Reducing Waste

One of the most worrying aspects of consumer lifestyles is the excessive waste that results. Every week more than one billion consumers in the developed world leave a bag of trash on the side of the road where it is picked up. It seems to magically disappear but actually most of it has to be dumped into the natural environment from where it came. More than one billion bags of consumer trash, every week! How much longer can this continue? Living simply involves taking steps to seriously reduce the waste our lifestyles produce.

  • Refuse: The first way to reduce waste is simply to refuse to consume in unnecessary ways. For example, instead of purchasing water from a plastic bottle, drink water from the tap; don’t buy new shoes when your old ones are fine; avoid that unnecessary air flight; and so on. The list can be as long as you decide to make it.
  • Reduce: The second way to reduce waste is to reduce the amount of the things you consume. We all have things we like to buy (music, books, wine, etc.). Living simply doesn’t mean giving up all these things, but it does imply embracing moderation. Try to reduce your consumption. Often free alternatives exist.
  • Reuse: The third way to reduce waste is to reuse the so-called waste of our purchases. Use your imagination. The possibilities are endless.
  • Recycle: The fourth way to reduce waste is to recycle vigilantly.
  • Compost: Rather than using nasty chemicals to fertilize your garden, compost all the organic matter from your household. Overtime this will enrich your garden greatly and produce healthy soil for growing your food.
  • Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without: This is an old saying from the Great Depression years. It must become the commonsense of our Great Transition beyond consumer culture. Because that’s what it is – commonsense.
  • Junk mail: Junk mail is surely one of the most perverse examples of the wastefulness of consumer society. Hundreds of glossly pages can arrive in our letter boxes everyday, only to be thrown straight into the recyling bin (or worse, the waste bin). Just think about how many trees would be saved if every household in the developed world put signs on their letter boxes rejecting junk mail. It’s truly mind-boggling, and more than a little depressing. Reject it.
  • Packaging: Avoid as much packaging as possible.
  • Always carry a cloth bag: Plastic bags are an environmental hazard. Always carry a cloth bag (or several) so that you never have to accept a plastic bag. But remember, cloth bags are absolutely no use when they are left at home.
  • Don’t waste energy: This is extremely important, and it will become more important as fossil fuel use declines. See the section on energy.
  • Read about, and practice, permaculture: Permaculture is a complex term, but part of what it means is learning how to live on our planet without degrading it; to work with nature, not against it. Our future depends on permaculture.


  1. One of the most important things that we can do is to write to manufacturers and ask them to reduce their packaging. After all they are the ones creating it.

    We try to buy bulk or bring our own containers to refill at stores that will do this but inevitably we end up with glass jars, cans, boxboard, plastic and paper packaging. A lot of it is not even needed. Must a plastic bottle of aspirin be packaged inside a box board container?

  2. Louise, try ‘fregie’ bags ( They are see-through, lightweight reusable bags made especially to avoid using plastic bags when shopping for fruit and vegies. I bought some a few years ago and use them all the time. It’s amazing how many times the checkout assistants have commented on how good they are and where I bought them from. The supermarkets should sell them!

  3. I try to avoid plastic as much as possible. It’s kind of fun to see how many groceries you can buy without using plastic. Sometimes that means putting 4 or 5 apples in my cart and letting the cashier put them on the scale then into my cloth bag.

  4. Search out places that will let you bring your own jars / bags. This can reduce packaging significantly.

    Also, I knew a guy who NEVER accepted packaging. He had to be bloody creative, but as far as I could tell, he managed to do it. Made me think… a world without packaging?

  5. This is a good site for some great ideas on waste

  6. re: junk mail

    in the usa at least, there are a few places you can notify you want to opt out of junk mail, and they notify many of the bulk mailers of your choice. i did this several years ago, and my junk mail dropped considerably. can’t remember which place i did it, but google “junk mail opt out” and you should be able to find some info. perhaps other countries have similar programs.

  7. What I miss on this list is “run it through an animal.”

    Many cities and towns now allow backyard chickens, and if you’re rural, a couple goats make a great Permaculture partner.

    We “triage” our food waste: anything we won’t eat, the goats get first dibs. If it’s mouldy or otherwise unpalatable to goats, the chickens get a crack at it. Only if we cannot feed it to chickens does it get to the compost bin — which is full anyway, of lovely goat and chicken manure!

    Composting food waste is a failure to use it for a higher value around here.

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