Find ways to reduce waste around the house

The choices you and your family make in the daily operation of your household provide many opportunities to reduce sold and toxic waste.

Keep in mind, though, that most environmental decisions aren’t black or white. For instance, a less toxic alternative might consume more energy or create more solid waste. Think through what will work best for you as you consider these room-by-room reduction ideas.

In the kitchen:

Choose cloth over paper
As long as the water supply is adequate, use cloth napkins at the dinner table and sponges, cloth rags or dish towels instead of paper towels to clean up spills and wash or dry dishes.

For dishes and tableware
If possible, limit your use of disposable plates, cups and tableware. Opt for reusable dishes and cups.

To store food
Consider biodegradability, recyclability and reusability when deciding whether to use wax paper, aluminum foil, plastic wrap or plastic bags. Whenever possible, put food in reusable containers. If only 25 percent of American homes used 10 less plastic bags a month, there’d be 2.5-billion fewer bags sent to landfills every year.

For coffee filters
Consider trying unbleached paper filters, or cloth or metal reusable filters instead of disposable paper.

Grains, fruits and vegetables
Remember that growing them consumes 95 percent less raw material than producing meat. Bringing one pound of beef to market eats up 16 pounds of grain and soybeans, 2,500 gallons of water and the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline.

Consider growing your own food or patronizing local farmers’ markets
Locally grown produce is typically fresher, cheaper and has less pesticide residue than produce shipped long distances.

When buying a stove
There are often trade-offs when making environmental decisions. A self-cleaning oven will allow you to stop using toxic oven cleaners, but it uses more energy than a conventional oven. You might want to consider using a non-toxic scouring powder, such as baking soda, while the oven is still warm to make cleaning a regular oven easier.

When buying any appliance
Get the highest-quality, longest-lasting, most energy-efficient one you can afford. For advice on purchasing new appliances, send $3 for "Saving Energy and Money with Home Appliances" to:

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy
1001 Connecticut Ave. NW
Suite 535
Washington, DC

In the Bathroom

For shampoo
Buy the largest bottle you can find and use it to refill a smaller container or pump dispenser you already have. You’ll save money and have fewer containers to recycle or dispose.

For shaving
Manufacturing disposable razors consumes high quantities of energy. They won’t degrade in a landfill, and incinerating the plastic can pollute the air. Consider switching to a metal razor and replacing only blades, or invest in an electric razor. Also, shave with brush-on soap or shaving cream instead of a canned foam.

For soap
If you choose to use bar soap instead of liquid soap you won’t have to throw away the plastic dispensers. If you do prefer liquid soap, buy bulk-size containers and refill the smaller dispenser.

In the laundry

Use less detergent
More will only coat your clothes with a soap film. Softened water may require as little as one tablespoon of detergent and no fabric softener.

Always wash full loads
You’ll use less detergent, water and energy.

When drying clothes
If you have available space, dry small loads on an indoor drying rack year-round. Hang larger loads on an outside line in good weather.

Dry clean less
The dry-cleaning process uses hazardous chemicals. When you shop, look for clothes that don’t require dry cleaning. Some clothes usually though to be dry cleanable can be hand-washed in a mild soap.

Choose natural fibers
For clothes and linens, stay away from permanent press and synthetics with chemical-treated finishes.

For laundry baskets
Choose natural wicker or recycled plastic

When cleaning out closets and drawers

Try consignment shops or classified ads
Sell clothing and other items still in good condition. For a free copy of the Indiana Resale Consignment Shopping Guide, contact the Central Indiana Resale Association at 317-849-5437.

Have a garage sale
Your trash is often someone else’s treasure.

Make rags out of worn clothes
Cut up worn cotton items like sheets, towels and underwear, to reuse as household rags.

Donate unwanted items to charity
In 1988, Americans sent 135,000 tons of used clothing to Third World nations. Many charities will also find new homes for your unwanted items in your own community. Check the yellow pages of your telephone directory under "Clothing, used" or Second-Hand."

Repair and resole shoes

For Christmas celebrations

Choose a living Tree
Buy one that’s balled and bagged for outdoor planting. It’s a great way to landscape your property gradually.

Choose an artificial tree
Buy an artificial tree that you use year-after-year if it’s not possible to plant your Christmas tree later where you live.

Mulch cut trees
If you get a cut tree, have it chipped into mulch after the Christmas season ends.

Find alternatives to throw-away wrappings
Stencil holiday designs on draft paper packages rather than using ribbon. Decorate reusable tins and baskets instead of using traditional boxes and papers. Let your imagination be your guide!

The city of Kokomo teamed up with a local waste hauler and consulting firm to distribute reusable coffee cups to citizens at their Twelfth Night ceremony. The cup’s holiday theme was "You Did Myrrh," and the logo was a wise man recycling a Christmas tree. For more information, call Thomas High, superintendent of Kokomo’s Wastewater Treatment Plant, 317-457-5509

SOURCE: The Consumer's Handbook for Reducing Solid Waste. Washington, DC, US EPA, August 1992