many spontaneous purchases have you made, just to be used once or to end up as clutter in the back of your closet? By buying nothing new, you are slowing down your consumption, which is a very sustainable thing to do. If you thought Day 5 was too easy for you, extend it for the rest of the week—or keep it going and let us know how long you lasted! 

Remember that reducing waste is a process, full of trial and error. But day by day, one step at a time, you're on your way to a greener life!

From Green American Magazine Issue