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Ways to use less trash and benefits of producing less garbage

Updated on March 29, 2015
TessSchlesinger profile image

Tessa Schlesinger is an ardent minimalist, convinced it is the only way to combat climate change in a world gone mad with consumerism.

We all produce so much junk

I once met a man who built barns for a living. He explained to me that virtually all people who hired him wanted the barns in order to store all the things that they no longer used. The garage was already full of junk so they needed more room.

So less junk means less space is required. That can add up to a sizeable benefit in terms of having a smaller home. In addition, it means less cleaning (taking out the trash every day) means saving time. It’s also less expensive because much of the junk that is stored needn’t have purchased in the first place.

Modern life means plastic bags and consumer excess

Each day of our lives, inadvertently we are responsible for generating enormous amounts of trash and detritus we do not need. It is built into our lifestyles. For instance, when going grocery shopping, most goods come pre-packaged. This ranges from processed food through washing powder, electronics, and/or toys for children. There are also items that don’t come with packaging – fresh food, furniture, bicycles, etc.

While many efforts have been made to recycle junk, discourage use of plastic bags at supermarkets, perhaps we need to reconsider our lifestyles and make more with less. If each of us do our little bit, perhaps we can live junk free.

Purchase items that have two or more uses

Buying beautiful things is an enjoyable feeling. Try to make any purchase have more than one function.

  1. When shopping for electronics, rather than purchasing a computer, a phone, an e-reader, a camera, and a tablet, examine your needs and buy one or two products that meet all your needs. For instance, smart phones meet all these functions.
  2. Carry through the principle of each item having multiple uses through to other areas. A coat can provide warmth plus provide shelter from rain. A t-shirt can be worn during the day and double as nightwear at night. A small convection oven may be slower than a microwave, but it is faster than a cooker/stove or a conventional oven. It is also substantially less expensive. Another option in the kitchen would be a stainless steel electric frying pan.

Plastic garbage in the middle of the ocean

Think small

The tiny home movement was born in America, and it will, at some point, eventually carry through to other countries. The idea behind small homes is that instead of focusing our lives on acquisition, we spend our money on having fabulous experiences, like traveling, investing in new hobbies, spending time with friends, or partaking of sport.

While your home may be much bigger, there is no reason not to follow the same principle. Examples of thinking small are below.

  1. Flash drives carry a lot of information these days; no need for CDs.
  2. Travel irons do the same job as a big iron, and most people don’t do a lot of ironing these days.
  3. On holiday buy fridge magnets which are small and serve as a collection of all the places you have been.
  4. Buy ebooks. Not only will you save the trees, but you won’t need book shelves. For those who have never used an ereader, the screen doesn’t have the bright light of a computer or a smart phone, so they’re extremely comfortable to read.

Landfills contain many things.


Be creative with existing items

My sister is amazing with this. Often we don’t have to go out to purchase something. For instance, if you want a garden, rather than going out to buy plant pots, use an old coffee pot, an unused frying pan, a leather boot that a child has outgrown, or paint a tin, fill it with soil, and plant a seed.

A table can be used as a desk. A bed can be used as a place to seat people. An old towel can be used as a dish towel. An old dish towel can be used to wash floors. Coconut oil can be used for cooking, hair conditioner, sun tan lotion, and moisturiser. Bicarbonate of soda can be used to eradicate odours from the fridge, as an excellent tooth whitener, as a drink to make an alkaline drink, as a raising agents in cakes, and more. When you need something, look around your home and see what can be adapted to suit your purpose.

Be generous

Many of us have more than we need. There are also many people who do not have enough. While items can be given to charity shops or junked, I like the Cape Town idea of getting together with friends and having a ‘garage sale’ where everything is just given away. Generosity is catching. J


Possibly one of the biggest generators of trash is packaging. Currently I don’t know of any stores which allow one to bring one’s own containers to fill up on nuts, rice, grains, etc. Yes, they have bins to save packaging, but then they provide packaging, so nothing is gained. Still, it’s less packaging, and an idea might be to reuse previous packaging. Processed items use more packaging. So the idea here is look for food items which have the least packaging.

Carry this principle through to other items. Look for soap that comes without packaging (Lush provides an excellent range as does Whole Foods.)

Of course, also get into the habit of bringing your own bags to carry your groceries. While most stores stock shopping bags, I like the ones that come from Amazon, World Market, and Ikea. I carry three small fold up bags with me everywhere I go so that I seldom have to use packaging from the store.

These same bags can be used when shopping for other items.

What I find interesting is that in the UK, no store provides a bag for shopping. If one needs a bag, one has to pay 5 pence for each one that one uses. Only Idea does this is the USA.

Going away on vacation, for instance, can tempt even the most careful of us to purchase a keepsake. It would be difficult to refrain from the joy of acquisition, so the cheat on this one is to buy something small. Here are examples.

Going away on vacation, for instance, can tempt even the most careful of us to purchase a keepsake. It would be difficult to refrain from the joy of acquisition, so the cheat on this one is to buy something small. Here are examples.

Stuff in our landfills.

Avoid disposable products

While paper towelling, disposable nappies, paper cups and paper plates, throwaway knives and forks, etc. may be convenient, they are adding to our landfills and polluting our water sources. Invest in cloth serviettes / napkins, buy a cheap range of plates that can be used for picnics and other outdoor areas, or just become comfortable with using what you have.

Invest in quality products

Living in this way saves a pretty penny. That means there’s money left over for investing in products which last a long time and which are worth repairing if they go wrong – rather than junking them!

Benefits of a junk free life

The collective benefit is that our world looks prettier and is healthier for everyone. The benefit for us is that we don’t have to do so much work (carrying out the trash and washing and cleaning too many things) as well as saving us quite substantial amounts of money as small, highly functional, and only a few becomes the new watchwords in our lives.

© 2015 Tessa Schlesinger


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    Julie K Henderson 

    3 years ago

    I approve wholeheartedly of this article. The videos were extremely informative and convicting. Thank you for taking the time and effort to discuss this important topic.


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