Domestic waste policy: The best way to reduce your waste

The best way to reduce your domestic waste is to rearrange your kitchen a little bit – it’s that easy! Here’s what to do: Convert your main kitchen bin to a compost bin and then set up a much smaller container or bag for waste destined for landfill. The goal here is to make compostable waste your main waste stream and to set a limit (at least psychological) on the amount of waste that goes to landfill.

You may well have already done this (kudos, if you did) because it’s not a new or unique idea. It sounds trivial but it’s pretty effective – after making the switch a few years ago I found that it really helps me to stick to a low-waste lifestyle.

I put a compostable liner in my kitchen pedal bin and then set up a small bag, tucked behind my recycling, for landfill waste. It actually helps if the landfill waste bag is a bit awkward to get to because it reminds me that throwing something away shouldn’t be a thoughtless act. That mentality got us into this mess in the first place.

Domestic waste policy: The best way to reduce your waste is to set up a large bin for compostable waste and a much smaller bag or bin for landfill waste. The image shows a suggested breakdown of domestic waste as 75% for composting, 20% for recycling, and 5% for landfill
Reasonable goals for your domestic waste streams

My goal is to fill up one landfill waste bag (about the size of a loaf of bread) no more than once per month. Most of it is plastic packaging (snacks, meat substitutes, etc.) that’s fairly small and light, but every now and then I’ll have a larger piece of waste that takes up a good chunk of my monthly limit. That reminds me to rethink whether to support those businesses or activities that generate much larger amounts of waste.

For example, that means no more Amazon deliveries for me (in case you hadn’t guessed from my previous posts) – more on those Amazon bubble envelopes in the next post. Sometimes it’s something unexpected, like opening a box of Trader Joe’s cookies and finding them housed in a polystyrene tray (non-recyclable). When that happens, it’s the last time I buy that product.

I’ve had awkward moments – for example, when I’m out with people and trying to communicate with servers that I don’t want disposable utensils. Saying no to needless waste requires a little bit of effort and sometimes courage to speak out, but it has to be done if change is going to happen. If we all go around thinking we’re too cool or sophisticated to deal with such trivialities, then we are truly doomed as a society.

Domestic waste policy: The best way to reduce your waste. Wooden utensils in a cloth bag from the World Wildlife Fund.
You can get this reusable utensil set from the WWF by donating $25. My set is homemade – I have a set of plastic utensils in a repurposed toothbrush travel case!

Reducing your landfill waste has many benefits

Making sure that the majority of your waste is compostable (or recyclable) is central to several key environmental issues. Here are a few that come to mind:

  1. Plastic pollution; microplastics in particular
  2. CO2 emissions from the production of plastics from fossil fuels
  3. Methane emissions from organic waste sent to landfill instead of compost
  4. Depleting natural resources for short-lived products (i.e., throwaway culture)
  5. High energy demand for processing and packaging food, compared to fresh produce
  6. Our overuse of landfills, responsible for serious air and water pollution

In case you need convincing that these are significant issues, I’m going to feature a recent news special on plastic pollution, waste, and recycling in an upcoming post. Here’s a quote from it, relevant to point 2, above:

If plastics were a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, globally.

California Senate Bill 1383 – composting mandate

2022 brings into effect California Senate Bill 1383, which aims to reduce the amount of organic waste sent to landfill. It applies both to domestic and commercial waste, with an emphasis on the latter. Companies in the food sector are expected to send food waste to compost rather than landfill and also to donate a portion of edible leftovers to food banks or similar organizations.

The legislation also requires businesses such as grocery stores, restaurants and food distributors to donate 20% of food that would have otherwise been thrown away to food recovery organizations by 2025. – Environmental Leader

A shocking 70% of waste sent to landfill in some California counties is actually organic waste (food, paper, etc.) that should have been disposed of in compost or recycling bins. This is bad news for several reasons, but most especially because organic waste sent to landfill generates methane, which is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2.   

Setting up a compost bin as your main waste receptacle serves as a physical reminder that most of your waste should go to compost or recycling, with only a small percentage going to landfill.

How to reduce your waste: set a goal

There are of course many articles online that provide tips on how to reduce waste. Here are some typical items on these lists:

  1. Bring your own mug and avoid disposable coffee cups
  2. Bring your own bags when shopping
  3. Bring your own utensils and even containers for take-out
  4. Shop in the bulk section in stores
  5. Carry your own water bottle
  6. Cancel junk mail
  7. Repair old items instead of replacing them
  8. Freeze food when you have an excess
  9. Refrain from ordering from companies that ship in bubble envelopes (e.g., Amazon)
  10. Purchase mainly fresh food that’s packaging-free.

The lists are helpful but I find that it’s even more helpful to set yourself a waste goal by simply limiting the size of your trash container and putting your compost bin front and center. Seeing which items fill up your little trash bag will guide you on the most effective changes that you can make.

If you do like lists, however, the last point on the above list is the key to a sustainable life. If we are serious about addressing climate change, habitat loss and pollution, the vast majority of our purchases should be fresh fruit and veg. Following that, the majority of our waste will go to the compost bin. Simple!

10 thoughts on “Domestic waste policy: The best way to reduce your waste

  1. Great idea. We’ve inadvertently done this by having a very small landfill bin. Another tip is to remove the bin liner from your landfill bin, that way you’re encouraged not to dispose of organic waste in it. We only put broken items or non-recyclable packaging in it, which we will have washed out before disposal to limit the amount of methane-emitting compounds that end up in the bin.

  2. Great idea, James. I’m still smarting over the fact that our township doesn’t recycle all plastic anymore, only plastic with necks, so if I can make up for it on other ways, that works. My little compost bin does get a work out!

Leave a Reply