Ten ways your household can reduce waste

There is a growing awareness in the UK of the need to be more sustainable. Recent research found that around 82% of people in the UK agree – 48% of them strongly – that more could and should be done for the environment in this country. 

But when it comes to sustainability, the key thing is that we can all play our part. And one of the ways that we can do this is to reduce the amount of waste we create as a household. 

In the UK we generate around 26 million tonnes of waste a year. This equates to the weight of around 260 large cruise ships!

Even though around 46% of this is recycled, it is such a huge amount that any way we can reduce it has got to be good.

Of those 26 million tonnes, around 14 million go to landfill, and 12 million are recycled, which gives an average recycling rate of 45%.

But bringing it closer to home, these figures show that the average person in the UK throws away around 400kg – 880 lb – of waste each year.

So what can we do to reduce waste, as individuals and as a household?

Here are ten ways that you can make a start:

Reduce your use of plastic

If you take a look around your home, you are likely to come across many single-use plastic items. For example, cleaning products, toiletries, drink bottles and cartons, carrier bags, bin liners, plastic cutlery. 

The first step towards a more sustainable household is to replace as many of these as possible with non-plastic alternatives. Some examples are:

  • Create your own plant-free cleaning products in glass bottles;
  • Refill existing cleaning and toiletries containers with products from a local refill store;
  • Find a local delivery service for milk in glass bottles;
  • Only buy drinks in glass bottles or cans;
  • Use your own fabric shopping bags;
  • Consider alternatives to plastic bin liners eg compostable bin liner bags, newspaper, or just a naked bin;
  • Use bamboo cutlery and plates instead of plastic.

Seek out eco-friendly products and services

You can extend your plastic-free mission to external suppliers. For example, if you are ordering a takeaway, try to find suppliers who deliver in compostable or entirely recyclable containers.

If you come across items which you think have excessive packaging it’s worth taking the time to complain about it to the manufacturer, as this could encourage them to consider reducing their packaging. 

Use your own containers for shopping

As well as using your own bags for food shopping, start taking your own containers too. Many supermarkets will now accept these for fresh produce such as cooked meats, salads and delicatessen items.

We mentioned local refill stores earlier. These enable you to fill your own containers with a wide range of both liquid products – such as cleaning and toiletries – and dried products such as coffee, tea, dried fruit, nuts, herbs and spices.

Plan food shopping to use what you already have

A key element of avoiding waste is to do everything you can not to throw food away. You can save money and reduce food waste by checking what you already have before you go food shopping. 

Aim to constantly use items that are already in your fridge, freezer or store cupboards. Contents of the fridge are particularly important to check, to avoid them going beyond their use by date and having to be thrown away.

Make it a regular challenge to use up everything you have rather than forgetting about it and letting it go to waste.

Bulk buy non-perishable goods

Bulk-buying can make sense if there are non-perishable goods that you use a lot of. As long as you have somewhere to store them , it can save both money and packaging. 

For example:

  • Tea and coffee
  • Bottled and canned drinks
  • Tinned food
  • Jars eg sauces, condiments
  • Dried pasta
  • Rice
  • Cereals
  • Nuts and crisps
  • Pet food
  • Kitchen roll
  • Toilet paper
  • Batteries and lightbulbs


Make the most of fruit and vegetables

Many of us use only part of the fruit and vegetables that we buy. But everything can be put to good use.

For example, many vegetables don’t actually need peeling; the skins or outer leaves are often the most nutritious parts. And if you are squeezing citrus fruit such as lemons, limes or oranges, the zest can be grated and used separately later on.

Any vegetable or fruit peelings that you don’t use for food could be used for compost instead. You can use either a bin or a small dedicated composting area. Simply combine your peels with a high-nitrogen material such as grass clippings then cover with a layer of carbon ingredients such as shredded leaves, hay or sawdust, and water. You can add further layers, turning regularly as you go. Once the compost breaks down into a soil-like texture, you can either dig it into your garden or mix with potting soil for container plants.

Set up a pending bin for unusual items

When you are having a big clear out, don’t automatically throw things away. It’s a good idea to set up a pending bin for those odd items that you’re never sure what to do with. 

Examples include small household items, electrical items, bulbs and batteries. You may be able to find ways of recycling them, for example specific recycling bins in stores, in council car parks or at your local refuse tip. This is much more environmentally-friendly than just putting them in the bin and sending them to landfill.

Buy second hand

There are many items that you can buy second hand at good quality and a great price. One of the main ones is clothing. Not only could you grab a real bargain, but you will also not be contributing to the huge amount of waste caused by the fashion industry – which generates an estimated 10% of all carbon emissions.

For good quality second-hand clothing take a look at:

  • Charity shops;
  • Online sites such as eBay or Vinted;
  • Local selling sites such as Facebook Marketplace;
  • Local schools, nurseries or community groups, for childrens clothing.


Sell or give away unwanted goods

Just as you can buy second hand goods, particularly clothing, you can also greatly reduce waste by either selling or giving away your own unwanted goods. And if you sell stuff, it can also be a great way of making a bit of extra money.

The above list can help you get started on selling or giving clothing away. Also consider car boot or table top sales to sell goods, or online sites such as Freecycle if you want to give things away.

Eliminate junk mail

Did you know that 17.5 billion pieces of junk mail are produced every year in the UK? Whether it’s addressed to you, or just unaddressed junk mail pushed through the door, you can help put a stop to it.

If you receive catalogues or mailings addressed to you from companies you are not interested in, contact them to be removed from their mailing list. You can also register online with the Mailing Preference Service to stop receiving unsolicited mail in future.

As for the unaddressed junk mail, you can put a sign or sticker on your door requesting that no leaflets are posted through your letter box. You can either make your own or contact your local Council to see if they could provide an official one.

These measures should ensure that you only receive mail that you want to. You may also then want to cleanse your email inbox too. Emails can also be a significant source of carbon emissions because they are usually stored over multiple servers stored in big data centres around the world that are heavy consumers of electricity. So unsubscribe from any mailing lists you are not interested in to play your part in reducing these carbon emissions.

We hope that this article gives you some ideas as to how you and your household can reduce the amount of waste you generate, and play your part in helping to preserve the environment. 


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