I hate waste. I hate that sometimes I have to throw something away without having gotten maximum use out of it. I hate the waste of money and the waste of resources. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that there are instances where I end up wasting things. For example, I cannot use up an entire head of lettuce before it goes bad. I’ll buy it because I need or want to make a salad and then I’ll put some on sandwiches for a couple of days, but before I can use it all up, it’s gone bad. I have the same thing happen with things like sour cream or dips that can’t be kept for long periods. I also end up wasting medications. I’ll get a cold and have to buy drugs but since I don’t get sick that often, they go bad and have to be tossed out before I get sick again. I hate to do it, but I end up having no choice.
Over the years I’ve learned to waste things smartly, if you want to call it that. I’ll never like waste and I’ll always hate tossing stuff, but I can at least try to be smart about it and reduce the amount of money and resources I waste. Waste is a fact of life for many people, but here are some ways to at least reduce the amount of money and resources you’re throwing away.
Buy the cheapest option
If you have to buy something that you know you’re going to end up wasting a portion of, go for the cheapest acceptable option. I used to buy the pre-made salads in bags but I got very tired of wasting all that money. A head of lettuce is much cheaper. Buy store brand medications if you know you won’t use them all before they go bad. By finding the cheapest option you’re at least reducing the amount of money you’re throwing away.
Buy the smallest size
Buy a pack of ten pills instead of the warehouse-club size package. Buy the small package of dip instead of the quart. If you have a market nearby that sells things like spices, flour, produce, and sugar out of the bulk bins, buy only the amount you need. Sometimes you get lucky and you can buy the smallest size and it ends up also being the cheapest option. If this works out, it’s the best possible solution. You’re wasting less money and fewer resources. Sometimes, though, you have to choose between the smallest size and the cheapest option. If you’re most concerned about wasting resources, choose the smallest size. If money is your main concern you’ll likely opt for the cheapest option.
Look for alternatives
Before I run out to the store to buy an ingredient for a recipe that I know will be used in only that recipe, I check to see if there are any substitutions that can be made from ingredients I already have on hand. I do the same thing if I find myself in need of some other item, too. I look around the house to see if there’s something I already own that can serve the same purpose. If so, I’ve eliminated waste. If nothing is to be found, I can at least rest easy in the knowledge that I tried to avoid waste.
Find some way to pass it on
Once the lettuce starts to go bad, I put it out for the rabbits that frequent our yard. Many food items can be added to a compost pile if you have one and that will at least provide fertilizer for your garden. Physical goods can almost always be donated or repurposed. You may be able to find friends who will take something off of your hands and many things that you wouldn’t think people would want will be taken on Craigslist. There may not be anything more you can do with an item (medications will always have to be tossed unless you have a friend who takes the same non-prescription medications that you do and who also gets conveniently sick), but if you think about it, you can probably find some way to avoid consigning the entire item to the landfill.
Find a way to rent it, get it used or borrow it
If you need something that you know you’ll only need once or twice in your life, you’re better off renting, buying used or borrowing the item. Not only will it be cheaper, you’ll consume fewer resources. You can practice this with both physical goods and with food. If you just need a pinch of a certain spice, see if your neighbor or friend might have some you can use. If you need a tool, see if you can borrow or rent one.
Find a way to extend the life of something
If the bread has been out for a while and you’re worried it might go bad, put it in the freezer. If the eggs are nearing the expiration date, hard boiling them can buy you an extra week or so. Even milk can be frozen. If the kids are outgrowing their pants but the pants are still good, you can look at letting down the hems or otherwise altering the fit to get another season out of them. Some things just can’t be saved. In that case you’ll either have to find a way to use it up quickly or reconcile yourself to the waste.
As much as we try to avoid it, waste is sometimes a part of life, especially in the Western world where goods are so plentiful. It’s very easy for many people to just toss what they can’t use without a second thought. If you’re like me and you don’t like waste, there are ways to reduce the amount of money and resources that end up wasted.
(Photo courtesy of kyz)