It's no secret that our lifestyles lead to a lot of waste, from the packaging of the products we use to the food and water that we make and don't consume. But some brands have begun to create ways to help reduce this problem, giving us the tools to adopt more lower-waste routines. Seeking out these sustainability-minded brands is a significant first step. For example, there are products made with significantly less plastic packaging or recyclable materials such as glass or aluminum. In addition, some formulas utilize local, sustainable ingredients or come in solids or concentrates to cut down on water and shipping. A good rule of thumb is to buy your item in the largest size available. "A large size means less packaging," says Laura Fenton, author of Living Small and a champion of living more lightly on the planet. Here are a few more of our favorite low-waste moves:
1. Limit your water use.
Of course, we all need to clean our bodies, brush our teeth, water our gardens, and cook, but the more intentional we can be with our water use while we do, the better. "This is a really important way to conserve water and not waste the energy that goes into treating and transporting the fresh water to your home," says Fenton, who adds that she puts almost all her dishes in the dishwasher rather than hand washing them. "Dishwashers use less water."
2. Upcycle your gift wrap.
Furoshiki, the Japanese art of wrapping items in fabric, is a sustainable–and beautiful–way to wrap presents, especially if you continue to reuse the same square pieces of fabric. "I save and reuse gift bags, ribbons, and wrapping paper as well as newspaper and brown kraft paper. Kids can add stickers or drawings to the paper," Fenton says.
3. Green your laundry routine.
Chances are, you'll see a noticeable decrease in household energy usage when you wash your clothes in cold water and then skip the dryer. "Following this low-energy routine has a two-fold sustainability impact: We use less energy and water, and our clothes last longer," Fenton says.
4. Reuse shipping supplies.
Once you empty a big cardboard box, it can become a holder of used padded envelopes and smaller containers that you can reuse when it's time to return something or send a gift. "Always remove or black out old addresses, barcodes, and other carrier's markings," Fenton says. "I sometimes turn padded envelopes inside out so the bubbles are on the outside and all the labels are hidden."
5. Check and then follow your local recycling guidelines.
Many of us have the best intentions, diligently tossing all of our used plastic containers into the recycling bin. But it turns out "wish-cycling" could be doing more harm than good. If the type of plastic isn't the kind that's accepted at your local recycling plant, then it can cost extra time and money to remove it. The plastic container's cleanliness and size can also be significant factors. Recycling is great, but it's essential to do it right. It is even more critical: use what you already have before tossing it or stock up on more.