Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Here Are 5 Free Things You Can Add to Your Routine to Reduce Waste

September 4, 2019
Recycled, reused bicycle as flower box

(Photo: Bringolo/Getty Images)


By Lori Melton

Many people compare living sustainably to going on a diet – both commitments require a lifestyle adjustment and involve making sacrifices. Neither of those things sounds fun or appealing …

Don’t worry, though! Making small, eco-friendly changes to your routine is a lot easier than you think. For example, reducing waste is one important way to help protect the planet. Landfills are overflowing and plastic waste is polluting the ocean and killing aquatic creatures.

If you’d like to help the cause but don’t know where to start, follow these suggestions for five free things you can add to your routine right now to help reduce waste.


Recycling paper, glass, and plastic is one of the easiest ways to decrease waste. To start, get free containers and the pickup schedule at your local recycling center.

The EPA has a handy list of common recyclables on its website. Be sure to follow special instructions as needed. For instance, remove all food residue from containers before recycling. Grease on a pizza box can contaminate an entire recycling collection. You’ll also want to check with your local recycling facility for instructions on recycling batteries, electronic items, and more.

Set Up a Swap Meet

Organizing and hosting a swap meet is a fun way to reduce waste. Basically, you give items you no longer want or need like clothing, furniture, books, and more to others to reuse. Plus, attendees can bring some things to swap. This means you can pick up some free things too. This idea works well for kids' clothing, books, and toys as kids grow so fast. Giving away toys and clothes kids have outgrown eliminates throwing them out to ultimately wind up in a landfill.

Repurpose Items

Crafty people are skilled at repurposing items. For example, you can turn your college student’s old t-shirts into a quilt, turn a suitcase into a side table, or use books as home decor. The possibilities are limitless. Those who are creatively challenged can find lots of websites, Pinterest boards, and YouTube videos that demonstrate ways to repurpose things with step-by-step instructions.

Swap Single-Use Plastics

Using plastic plates, cups and silverware might be convenient at picnics and gatherings but doing so is bad for the environment. So is using plastic grocery bags, water bottles, and straws.

According to the EPA, people use over one trillion plastic bags worldwide every year and less than five percent of them are recycled.

Unfortunately, people also litter and toss them out at parks, on the road, and other public places. Plus, they are frequently found as debris in lakes and oceans. As such, they make up part of the 18 billion pounds of plastic waste that flows into oceans each year.

Free sustainable swaps include trading disposable dishes for reusable ones you have in your cupboard, drinking water from a fountain, tap, or mug on hand, and using a cloth tote from home to carry groceries and other items home from the store. Another idea is to just say no when offered a plastic straw – drink from the side of the cup instead.

Build a Compost Pile

Building a compost pile at home serves as organic fertilizer, enriches the soil, and helps reduce waste. Instead of throwing away vegetable and fruit scraps, combine them with lawn clippings, dead leaves, and water to make your own compost. For detailed instructions, consult the EPA’s composting guide.