How to Reduce Waste: Sustainability Guide

5 minute read

Woman washing dishes

From apple cores to appliances, copies of phone bills to the remains of last night’s carbonara, the contents of your trash are an ode to waste.

That said, there’s nothing poetic about excessive waste. Household trash, organic kitchen waste, and the waste management system needed to deal with them are some of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions.1

Fortunately, learning how to reduce waste at home doesn’t have to involve dramatic lifestyle changes. It also doesn’t have to be overwhelming. With a few practical tips, you can make waste reduction less of a chore and take steps toward a lower-waste lifestyle. 

#1 Understand Your Waste

Reducing waste starts with understanding it. No, we’re not talking about holding a therapy session with your waste (although that might help us figure out why plastics just can’t move on).

We’re talking about understanding exactly what you’re discarding and why.

Knowing your waste habits can empower you to become the eco champion you’ve always wanted to be.

Know What You’re Tossing Away

Although we tend to think of waste as a uniform blob of riff-raff and rubbish, the truth is that most household waste fits into five distinct categories:2

  • Non-recyclable, inorganic solids – Any refuse that’s in solid form and can’t be recycled. Non-recyclable plastics make up most of this kind of waste, but small household appliances also fit this description.
  • Organic solids From potato chips to pasta, Rocky Road ice cream to wilted lettuce, organic solid waste means discarded foodstuffs. Organic solid waste also includes some garden waste.
  • Liquid waste – This type of waste includes dirty household water, rainwater and runoff, and organic liquids such as cooking grease.
  • Recyclable solids – This type of waste includes forms of glass and ceramics, tins and metal, and paper products. Some plastics can also be recycled.
  • Hazardous waste – Hazardous waste refers to waste you don’t want to touch. This type of waste mainly includes toxic, flammable, and corrosive materials; it also includes discarded household batteries.

Understand Why You’re Tossing It Away

Knowing why you’re discarding something can be just as informative as knowing what you’re tossing.

Most people discard their waste for the following reasons:

  • Food expired before you could use it
  • You bought more than you needed
  • You don’t actually use the product
  • The product became unusable

Once you know the reason behind a majority of your waste, you’ll be able to address it.

For example, if you discover you’re constantly tossing bread because of mold, consider buying a half loaf instead of a full loaf or freezing a portion of the loaf. That way, you can cut back on food waste while still making your famous Italian club sandwich. 

Take Simple Steps To Toss Less

Once you know exactly what you’re throwing away, you’ll be better equipped to take the necessary waste-reduction steps. One easy way to reduce your waste is to use and purchase products with a longer lifespan.

For instance, if you’re wondering how to reduce plastic waste, consider purchasing refillable products rather than single-use items. Products like ECOS Hand Soap Refill Kit allow you to cut back on plastic by refilling the same bottle several times.

If you discover you’re tossing a lot of certain kinds of trash—like those plastic bags you use for veggies at the grocery store—consider replacing them with a more sustainable option. Like a stylish cloth bag for your produce instead. Plastic bags and other grocery store packaging can be the most common waste found in your home, but luckily there are reusable alternatives available.

#2 Find Purpose in Repurposing

When it comes to reusing and repurposing, this goes beyond the reusable bag or water bottle. Repurposing old items not only reduces waste but also allows you to show off your creative, DIY side. 

But if you’re not normally a person who sees flower pots in old containers and magic in every mason jar, don’t worry. We have a few ideas to help you start.

Let your creative (and waste-wise) juices flow by trying the following repurposing projects:

  • Find new uses for “old” waste – Before throwing something away, question whether it might have another purpose. For example, you could fill mason jars with flour for your pantry and plant old utensil drawers with flowers. You can also cut up overworn t-shirts and use the scraps for cleaning around the house. The amount of “waste” you can repurpose is only limited by your creativity.
  • Get thrifty – Instead of buying new clothes, scout out your local thrift shop for gently worn items. That way you can help reduce the amount of global waste (and maybe score some vintage threads that launch a whole new fashion trend).
  • Upcycle your gift giving – Gifts are some of the easiest ways to get creative with reducing waste. Cleaned glass jars can hold homemade cookie mix, old CDs can be covered with fabric scraps to make custom coasters, and old greeting cards can be cut up to make beautiful DIY gift tags for your creations.

Reducing waste provides benefits all around. Not only are you making a huge impact on the environment, but you’re also getting creative with recycled material, and cutting back on spending.

#3 Crush Waste With Composting

Composting is more than just another way to toss your food waste—it can improve the quality of your garden soil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in landfills. Instead of overflowing your trash can with organic materials, composting allows you to put your waste to good use.

In short, composting speeds up the decomposition process of organic materials. By composting, you can turn your organic, rotting foodstuffs into the nutrient-dense, legendary fertilizer known as “black gold.” It’s an easy way to reduce waste and achieve an even more lush tomato garden.

Before discussing how to compost, let’s dive into (figuratively, of course) what you should and shouldn’t compost.

What You Can and Can’t Compost

Although all organic materials eventually decompose, you shouldn’t add every organic material to your compost pile. 

In part, that’s because some organic products, like meat and dairy, smell terrible as they’re breaking down (just take our word for it). Meanwhile, products with high fat content, like cooking oils and salad dressings, won’t break down at all.4

In general, the following organic products are safe to compost:

  • Greens – “Green” compost materials primarily refer to foods, but may also include grass, leaves, and other yard waste. The best foods to compost include fruit and vegetable waste, eggshells, coffee grounds, and tea leaves, as these break down well and provide nutrients to the soil.
  • Browns – All organic, non-edible composting materials fall under the “brown” category. These materials typically include dead leaves, cardboard, wood shavings and bark, pine straw, and newspaper. Adding brown materials to your compost pile helps to balance the moisture level and speed up the composting process.

While it’s important to add green and brown materials to your compost pile, you should never add the following:

  • Eggs or dairy
  • Meat
  • Cooking oils
  • Salad dressings
  • Fish
  • Chemicals
  • Plastics
  • Pet refuse

The reason is simple—when composted, some of these materials smell worse than a landfill in July. Some attract critters happy to dine on your four-course meal of meat bones and bacon grease. Others could add toxic materials to your precious fertilizer. All should be avoided.

How to Start a Compost Pile

Learning how to compost can be an excellent way to reduce waste at home. Although composting isn’t the hardest thing to master, proper composting can mean the difference between “black gold” and a letter from your homeowners association.

Here’s how to get starting with composting:5

  1. Build a compost bin. You can either construct a compost bin out of wood or drill holes into a plastic bin. You can even purchase a ready-made compost bin. Whichever route you choose, make sure your bin allows some air flow.
  2. Place “brown” compostables like cardboard, pine straw, newspaper, or a combination of these materials at the bottom of your compost bin. That way you won’t have to worry about liquids escaping from the bottom.
  3. Add your “green” and “brown” materials in roughly equal proportions. If you discover that your compost pile resembles a steamy sauna overflowing with old foods, add more brown materials. Conversely, if you discover that your compost pile is dryer than a dumpster in the Sahara, add more green materials.
  4. “Stir” your compost bin twice a week with a trowel, hand rake, or another gardening tool. Stirring your compost allows air to enter your pile, a key part of the decomposition process.
  5. After about six months, you should be able to use your compost in your garden or potted plants. Make sure your compost is totally broken down by feeling it. If it crumbles and smells like the richest dirt you’ve smelled in a while, it’s ready to add to your soil.

Setting up your compost pile correctly helps you reduce waste and create wonderful organic fertilizer. Talk about a win-win!

#4 Re-think Before You Buy

One of the best ways to reduce your waste is to avoid creating in the first place. Before you click Buy in an online shop or grab something off the shelf in a store, take a moment to ask yourself if you really need it. Waiting a few minutes before you buy, distracting yourself with another project for a while, and coming back later to re-think that purchase might just be the most powerful tool you have to reduce your impact on the planet – and your wallet.

Reduce Your Waste With ECOS

Reducing your waste doesn’t happen overnight. As they say, all good things take time (especially good compost). That said, you can start taking simple steps today towards living a reduced-waste lifestyle. 

By following the above tips, you can turn your waste into potential—and your potential waste into beautiful projects. Another great way to live more sustainably is to purchase products made in zero-waste facilities, like ECOS sustainable cleaning products that are made in the USA.

However you choose to.


4Waste Removals. There are 5 Types of Waste, Do You Know Them All?
Environmental Center. Waste and its Contribution to Climate Change.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Reducing the Impact of Wasted Food by Feeding the Soil and Composting.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Composting At Home.