Plastic bags cause a lot of annoyance -- and outright bans -- but what about the all the stuff you pack in them? What if you could eliminate pretty much everything you're throwing in the garbage? Between recycling and composting it's really not that much of stretch, depending on how serious you want to get about it. Let's dive in ... to the trash.
The first thing you'll need is a good composting plan. You can start a compost pile in your yard if you have one, which will allow worms and microorganisms to get to work aerating your pile.
You'll need to keep the pile moist (think damp dish rag) and turn it every few weeks or look into a no-turn compost situation. The Sierra Club says compost forms best with a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 30:1. So you may need to up the carbon materials (which are usually brown, and include dry leaves, cardboard and peanut shells). Nitrogen waste is usually green and includes fresh leaves, lettuce and grass.
No yard? No problem. You can buy a bin or tumbler, which will also keep out insects and critters that are attracted to the compost. Need more tips? Get the dirt on composting (sorry) from the Sierra Club.
In some areas, curbside composting is taking hold. New York has a pilot organic waste program so that coffee grounds, yard waste and other household scraps can go into a trash-can like bin for pickup.
OK, this idea is a little far-out, but it's clever and highlights the importance of kicking plastic water bottles to the curb. Student designers from Spain have created a blobby alternative, where the medium is the membrane.
The blob design, called “Ooho,” encapsulates water in a double gelatinous membrane made from brown algae and calcium chloride. Spanish design students Rodrigo García González, Guillaume Couche and Pierre Paslier say their water bottle alternative is simple, cheap, durable, hygienic, biodegradable and even edible.
You can tell junk mailers to take a hike using a tool from -- and this is where the surprise comes in -- the Direct Marketing Association's website.
You can opt out of credit offers for five years online at www.optoutprescreen.com or by calling 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688). If you want to opt out permanently, you can start the process at the same website, which will get you a form that must be signed and mailed in. Here's more information from the The Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
To stop catalogs from places you've ordered from, you're, sadly, probably going to have to call them directly and request that they remove you from their mailing list.
Ruaridh Stewart/ZUMA Press/Corbis
In addition to grocery bags, you can find reusable containers for pretty much everything you buy and bring home. Some people use cloth bags to buy bread. Others carry cloth napkins to blow noses, for restaurants and to take a pass on paper towels in public bathrooms.
Bea Johnson, who writes the Zero Waste Home blog, has set up an online store of reusable kitchen and home products, including jars for bulk cereal (and meat and fish), olives and honey, plus re-usable glass bottles for filling up at a local winery.
You can still find milk in a (returnable) bottle at Whole Foods, among other larger markets, if you can't get them from a local dairy.
Now here's a place that understands buying in bulk and re-using things: the farmer's market. Throw a baguette in a bag and feel good about reducing your carbon footprint by buying locally. Plus, they'll probably let you return your egg and berry cartons -- look for sellers that reuse their produce containers.