Posted by: UrbanGreenGirl | December 2, 2008

35 ways urban people can reduce their waste

30 easy ways urbanites can reduce waste

35 easy ways urban people can reduce waste

There’s no doubt that it’s impossible in urban society to accumulate zero waste. This is not, however, to say that we shouldn’t strive to reduce our waste, as urban society tends to be very waste oriented as so much revolves around convenience.

In my opinion, there are two types of waste that we encounter in our daily lives; Waste from packaging and waste from final consumer goods that we decide we no longer want. Did you know that 6 months after purchase, 99% of these goods have been disposed of? What does this say about us?

Part of the reason we here in North America can get away with such lax environmental laws is that we are a huge continent. We are not worried about running out of space for landfills, cutting down all the trees or polluting all the water. However, there is no doubt that if we continue producing and disposing at the current rate, we will encounter these problems. Let me rephrase that…Our “children” and “grandchildren” will encounter these problems because of “our” actions. Is this what we want our generation to be remembered by?

Thus, here are some easy ways that we can reduce the waste we encounter in our daily lives. I am personally striving to do all.

  1. Buy dry food in bulk: Bring reusable containers for your grains, beans and lentils instead of buying them individually in cans.
  2. Wash your floors with a reusable fabric mop instead of a disposable sponge mop.
  3. Compost food leftovers: If you recycle, 75% of what you probably throw away is food leftovers. Did you know that 25% of greenhouse gas emissions come from the methane gas produced from decaying food in landfills?
  4. Use a reusable grocery bag: Tip: Always keep 2 in your car for surprise visits and keep a small plastic bag folded in your bag or purse for those impulse trips to the grocery store after work.
  5. Use a reusable coffee mug at work: The average person throws away 500 disposable coffee cups in a year. Leave a reusable coffee mug at work. Cafés nowadays welcome reusable cups and even give discounts. Not only are you saving a cup every time, you’re also promoting this idea to people around you who could potentially do the same.
  6. Use Tupperware for your lunch at the food court: There’s nothing wrong with your panini and salad, but putting it in a Styrofoam container everyday equals a lot of non-biodegradable waste. (I’m personally working on this, as well as bringing more lunches from home in Tupperware).
  7. Use wax instead of disposable razors: Your skin will thank you. For men, at least use rechargeable razors as opposed to disposable.  A lot of the waste comes from the packaging, which is also a problem as it’s not recyclable.
  8. Use bar soap instead of liquid soap and shower gel: No packaging is better than recycling a plastic container or, worse, throwing it out. Many cities, like Calgary, don’t even recycle plastic yet.
  9. Use vinegar and baking soda to clean your house: These powerful ingredients will clean, disinfect and de-grease your entire house. Moreover, it’s better than buying 10-20 bottles of other toxic cleaners.
  10. Adopt a pet: Instead of creating the demand for a new pet, adopt one that already exists! (Of course I don’t consider pets waste, but thousands are euthanised everyday because of overpopulation problems).
  11. Women: Use a diva menstrual cup: Billions of pads and tampons are disposed of each year. We can’t all afford a hybrid or solar panels but we can reduce our environmental impact by using this great product. I will write a funny article about this and my experience with it soon!
  12. Use cloth diapers: Disposable diapers make up the third largest source of solid waste in landfills. Cloth diaper services are one of the fastest growing home businesses, so a quick Google search is sure to turn up a company in your area, like Baby on the way in Canada or Cloth diaper sites in the US.
  13. Use Tupperware for food storage instead of saran wrap and Ziploc bags.
  14. Use a water filter instead of water bottles. It’s estimated that 8 our of 10 water bottles are thrown out, totaling 60 million bottles disposed of every year in the States. Get a water filter at home and if you’re still scared of drinking tap water, then we ought to be raising hell at a municipal level as Dr. David Suzuki says!
  15. Give away unwanted furniture and appliances on online classifieds: Rather than throwing it out on garbage day, post a free ad and invite someone to come pick it up chez vous!
  16. Use olive oil bar soap instead of shaving cream: Both sexes are equally guilty (men probably a bit more) when it comes to shaving cream cans that cannot be recycled. Olive oil soap is the perfect solution as its oily texture makes the perfect lathering agent for the closest shave ever!
  17. Purchase higher quality products that will last longer: If you can’t afford the more expensive alternative, see if you can get it secondhand online. You’ll end up saving $$ and keeping it longer.
  18. Bring leftovers for lunch in Tupperware instead of microwaveable meals. I am very guilty here as I’m lazy and tend not to prepare lunches in advance, but I am making a conscious effort to change.
  19. Recycle your old computer and electronics: I won’t lie, you might have to do a bit of research in  your area, but facilities do exist. E-waste is extremely hazardous and vast amounts get shipped off to developing nations, where it is not dealt with in a environmentally nor human friendly manner.
  20. Don’t buy disposable products! OK, I won’t argue about band-aids but you get the point!
  21. Buy your fruits and vegetables from a market: This will cut down on foods that are packaged in Styrofoam and Saran wrap. I bring reused plastic bags for herbs and place all vegetables together in my reusable grocery bags so i generate NO waste.
  22. Avoid free, crappy presents from events: You know those key-chains, calculators, pins, bags etc. that you get from trade shows and conferences that you just end up throwing out? Don’t take them! This will help decrease the demand for them in the first place.
  23. Cook more food at home (from scratch): So much of our landfills are filled with waste attributed to food packaging because we don’t value taking the time to cook. If there’s one thing I learned from the French, it’s to take pleasure in cooking your own food. Not only is it healthier, you might actually lose weight too because home cooked food doesn’t contain unnatural ingredients that could have long-term health effects. For those who don’t know how to cook (like me), start with one recipe a week and work your way up. (Or get a French boyfriend like I did!! lol)
  24. Bake your own desserts. Don’t buy the frozen kind in plastic wrap; buy the necessary tools and start experimenting. There’s something honourable about our grandparents’ generation, where everything was home cooked with pride and store-bought was looked down upon. Our grandparents were frugal and produced little waste, unlike us. We don’t need to be Martha Stewart but we could be more green by bringing back the valuable skill of cooking and baking!
  25. Buy your music online in electronic format: It might be a small gesture but CD cases are still waste and the plastic in them keeps us dependent on oil.
  26. Use an aromatherapy oil diffuser instead of an air freshener: Aerosol cans are pure waste as they cannot be recycled and one bottle of oil will easily outlast 10 aerosol cans.
  27. Use a deodorant crystal: Deodorant crystals work just as well as regular deodorants, do not contain aluminum (a suspected carcinogen), last up to one year and their packaging is recyclable. One deodorant crystal will reduce the need for 12 non-recyclable deodorant products. You can buy them in health food stores.
  28. Buy sugar in bulk, not in individual packets: Note for offices, if bulk is not possible, try sugar cubes.
  29. Use spaghetti sticks to stir your coffee: They work just as well as plastic stir sticks and it’s even the latest fashion in trendy cafés.
  30. Buy loose leaf tea instead of individual tea sachets: Spice it up by getting a funky tea strainer.
  31. Brew your coffee in a french press (Bodum) or espresso machine (non capsule kind): Eliminate the need for coffee filters. The coffee will taste better too. If you already have a coffee machine, buy a reusable gold plated filter.
  32. Sign up for electronic banking: Receive all your banking statements and other bills online, eliminating the need for paper waste.
  33. Buy only electronic devices with rechargeable batteries: Say goodbye to disposable batteries.
  34. Repair your clothes and shoes: Do as the Europeans do and repair holes in jackets and fix the heels of your shoes. And when you really don’t want them anymore, at least give them to charity.
  35. Lastly, don’t get too caught up in consumerism: Always having to buy the latest and greatest new product because of planned obsolescence leaves us perpetually disposing of perfectly good products for the sole reason of them not being “cool” anymore. Are we that superficial?

Remember, part of the reason we dispose so much is because we can. If we had to throw out our garbage in our own backyard, trust me, we’d all get very creative about what we buy.  So let’s use this as a personal motivator and reduce.



  1. Nice job! I come from a long line of renewers. It’s in my blood. So now I make baby shoes, wristlets and cloth diaper soakers from repurposed suede, wool, fleece, whatever I find in good shape. My shoes are super funky & cool, check them out! There’s lots of people on etsy making lots of cool things from recycled materials!! I’ve even make french press cozies from recycled sweaters! Check us out!!!, and!

  2. I think this has got to be my favorite page ever! Great suggestions and I hope that everyone that reads this will adopt at least 1 or 2 of these which would be great.
    I am doing most of those, however what I am changing in my daily life after reading this is no longer buying Jason body wash and going to find bars of soap I like better to reduce the plastic bottles being disposed. Also I have already started reusing the plastic Method cleaning spray bottles with vinegar and water to clean. I always felt bad about throwing those bottles away but thought I was balancing things out a little cause they are a good product …
    I am going to use cloth diapers for my baby to be and try to get my husband to replace his shaving cream aerosol cans with something just as good 🙂 Thanks, Urban green girl! You’re awesome! xoxo

  3. Thanks Cindy. I was thinking of you when I wrote this and how I take for granted that we can recycle plastic here. You made me realize that many municipalities don’t even recycle it yet. Thus, the problem lies not in the recycling but in the waste accumulated in the first place. Thanks for reading and let me know how everything goes with the cloth diapers! XOXO

  4. Excellent list (if I may say so myself).
    I’d also like to add for all you readers out there, some tips to be a greener reader:
    1) Join a local library. This is really the most environmentally-friendly way to read a lot. It’s budget-friendly, too!
    2) Join a book club or a reading group, and share books with friends, coworkers, and other members. Not only do you share books, but you can discuss them and share your passion for reading.
    3) If you like to travel, like me, bring one book and partake in hostel book exchanges, where you can leave books behind when you’re finished reading them and pick up new ones as you go along. This works particularly well with guidebooks.
    4) If you subscribe to newspapers or magazines, instead of just dumping them in the recycling bin when you’re finished reading them (or worse, in the garbage can), donate them to local schools; they often use back issues for class projects.
    5) Give e-books a try. I admit, this is my least favourite option because I don’t like reading long books on a screen; I find it hard on the eyes. But it’s one thing you can do to cut back on waste.
    6) Instead of heading to Chapters or Amazon, visit the local secondhand bookstore, where you can find tons of great gems and sometimes even collectors’ or first editions. Many used bookstores will also buy your old books from you and resell them, as long as they’re in good condition.
    7) Last but not least, if you’re still getting the phone book (white pages or yellow pages) from Bell or Telus or whoever your local provider is, refuse it next year when it comes out. It’s inaccurate by the time it’s printed, anyway, and online services like are much better for finding phone numbers.

  5. great stuff urban green girl. as a devoted divacup user, i look forward to your follow up story.

  6. I’d like to let you know about a company that has lots of great products: Preserve.

    I tried their toothbrush and razors, when you are done with it, you can send it back, and they will recycle it. The handle is made from 100% recycled plastic (from yogourt containers). Or I guess an electric toothbrush would be a good investment.

    I will definitely buy an olive oil bar soap for everyone on my list this holiday season!

    I encourage everyone, to write letters and sign online petitions to get municipalities to reimburse part of the initial fee when buying a cloth diapers kit. The initial kit cost about 500$ so it could be a little intimidating for new parents. In Quebec, municipalities like Bromont and Sherbrooke will reimburse about 25% of it. They will have less trash to deal with, so it makes sense. But the initial investment pays off in the long run, because it’s so much cheaper. Just a note: There are a lot of great canadian companies that makes cloth diapers, make sure you buy locally!

    Thank you for another great article!

  7. I am so glad to see that you recommend using a reusable menstrual cup in this posting. Many people forget to mention the waste caused by disposal menstrual products when they write about ways to be kind to the environment.

    At, we recently posted a new Comparison Photo Page, which actually SHOWS the amount of waste caused by tampon use in one month, one year, ten years, and forty years. (We based our photos on 18 tampons used per month, and calculated that most women menstruate for approximately 40 years.)

    Please take a look on our Comparison Photo Page at . I think you’ll be shocked by what you see. AND, I think you’ll agree that these 4 photos are worth AT LEAST A THOUSAND WORDS!

    I hope you and your site visitors enjoy looking at these photos. (Or maybe “enjoy” isn’t the right word! The photos are really horrifying in the amount of waste they show.)

    Julia Schopick
    The Keeper, Inc.

  8. Great blog!
    We know nothing about that Diva Cup stuff in France… could you please write about it? I think I’ll try it because I always thought those “girly solutions” are not the best ones for earth…

    • Yes…I’m planning on having a follow up posting in a month of reusable menstrual products. I’ll be reviewing up to 3 different kinds. Stay posted. Where in France are you?

  9. Great tips there is will try all of them and see how things go. Thanks.

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