Top 10 Tips for Reducing Household Waste

3rd November, 2020

By Connor Littler, Communications Officer

Illustrations by Rashi Agarwal, Creative Director

A great way to reduce your carbon footprint is by limiting the amount of waste you produce as a household. There are 100s of ways to reduce waste but here I’ve just tried to come up with the easiest, most impactful ones for you.

So, here are my top 10 tips for reducing household waste:

1. Get a (free!) food waste bin

If your local area collects food waste (most of Edinburgh does) then why not collect your food waste and just take it out with the rest of the bins? Even if you don’t live in an area with food waste collection then you can still make your own compost for plants, garden etc.  

By separating your food waste from the rest of your regular black bag waste, you will reduce the amount of rotting food on landfills, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Instead the food will be composted and can be used as food for new plants to grow. That’s the circle of life right there. Way cooler than landfill. There’s no circle of life in a landfill, it’s just bad.


2. Make stock out of veg trimmings

This is a step up from just composting your leftovers. All those cabbage stalks, onion roots, and cabbage stalks are full of flavour that we are wasting by chucking them away. We obviously don’t want to eat them as is, so we throw them away. But don’t be so hasty! We can extract those beautiful flavours easily by simply throwing them all in a big pot and boiling them in water.

Just submerge all your veg offcuts and then bring to a boil and simmer for a few hours. From there, you can strain off the veg and you’ll be left with a delicious stock broth that you can use to enhance other dishes that require stock.

You’ll never have to buy those pre-made stock cubes or pots ever again AND you’ll have made the most out of your veg, which you can then pop in the food waste bin in good conscience, knowing you’ve used them at maximum efficiency.


3. Waste less water

There are so many ways that people waste water on a regular basis. I could fill a whole top 10 with tips about how to stop wasting water. And in fact I did already!


See my other article ‘Drop by Drop’ for an in depth analysis of how to manage your water usage in your home. I guarantee there’s at least one thing from my list that you could do to improve.


4. Upcycle materials

Half a 2L lemonade bottle as a plant pot. Broken chair wood as a shoe rack. Mushroom box as a shelf. These are just 3 examples of items in my flat that have found a second life as more permanent items.

You can really get creative with this one. As you’re throwing out stuff, just take a second look at it. Sturdy items rarely hit the bin in my flat because they just have so much more to give. But this is really up to the user.

PRO TIP: Equation for upcycling if lacking creativity = basically anything + scissors + soil à plant pot.


5. Check the packaging for recyclable materials (more than you think)

A lot of stuff can be recycled! Even some types of plastic can be recycled. If it can be recycled, it will say it on the packaging itself. Just have a quick glance at the bottom and it will tell you whether it can be recycled or not.


6. Turn stuff off

This is all about reducing energy waste. Turn the TV fully off when you’re not using it or at the very least when you go to sleep. It doesn’t need to be on standby and it uses energy unnecessarily.

This goes for a whole host of other household appliances too. Microwaves show the time, which uses energy to display the light. If you really need the microwave to tell you the time then leave it, but please buy a watch at the earliest opportunity. Washing machines also have a little light on them to show that they’re on. Feel free to switch that bad boy off. If you need the washing machine then turn it on.

We all have a whole load of household appliances, so just have a glance round your home and see if anything has a wee light on it for no reason. If so, just turn it off. All these things are relatively low impact individually but together over an extended period they all add up.


7. Shop with waste in mind

When you go for your big shop have a look online to see if there are any low/zero waste shops nearby. In Edinburgh there are a few: New Leaf Coop (Marchmont), the Refillery (Newington), the Eco-Larder (Haymarket). They are conveniently spaced out across the city meaning there should be one relatively near you, wherever you are. (If you live in another place…HELLO! Welcome to the blog, great to have you here but you’ll have to do your own research for this one, sorry.)

These shops allow you to bring along your own containers and fill them up with common items like rice, couscous, lentils, and lots of spices. PRO TIP: There are MAJOR discounts to be made on spices.

Besides that, getting vegetables which aren’t covered in plastic is a ridiculously difficult task if you’re in a supermarket. So just don’t go there for veg. Make a stop off at your local grocer for vegetables.

Fruit Connection in Newington is my favourite for fresh fruit and veg without packaging but there are plenty of others all over the place.


8. Meal planning

Plan ahead with your meals. Make a whole bunch of food at the weekend when you have time. Knowing you have something prepared at home will reduce the urge to buy takeaway or ready meals which come with lots of wasteful packaging.

Just batch cook something that’s easy to make lots of like a curry, pasta dish, soup, couscous, risotto. TOP TIP: You can batch cook most stuff. Just make more of it obviously. Smash some of it in the fridge and a few portions in the freezer.

If you are meal planning then you’ll need to be storing your stuff in suitable containers. So why not invest in some reusable plastic containers. They are really good for separating food into portions for easy access. If you want to go a step further then you can even use plastic containers from past takeaways or other plastic pots. If one of my flatmates (or me on a weak day) gets a takeaway then I’ll always keep the plastic pot for this purpose. Besides that, some food also comes unavoidably in plastic pots, like butter. You can simply wash out the container and use that as a Tupperware box and it works just as well. (PRO TIP: don’t even wash it out properly for extra butteriness to the first meal that goes in there)


9. Spend more now, less in the future (water bottles, bags...)

Following on nicely from the last point, don’t be afraid to invest in reusable products now in order to save money and reduce waste later. Stop buying plastic water bottles, the water doesn’t even taste as good. Get yourself a nice reusable water bottle which you can just refill from any tap. Some water bottles have even become fashion items in recent years. (TOP TIP FOR FRESHERS: Those metal Chilli’s water bottles carry a lot of clout on campus and will get you loads of friends instantly).

The other item is much less cool but just get into the habit of remembering to bring a bag when you go to the shops. I actually just have a spare bag in the pocket of 3 of my jackets in case of impromptu snack stop offs. There’s nothing worse than getting to the till and realising you have to buy a plastic bag. 


10. Use reusable cleaning equipment

Why are you buying kitchen roll routinely? For cleaning splatters and spillages in the kitchen, use a rag or even buy some J-cloths. Anything that you can use and then subsequently clean is better than a single-use piece of kitchen roll.

What about cleaning dishes? If you’re using supermarket sponges then allow me to enlighten you. These are the least durable things on the planet. Eco-shops like New Leaf Coop often sell a whole host of more durable cleaning equipment that last for so long

There are so many better options out there available from these great shops, so next time you’re in there refilling your rice jar, have a glance at the cleaning section and you’ll be surprised at what goodies you find.

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