Believe it or not, reducing the amount of trash you produce doesn't just positively impact the state of our landfills—it can also give your pocketbook a boost. Sure, it takes time to mend items that you can no longer use or to find new ways to repurpose them elsewhere in your home, but the end result is worth it. Recycling is one of the easiest ways to offset the amount of trash you produce and how much you throw out every day. If you simply can't reuse an item—be it old clothing or tarnished kitchenware—consider these six simple alternatives to sending them off to the landfill.
Mend Your Clothing
In 1929, the average middle-class man owned six work outfits; the average woman, nine—all built to last. The typical American today buys six items of clothing per month. And we dump an awful lot, too: 84 percent of unwanted attire ended up in landfills or in an incinerator in 2012, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data. To streamline what you own (and, ultimately, what you trash), invest in fewer, higher-quality pieces, and when they wear thin, repair them. The Japanese tradition of sashiko is a form of mending that announces itself with artful designs in white thread. The sewing technique leaves shirt plackets and pant knees thicker and more durable. If you don't want to DIY it, shop at retailers that make mending part of their ethos. Nudie Jeans, for instance, offers free repairs on every pair of its jeans for life. Patagonia does the same for all of its gear, in addition to providing repair instructions, selling used and recycled clothing, and even more through its Worn Wear program.
Drop Off Plastic Bags
Did you know that retailers will actually take back the plastic bags you used to bring your purchases home? The ones that hold groceries, produce, and dry cleaning are all made of high- or low-density polyethylene, which most municipal recyclers can't accept. But many major retailers, including Target and Walmart, offer drop-off bins. Visit how2recycle.info to find participating stores.
Start Using Refillable Containers
Back in the day, the milkman picked up empty bottles. We may soon be able to return ice cream and other containers in the same fashion, thanks to programs underway at Nestlé, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, and several other companies. Together with Terra-Cycle, they're testing a website called Loop, where you can buy food and toiletries in glass, metal, and reusable engineered-plastic vessels and mail them back for more. Nespresso already has a program like this underway: Shoppers can return its pods in prepaid envelopes, where the aluminum gets recycled, and the grounds get composted.
In the meantime, try repurposing glass bottles and jars you have, filling them with food you make or buy in bulk, like grains and beans.
Turn Denim Into Insulation
Take any stretched, faded, or outdated jeans to J.Crew, Madewell, or a Rag & Bone store. You'll get a discount on a new pair, and the discarded items will get transformed into home insulation as part of these companies' partnerships with Cotton Incorporated's Blue Jeans Go Green initiative.
Recycle Your Makeup Jars
L'Oréal, Garnier, Burt's Bees, L'Occitane, and more beauty brands are working with the eco-ninjas at TerraCycle to upcycle as much as possible, including tricky mascara tubes. Go to terracycle.com to find a collection point near you (like local drugstores) and drop off your empty packaging. TerraCycle will take it from there.
Got food scraps? Congratulations: Even in the city, you qualify to transform them into a fertilizer that can help feed the planet. Place fruit and vegetable peels, eggshells, tea leaves, paper tea bags, coffee grounds, and paper filters into an airtight countertop bin to put a lid on the smell—or keep it in a covered bowl in the freezer. Then, take your weekly bag to a municipal site or farmer's market stand, or start a pile in your backyard. Here's how you can get started.