As much as I hate clutter, I also hate wasting things. Granted, I do my own fair share of wasting water, food and energy, but if I at least keep myself conscious of ways I can cut waste, then I’ll help myself, the environment AND you, my fellow earth creatures.
So here is a big list of ways you and I can cut waste from our lives and help human-kind, and maybe keep a few more dollar bills in our wallets:
In the Bathroom:
- Turn off the water – When you’re shaving (men) or brushing your teeth, turn off the water when you’re not rinsing off the razor or toothbrush. If you want to know how much water you’re using by letting it run, put a container under the faucet for the amount of time you brush or save and see how much it comes out to be. For instance, if I left the water run while shaving, I use at least a gallon. That’s 365 gallons of water per year right down the drain!
- Only flush when needed – I’ve said it before to “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” It’s a gross topic, but honestly you’re only wasting more water if you don’t really need to flush.
- Only use the minimum shampoo/conditioner/body wash – Even though I’m almost bald, I still sometimes use a glob of shampoo when all I need is a small dab. The stuff is made to foam up for a reason — to cover more area — so use less of it than you think you need and you’ll be surprised that it’s still effective.
- Use less toothpaste – Really, do you need to fill the whole toothbrush with Colgate? You can get away with half or even a fourth of the toothpaste it takes to cover the brush and still have pearly whites. Again, this stuff foams for a reason.
- Toilet paper doesn’t protect you from germs – Ok, maybe that thin sheet of Charmin might place enough of a barrier between your bottom and the seat to ease your mind, but it really doesn’t protect you from germs. Also, you have much more of a chance of contracting a cold or worse by not washing your hands than from the seat touching your butt. We’ve had to force roommates, renters and relatives to buy or bring their own TP because they’re so OCD about germs that they go through rolls of our paper in a single day or weekend! It’s not like paper grows on trees you know! Oh, wait…
- Keep your bar of soap dry – I keep my bar of soap in a soap dish out of the reach of the water stream or any splashing, and drain out any water I notice in the dish before leaving. I’m amazed at how much longer the soap lasts by keeping it dry than if it’s sitting in a half-inch of water.
- Reuse your towel the next day – Growing up, everyone in the family (5 people) tossed their used towel in the hamper every day (and they still do). Since college, though, I’ve gone from using the towel to dry off just once to at least 5-7 days. Honestly, I can’t see why my family still won’t reuse their towels when they’re complaining about the water and power bills. When you’re washing over 30 towels a week (4 adults, 2 kids), you have to wonder where that water and power is going.
- Don’t use those stupid disposable toilet brushes – That has to be the dumbest, laziest invention ever. Just spend 10 seconds brushing the toilet. Wear a rubber glove if you’re worried about cooties, or just wash your hands like any other normal person would do afterwards.
In the Kitchen
- Use dish towels, not paper towels – If you keep a towel near the sink that’s only to be used for drying hands, then you’ll find your paper towel usage diminish severely. We go through a roll of paper towels every 3 weeks at the fastest, unless we host a party. And if you use the “reuse your towel” tip from the bathroom section above, you’ll reduce your laundry pile even more!
- Use less water when washing dishes – Just like the tip to turn off the water when brushing your teeth or shaving, I advise turning off the water when you’re just scrubbing the dishes. Only use it when you actually need to rinse something off.
- Use less dish soap – Some soaps are more effective than others, but overall, if you just let your dishes soak in water longer with less soap, and throw in some more elbow grease, you’ll get the dishes just as clean (and get a little workout too). That leads me to…
- Reuse containers – Instead of using disposable baggies or styrofoam containers, get some Tupperware (or whatever the “safe plastic” of the moment is). And you can wash out those plastic baggies too!
- Recycle – Obviously this goes for anything in your life, but in our house, most of the recyclables, except for paper, come from the kitchen. In Montgomery County, MD, we’ll soon have single bin recycling where we just dump all paper, plastic, tin, etc. in one big tub and they sort it for us. I can’t see how it’s any easier than that! (oh, this isn’t exactly saving you money directly, but reinvesting those materials helps in the long-run)
- Don’t toss the leftovers – A friend of ours won’t let a single leftover in his fridge for some reason. I personally can’t see why anyone would waste perfectly good food. Even if it’s gone bad, you can…
- Compost your leftovers – Rockville, MD gives away “composting kits” to residents who ask, which makes it even easier to contain your composting pile of yard and kitchen waste. Old food is excellent for your garden or shrubbery!
- Donate unwanted food items – Growing up, I can’t count how many cans of peas and corn we gave out to the food drives because we had so many. Sometime you just buy too much of something because it’s on sale, and get tired of it, so think about donating it. You can deduct it on your taxes if you have proper documentation too!
- Run the dishwasher on the lightest setting and
- Prewash your dishes. By rinsing off the heavier gunk on your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, you can use a lighter wash setting to clean the dishes.
- Mark your food items with the purchase date – We use permanent marker to indicate when we bought the item to know how long we’ve had it on the shelves. We don’t have to wonder whether the beans have started to grow roots again.
- Use a mop and/or scrub brush on the floors, not a Swiffer. They charge an arm-and-leg for the refill bottles when you can buy tubs of Pinesol for pennies on the dollar. And you’ll find your floors are cleaner with some elbow grease too.
In the Office
- Reuse your paper – You don’t need to toss a sheet of paper after you wrote one word on it. Use every square inch of that sheet, and then recycle it when your done or…
- Shred your paper and compost it if it has personal information. Just keep any glossy paper, plastic bits or shredded credit cards/CDs out of the pile.
- Shut down your computer/fax/modems/routers/etc. – Even standby mode means it’s using power. Even better…
- Buy a Smart Power Strip that automatically shuts off anything plugged into the marked outlets when it detects a change to lower power frequencies.
In the House
- Use natural light – When it’s daytime, you can probably do most of your chores and even read by using the daylight. No reason to waste electricity and lightbulbs when the sun is doing all the work for you for free!
- Seal your windows, doors, outlets with caulk or insulation to reduce the loss of heat in the winter and cool air in the summer. For power outlets on walls adjoining the outside, there are special, precut insulation pads you just insert behind the outlet cover. I was amazed at how drafty it was in the outlet box!
- Only run the heat or A/C when you REALLY need it! I don’t mean when you’re breaking a slight sweat or get a slight chill. If you’re cold, put on slippers or more clothes. If you’re hot, go to the library and read in THEIR air-conditioning 🙂
- Turn off those vampire electronics – Similar to the office tip above, shut off any appliances that have lights on when the unit is off, or show the time. That means the unit is sucking up power, even thought you’re not using it. For example, use a Smart Power Strip on your entertainment center to kill those energy-sucking vampire electronics. The one downside is that many TVs/VCRs/etc. will lose their settings when you unplug them. Why can’t manufacturers build in small flash drives to store your settings longer-term?
- Use light-blocking curtains in the summer – If you want to keep your house cooler in the summer, one big way is to block out the sun during the hottest parts of the day by using light-blocking curtains or blinds. Keep the sun out and the cool air in.
- Get a water heater timer (for electric water heaters only) – We only run our water heater for 3 hours per day, right before, during and after showers. Granted, we only have one heater, but we still limit the times we’re heating water to off-peak usage times. Again, this is about both saving money and not wasting, so don’t bother with the “but it takes longer to heat up water from room temp” arguments because I’ll just say…
- Insulate your water heater so it keeps as much heat in as possible. If you touch your water heater and it’s warm, that means it’s losing heat.
- Replace leaky faucets. You’ll be amazed at how much water you’re losing each year by not replacing your leaky faucets. Stick a cup under it one day and see how much you collect. Now multiply that by 365.
- Use CFL bulbs, not incandescent – My only gripe with CFL bulbs is they seem dimmer until they warm up, but that only lasts a few seconds. Otherwise, I’m very happy with our CFL replacement bulbs. Just don’t try to use them in dimming lights.
- Don’t leave the TV on just to “have noise”. When I go home to visit family, every TV in the house seems to be on all day, even when no one is watching it. But when I turn one off, everyone’s ears perk up and ask why I shut it off. Just silly and wasteful.
- Get rid of your junk through eBay, Craigslist, Freecycle, yard sales, Goodwill/Salvation Army, etc. Even if it’s broken, there’s probably someone else who will take it for free for scrap, a weekend project, or to fix and sell.
In the Yard
- If you have room, Compost your yard waste. I used to waste money buying those big paper bags to bag up the cut grass every week, but now I just pile it behind the shed as compost. Same goes for leaves, but even though we don’t have any trees in our yard, we get enough leaves that we still need to bag some.
- Cut the grass less often. I hear some neighbors mowing their grass twice a week. C’mon, it doesn’t grow any faster than our grass! Even better…
- Get a manual push mower – Sure, it’s not very practical for big yards, but millions of townhouse or small plot owners will find that they can cut the grass in less time with a push mower than a power one because it’s easier to maneuver and requires no gas or starting mechanism. Just walk and push!
- Don’t install a pool – One of the biggest energy, water and time wasters in our household is the in-ground pool from the last owners. You’ll easily spend hundreds or thousands per year in maintenance and electricity to run the pool, plus chemicals, toys and replacement parts. Last year, we spent $400 on a new pump and this year we’ll be spending $500 on a new vacuum. Just avoid buying a pool if you can (but don’t tell prospective buyers that when it’s time for us to sell).
- Plant a tree for shade – It might take a few years to begin getting some real shade from any sapling, but not only is planting a native tree good for the environment, but it’s often nice for the landscaping when it’s time to sell!
In the Car
There are tons of fuel saving tips to be mentioned, but I’ll just speak on a few of the easier or more manageable ones:
- Drive slower – We’ve all heard the numbers that 55mph on the highway is your optimal speed, but what about local roads? You still want to
- Drive a constant speed to get more consistent gas usage
- Don’t jack-rabbit starts, which means don’t gun it when the light turns green. This is one of the biggest wastes of fuel out there. Just throttle through a nice, smooth, consistent acceleration
- Use cruise-control on the highway – If you can’t force yourself to abide by the speed limit, then let your vehicle keep you under control.
- Keep your tires properly inflated – Look on the side of your driver door or where the door meets the car for the proper pressure for your tires. If it says 30psi per tire, that means when the tire is “cold”. I tend to stick another 2-4psi in the tire above the factory level, but your tire allowances may differ.
- Drive less – plan your errands so that you can accomplish them all in a single trip, with the least amount of driving between each location. Even better,
- Use public transportation, a bike or just walk – I know not all towns support these modes of transportation well (my hometown doesn’t), but if you have the opportunity to walk a half-mile to Blockbuster for a movie, just do it. You need the exercise anyway, tubby.
- If you need one, Buy a used car. Sure, manufacturers will keep churning out shiny, new cars, but that doesn’t mean you need to overlook a perfectly good 1986 Chrysler Lebaron. You’ll save some serious cash, get more features than you could new, and utilize what’s already available (thus reducing your contribution to waste).
- Drive during less congested times – If you can get to your destination with fewer cars in the way, then you’ll save time and money. Try to go out for that bank or post office run at 11am or 2pm, not during lunch hour.
- Ditch the extra weight – How much junk’s in yo trunk? I just hauled around a 40lb bag of soil for 3 weeks without realizing it. That’s like hauling around a 4-5 year old everywhere I go! Now go clean our your car!
Now I’d like to hear what money-saving tips YOU practice around the house, in the car, at the workplace or anywhere else, but make sure to keep them related to NOT WASTING either.