A room-by-room guide to home sustainability
From the kitchen to the closet to the garden, reduce your waste footprint with these local tips and resources.
Philadelphians are becoming obsessed (in a good way!) with reducing their trash footprint. Since we’re living in a climate emergency, anything we can do to slow the Earth’s warming is a good thing – and keeping trash out of landfills is a great way to combat it. Let this part-by-part durability guide help you stop throwing everything away.
The USDA says a typical American household wastes 30-40% of all the food they buy. The average grocery store is no better. But you’re not doomed to be that wasteful.
Shop the produce and bulk aisles
This allows you to save money and control the amount of packaging you use. “As much as you can, buy vegetables and fruits in bulk and meat wrapped in paper,” says Nic Esposito, co-founder of Circular Philadelphia, which promotes waste reduction in the region. Make a habit of bringing those reusable bags and heading to co-ops and farmers markets, which sell produce with minimal packaging.
Make a creepy list
Only buy what you are sure to use. (No more throwing away rotten strawberries!) Make a shopping list, stick to your meal plans, and learn how to store foods that are nearing their expiration date. Freezing is usually the easiest, but there’s pickling and canning for the ambitious – look to local city farms like Greensgrow for courses in food preservation.
Subscribe for your staples
What if you could have the things you use on the reg – paper towels, quinoa, cat food – delivered to your doorstep with little or no packaging, as often as you like? That’s what Wharton-born start-up The Rounds does for you.
Opt for reusable take-out containers
The ones that the popular Indian restaurant Tiffin offers in all of its locations can be used up to 1,000 times each. Simply specify when ordering online that you want the reusable options, and bring them back to the restaurant or to a delivery driver. Local co-ops are also stingy with packaging – Weavers Way is committed to reducing plastic use and has worked with environmental consultancy ECHO Systems to create reusable containers for its prepared foods.
Working from home means you’re probably using fewer office supplies than in a corporate environment, with all those free printers and paper. Want to reduce even more?
Get a separate recycling bin
Don’t risk messing up all that nice white printer paper with a half-eaten hoagie tossed mindlessly into your only wastebasket. Note: Shredded paper should never go into your single-stream recycling; it falls through cracks in machinery and is never used again. If you compost regularly at home, you can put your shredded paper on your food scraps. Too busy working to think about anything else? Local startup Rabbit Recycling offers recycling containers ($7 for small, $16 for large) for all sorts of things municipal recycling won’t take – batteries, ink cartridges, polystyrene, electronics, food packaging … the list is long.
Don’t give it up; fix it
Or at least try! The volunteer-run Philly Fixers Guild teaches Philadelphians to fix broken technology at free “Repair Fair” events. They were on hold for the pandemic but are returning this spring. You can also download the YING app and join the Circular Philadelphia skill sharing group to request a service or volunteer.
Manage your mailbox
Wouldn’t it be nice to get nothing but birthday cards and Philly Mags in your mail? To remove all those useless credit card and insurance offers, go to optoutprescreen.com. For fewer marketing mailings, sign up at DMAchoice.org and choose which mail you want or don’t want. To opt out of flyers left on your property, request a flyer-free property decal from L&I on Phila.gov.
Buy a second hand
“Second-hand doesn’t mean second-rate,” says Nic Esposito. Boomerang, which acquires furniture from business liquidations, is great for used desks, chairs, whiteboards and other office supplies at 90% below retail price. You can also join a “No Waste” or “Buy Nothing” group on Facebook or browse Marketplace for free or cheap second-hand items.
Recycle e-waste the right way
Perplexed by your shelf full of old cell phones and obsolete computers? Schedule ethical home pickup of unwanted electronics (and clothing, too) from companies like Retrievr. Or ask electronics stores if they accept computers for recycling. Drop off batteries, light bulbs and other electronic waste in the six convenience stores managed by the Service des Rues. Still confused? The city’s handy Recycling Donation Finder guide is invaluable.
There are many things you can do, even with a small Philadelphia yard, to reduce waste, much of which is related to composting. So compost!
Invest in the process
The natural process of recycling organic waste into fertilizer is leveraged by local services like Bennett Compost and Circle Compost; both will pick up a bucket of your food scraps every week or two (and give you bags of the finished product come planting season). Bennett estimates that his weekly gleanings from nearly 4,000 local households and businesses keep more than 70 tons of material from going to landfill – every month.
ride your own
To make compost yourself, buy (or make!) a trash can or tumbler, fill it with yard scraps and kitchen scraps (like banana peels and coffee grounds), add some water and stir occasionally.
Get free materials
If you live in Philadelphia, you can get up to 30 gallons of free organics (like mulch and wood chips) for your garden or yard at the Fairmount Park Organic Recycling Center. All you need is proof of residency, a shovel to choose from the self-service stacks, and some extra tools if you’re up for chopping logs.
Clean it up! Millions of tons of textile waste end up in US landfills every year. According to moving company Movinga, Americans only use about 20% of what’s in our closets.
Invest in durable and long-lasting clothing
The shelf life of fast fashion items like those from Shein or Forever 21 is short and there is a lot of packaging waste from online retailers. “We have to stop buying clothes that will fall apart in six months,” says Nic Esposito. Instead, rent from services like Rent the Runway; socialize with friends; invest in durable pieces that last – local zero-waste brands like Grant Blvd and Lobo Mau are solid options; or make your own. Or buy vintage!
Give only what will be used
Some thrift stores send unsold items to the landfill, so donate only items that are in good condition. Business attire donated to Dress for Success goes directly to women who need interview-friendly ensembles. Consider online second-hand sites like Poshmark. For sewing scraps, turn to textile recycling companies like Fabscrap, a nonprofit that collects scraps at its Bok Building site for $1.50 a pound.
Donate used blankets to animal shelters
Shelters and pet stores always need blankets, sheets, and towels to keep critters warm and clean.
Recycling tattered textiles
Got items that are too worn to donate, like sheets or towels? Wax creative and use them inside your home. Turning them into rags for cleaning is an easy way to reduce paper towel waste.
Rethink disposable diapers
Get it: the average newborn uses eight to 12 diapers a day. It’s worth considering single-use cloth or bamboo diapers (like Andy Pandy), which are more biodegradable than traditional disposables. Cloth diapers can also be harmful to the environment, so wash full loads in cold water and air dry. Nesting House in Mount Airy offers free cloth diaper 101 classes for curious parents.
Posted like “Reduce. Reuse. Revolt!” in the April issue of philadelphia cream magazine.