One easy way to reduce your family's carbon footprint is to limit the amount of trash you create.
Reducing the amount of waste your family generates may seem intimidating, but it doesn't have to be. To get your family on the right path, choose one or two small steps you can take and commit to making them a daily habit. Once you've got that down, choose another goal. Pretty soon, choosing to reuse, reduce and recycle will be part of your family's lifestyle.
Not sure where to begin? Here are some easy ways to get started:
1. Reuse, then recycle.
Many items can be used repeatedly before they outlive their usefulness. For example, plastic shopping bags can be reused for food storage, future shopping trips or as trash bags. If they get dirty, simply wash them and hang to dry. Similarly, you can wash and reuse aluminum foil, glass jars and plastic food containers. Get your family in the habit of using both sides of a piece of paper and using small paper scraps for things like grocery lists and phone messages.
2. Shop smart.
Pay attention to how things are packaged when you buy them. Buying in bulk often reduces the amount of packaging you'll need to throw away (and usually saves you money as well). Also, steer clear of individually packaged foods and household products.
If your kids are with you on a shopping trip, be sure to point out the environmental benefits of buying in bulk. You may also want to point out packaging that can be recycled or is made from recycled materials.
3. Ditch the disposables.
From diapers to napkins to plastic bags, opt for reusable products rather than disposables whenever you can. Invest in reusable shopping bags and keep them in a convenient place, so you don't forget them on your shopping trips. Be sure to launder any reusable bags regularly to prevent the buildup of harmful bacteria.
4. Start composting.
Most trash is made up of organic matter, with food scraps alone accounting for more than one-quarter of municipal solid waste. Letting all that organic matter end up in landfills is not only wasteful, it's also harmful to the environment, since it can generate methane – a potent greenhouse gas -- as it decomposes.
Rather than throwing your family's food scraps away, start saving them to create your own compost. Put a bowl or small bin on your kitchen counter to collect your food scraps as you prepare meals and clean dishes. Empty your food scraps into a bin, pile or tumbler. Add some leaves or grass clippings, turn the compost regularly, and add some water every now and then. Soon, you'll have rich compost that you can use in your yard and garden as a fertilizer.
If you don't want to compost yourself, you can also check with your local government to see if your city offers compost pickup or a compost collection center.
Be sure to get your kids involved with composting, too. Scraping dirty plates, emptying the kitchen bin and turning the compost pile are all great activities that kids can help out with.
5. Recycle more.
The first step in recycling more is making sure that you're recycling right. Contact your local recycler to find out what items can be recycled and whether recyclables need to be rinsed or separated before they're collected. If your city doesn't offer curbside pickup, be sure to ask about drop-off options. And if you're not sure who handles recycling in your area, try searching online at Earth911.
To make recycling a regular habit, keep your recycling bin next to your trashcan so you get used to sorting your trash. To make it fun, be sure to get your kids involved as well.
6. Buy used.
Buying used furniture, clothes, children's toys and other items is a surefire way to save money and be gentler on the environment. When you buy used items, you not only prevent them from ending up in a landfill, you also reduce the amount of trash you generate, since used items do not usually come with all the packaging that new items do. There are lots of good deals to be found online and at local consignment stores, yard sales, thrift shops and more.