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Reduce Waste at home

Households in Minnesota are creating and throwing away more waste than ever. From junk mail to excess paint to food scraps, this garbage takes time and money to deal with. Fortunately, there's a lot you can do to reduce your waste at home. Besides, nobody likes taking out the trash...

Reduce excess paper at home

A good portion of what you throw in the garbage each day is paper. Much of the paper generated in our homes comes in the mail. The average American household receives more than 500 pieces of advertising mail each year.

Mail Preference Service
PO Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512-0643

A trash heap?

Example: Take action to reduce the amount of unwanted mail you receive.

  • If you want to get off most national marketing lists, you can register with the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service.
  • If you just want to stop certain catalogs, you can contact individual mailers and ask them to remove your name from their mailing lists; call them or send your request by mail or e-mail.
  • There's also a toll-free number to stop mailings of credit card offers. One call to 1-888-5-OPT-OUT will reach the major national credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. Have your Social Security number ready — they will ask you for it to confirm your identity.

Benefits: Recycling junk mail is okay, but reducing the flow of junk mail will conserve natural resources, save landfill space, and save you time and money.

  • Find out more about reducing unwanted mail here on

Reduce packaging waste

PackagingPackaging makes up 30 percent of municipal solid waste. You can reduce the amount of packaging you throw in the garbage by purchasing items that have less packaging.

Examples: Reduce the amount of packaging by purchasing concentrates and diluting them with water in reusable containers. Avoid single-serving products in favor of larger servings or buying in bulk. Take your own reusable cloth bag so you don't need "paper or plastic."

Benefits: Over-packaged products often cost more than less-packaged products. This means that you can save money when buying products with less packaging.

Chopsticks: Get a grip!
source: Washington Post

In the news: Getting a grip on chopstick waste

Mealtime wastes aren't just an American concern — throwaways are an everyday part of dining around the world. For example, in China, chopsticks are ordinary eating utensils, easy-to-use and convenient, but they also use valuable forest resources and add to the waste problem.

But environmentally minded Chinese are working to reduce this single-use mentality. Schoolchildren have written letters to the country's leaders to ask that throwaways be banned. In colleges, students have worked to get campus cafeterias to buy reusable spoons. And 100 restaurants in Beijing have promised to "green up their act" by washing and reusing chopsticks.

Eliminate mercury from your home

Mercury evaporates easily and travels great distances through the atmosphere. It is a nerve toxin which ends up in our lakes and rivers, where it accumulates in fish and other creatures. Humans may be at risk if they regularly eat mercury-contaminated fish. Mercury is especially dangerous when ingested by children, pregnant women, and women planning to have children in the future.

The best way to keep mercury out of the home and the environment is to avoid mercury-containing products in the first place. If you have such products, when it comes time to throw them away, be responsible: Make sure they are taken to a household hazardous waste facility for recycling.

Mercury switch
Your old houshold appliance may have mercury hidden inside. This "tilt switch" from an older household thermostat requires special disposal — keep mercury out of the trash!

Example: Mercury is found in many common household items such as fever and cooking thermometers, tilt switches in many thermostats, steam irons with 15-minute automatic shut-off, neon lamps, older batteries, fluorescent lamps, switches that stop washing machines when the top is open, "silent" wall switches, mercury vapor, high pressure sodium and metal halide lamps.

When buying these types of products, look for non-mercury alternatives, like digital fever thermometers and alcohol-based cooking thermometers. Replacing your home thermostat? Consider a digital or electronic one that contains no mercury.

Benefits: It is against the law to throw mercury-containing products away in the garbage. Proper management of mercury-containing products means keeping the mercury intact and bringing it to your local household hazardous waste site. Efforts like these to remove mercury from our garbage has meant lower mercury emission levels from waste disposal.

Prevent food waste and compost organicsCompost fruit scraps

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 27 percent of the nation's total food supply — 97 billion pounds — went to waste in 1995. Food is wasted in many ways, such as preparing too much, letting fresh food go bad and buying too much.

Examples: Planning meals and creating a list of what you need before you go to the grocery store will help you buy exactly what you need. Composting leftover fruit and vegetable food waste with your yard waste helps create high-nutrient compost. Donate excess canned goods to a food shelf.

Benefits: Making better use of the food you buy will save you money and reduce how much food you throw away. Composting the remaining food waste will provide you with a great additive for your garden.

Use the least hazardous cleaning products

Signal words are importantIn a state the size of Minnesota — about 4.4 million people — approximately 572 tons of liquid cleaners and 132 tons of toilet bowl cleaners are washed down the drain each month.

Read the labelRead the labels of cleaners and look for the signal wordscaution, warning, danger, poison — which indicate the level of hazard. Use the least hazardous product to do the job. ("Caution" is least hazardous and "danger" is most hazardous. Extremely toxic products must also include the word "poison.")

Read the instructions on how to use cleaning products and be sure to use the correct amount. Remember, you won't get twice the results by using twice as much.

Example: Reading labels gives you information on how to use a cleaning product correctly and how dangerous a product might be. You could also consider using a substitute for cleaning projects around the house. For example, vinegar and water work well to wash windows and floors. Another idea is to share any excess products with someone else who can use them, such as your neighbor or friend. Instead of buying many different types of cleaners, use one general-purpose cleaner.

Benefits: With so many choices of products to clean your house, it can be difficult to choose the best one for your household. Buying cleaning products with the least dangerous signal word and using substitutes will reduce the amount of hazardous chemicals in your home.

Make a non-toxic home cleaning kit

Reach for this non-toxic tool kit made from simple materials as your first line of defense against everyday household dirt.

lemon juice, vegetable oil, baking soda, white vinegarHere is a list of materials that you probably have in your home. Label the containers and put them together in a single bucket, basket, or dishpan so they are readily available—make it convenient and reinforce good habits.

  • Baking soda for cleaning sinks, tubs, and toilets, and for freshening drains.
  • Vinegar in a pump spray bottle for mirrors and shining chrome. For cleaning windows, use vinegar or soap and water, and dry with rags or a squeegee.
  • Plant-based detergents for cleaning countertops in the kitchen, bathroom or office, tile, fixtures, appliances and walls. Look for those that disclose all of their ingredients.
  • Rags and non-scratch sponges for all-purpose cleaning. You don't need throwaway towels made from bleached paper.
  • Vegetable oil with lemon juice makes a good furniture polish.
  • Borax is a simple laundry detergent that can be used along with "washing soda" to clean clothes.

Remember to label

For safety, it is important to label any container you reuse that does not have its original contents. Make sure that everyone can tell what's inside, even if the substance is non-toxic. Use a permanent marker or label that won't wash off, and describe the mixture in your spray bottles.

Buy the right amount of paint for the job

Measure before you buy paintIn 1998, almost 4 million pounds of excess paint were collected at Minnesota's household hazardous waste sites. A large volume of this paint was still usable. If stored correctly, paint stays in good condition for a long time. If it mixes smoothly, it can still be used.

The math is easy!
height x width = area
one gallon covers an area
of about 400 square feet

Example: Before you begin a painting project, measure the area first. Calculate the area to be painted (height x width = total square feet). One gallon covers about 400 square feet.

To prevent paint from drying out, cover the paint can (use its original container) with plastic wrap, replace the lid securely and store upside down. Protect your paint from freezing. Use leftover paint for touch-up jobs, smaller projects or as a primer.

Benefits: Using low-VOC or water-based paints, stains, finishes and paint strippers will help keep hazardous chemicals out of your home. Prevent waste through wise purchasing; calculate the right amount of paint for the job. Use leftover paint up instead of throwing it away.

Reduce the need for pesticides in your home

If you're looking for a way to decrease your use of chemicals in your home, takeBroom a look at how you handle unwanted pests. The best method to control pests inside the home is to clean up crumbs and spills quickly. Instead of reaching for a can of toxic spray, grab a broom!

Example: Good housekeeping and proper maintenance of your home can help prevent pests from entering your home.

  • Eat only where you can clean up spills easily and completely.
  • Store food in tightly sealed containers.
  • Eliminate moisture problems and leaks.
  • Keep vegetation and debris away from the foundation.
  • Caulk cracks and weatherstrip windows and doors to eliminate easy paths of entry.
  • Need to get rid of bugs that are already in the house? Less-toxic alternatives are available for most types of pests.

Benefits: Pesticides are designed to kill weeds, insects, rodents, mold and moths. Even disinfectants are a type of pesticide. These chemicals can be poisonous and a danger to pets, livestock, wildlife and even humans. Eliminating the need for pesticides is the best way to keep pests—and chemicals—out of your home.

Find new life for old furnishings, appliances and clothes

Instead of discarding your unwanted furniture, appliances, tools or clothes, try selling or donating them to groups and organizations that accept used goods. When deciding to purchase an item, consider buying used. Those items are less expensive than new ones and are often just as good.Garage Sale

Vintage clothingExample: Donate or resell items to thrift stores or other organizations in need. You could receive a tax deduction or cash for them. Buy and sell secondhand items at fairs, bazaars, swap meets and garage sales. Organize a garage sale in your neighborhood to encourage your neighbors to get involved in reducing waste.

Benefits: You can save money as well as reduce waste by purchasing furniture, appliances and clothes used.

Maintain your vehicle

Your vehicle can be a large source of pollution, both through tailpipe emissions and through maintenance. Proper care of your vehicle includes regular servicing and being responsible for the resulting wastes — especially used oil and oil filters.

Example: Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for maintenance: change your oil regularly, keep the tires inflated correctly, and have your vehicle serviced regularly. Always make sure you properly dispose of your used oil and filters.You're not just protecting the environment — you're protecting your investment.

Find ways to use your car less by walking, biking, riding the bus or car pooling to your destination. Combine your errands to reduce the number of trips you make. Both of these will reduce "wear and tear" on your vehicle, as well as curb air pollution. When purchasing a new or used car, first ask yourself what you need (i.e., vehicle and engine size), and buy according to your needs.

Benefits: Proper maintenance of your car will ensure that it will last longer, save you money and reduce the need to buy a new one. Finding other ways to get to where you need to go lowers emissions given off to the environment. Properly managing waste oil and oil filters keeps these contaminants out of landfills and energy recovery facilities (garbage incinerators) and helps protect our natural resources.

A clean, mean machine?
Since 1991, over 40 million gallons of used oil have been collected for recycling. (American Petroleum Institute)
Each year, through routine changes of engine oil, Americans dump 350 million gallons of used oil into the nation's waterways — the equivalent of 16 Exxon Valdez oil spills. (Green Seal)
Used motor oil and oil filters must not be thrown in the trash, poured onto the ground, or put into the water. Find out where they can be recycled. Look for a list at your local retailer, or contact your county household hazardous waste program.

  • The Fuel Economy Site will tell you which cars offer the best (and the worst) gas mileage, lets you do side-by-side comparisons, and offers many great tips for getting the most out of your fuel dollars. (U.S. EPA and Department of Energy)
  • Tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks account for almost a third of the air pollution in the United States. The online Vehicle Emissions Guide can help you choose the cleanest new vehicle model that meets your needs. (U.S. EPA)
  • Speak up! Visit the and sign an "electronic postcard" telling American automakers that it's important to you to buy a car with low emissions, gets high mileage, and built with clean production technologies. Consumers can find information about what makes a car "green," including listing some of the best and worst models.
  • is the online home for the Green Book: The Environmental Guide to Cars and Trucks. They offer a free preview of the year's greenest and meanest vehicles, as well as news and information on vehicle trends. They want you to make your next vehicle better for the environment.

Use a funnelTimely tip: Use a funnel to prevent spills

Engine coolant, motor oil and windshield washer fluid are critical to your automobile's perfomance, but are difficult to pour. Even small spills onto your driveway or the street can be bad for the environment. These spills wash into the storm sewers, which typically dump directly into lakes, streams or rivers. Keep spills to a minimum by using a funnel for pouring fluids into your car.

You can make an easy funnel by using the top of a plastic soda bottle. Just cut the bottom off and pour into the open end. Let the funnel and containers drain until they're completely empty. Don't get different fluids mixed together.

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