Reduce Your Packaging Waste with these 6 Tips

It’s hard to avoid packaging waste entirely, but here are some tips that can help cut back on the packaging that ends up in your garbage or recycling.

  1. Bring reusable bags with you to the store. This may be hard to remember, so here’s a pro tip: Stash a couple by your door so you always see them when you’re leaving the house, and leave some in your car so you never end up at the store without them.
  2. Making a grocery run? Bring reusable produce bags and use jars or other reusable containers to fill up on bulk foods.
  3. Pick items that come in as little packaging as possible. For instance, if you’re choosing between a product that comes wrapped in plastic and cardboard vs. a product that comes wrapped only in cardboard, choose the item packaged in cardboard only. Or, if you’re choosing between an item that comes loose vs. packaged, such as produce that you can pick one-by-one or buy in a bag, choose loose so you don’t bring any packaging home with you.
  4. Choose glass, metal, and paper packaging over plastic packaging. Cans, paper, and cardboard are more recyclable than plastic.
  5. Need to buy something that comes in plastic? Choose a plastic type you know you can recycle. Check our Recycling Guide to find out which plastic items we recycle through IWMA.
  6. Buying online? Make sure you’re disposing of boxes, bubble wrap, padded envelopes, and plastic mailers correctly.

Reinventing Leftovers Reduces Food Waste

Cooking multiple meals a day, seven days a week can leave a person tired and out of ideas for a tasty homemade meal. One fun way to reignite your enthusiasm is to challenge yourself to create a new dish with what you’ve got on hand without heading to the store for groceries. Cooking with leftovers not only reduces the cost of trips to the grocery store, but just as importantly, helps to eliminate food waste. Here are three ideas for reinventing with leftovers:

  • The one-pan stir fry.

A great way to repurpose leftover vegetables is to stir fry them with whatever protein or grain you’ve got on hand. A stir fry is quick and easy to make because it requires simply one pan, a mix of ingredients, and whatever flavoring you like. Try an Asian stir fry with leftover vegetables, meat, ginger, and soy sauce, or an Indian-style approach with leftover vegetables, rice, and potatoes seasoned with curry powder. Let the ingredients you’ve got on hand guide you and don’t be afraid to try a fun substitution.

  • The repurposed breakfast.

Breakfast is the perfect time to throw leftover veggies and meat from last night’s dinner into an omelet or fried with some potatoes. Go for a veggie omelet including leftover spinach, tomatoes, and mushrooms, or a classic ham and swiss using leftover meat and cheese. Leftover potatoes, roasted peppers, sauteed onions topped with a little cheese also makes for a satisfying dish to start your day. 

  • Get creative.

Depending on the selection of leftovers available in your fridge, the possibilities are endless. There are even websites, such as BigOven, where you can enter the leftovers or ingredients you already have, and it will recommend a new recipe for you to try. Add new seasonings, toppings, or sides, and watch your leftovers become a new, delicious meal.

A Consumption-Free Holiday May Be the Greatest Gift

Holidays are often associated with consumption – of food, drinks, and retail. And when December rolls around, we are often expected to give gifts to those we love and appreciate.

But, instead of the usual holiday mall or online shopping, what if we could give more meaningful gifts, reduce our environmental impact, and as a positive side effect, receive mental health benefits as well?

The Benefits of DIY Gifts

It feels special to receive a homemade gift, but did you know that there are also many benefits to making gifts?

Instead of engaging in stressful holiday shopping, enjoy a calming experience by crafting and making your own gifts. Studies have shown that crafting and creative activities can decrease stress, anxiety, mental distress, and even improve well-being and quality of life. It can be a meditative activity that provides a chance to slow down and get back to the non-material, heartwarming side of the holidays.

With a DIY gift, you are able to better personalize it to the other person and their interests, or tailor it to your own skills and strengths, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. You can gift a homemade treat, candle, or many more ideas here. It can even be as simple as a thoughtful, handwritten letter letting a friend know what you appreciate about them or thanking them for their presence in your life. 

DIY gifts offer a personal touch. It may take a bit of time and effort, but what better way to show somebody you care than making something with your very own hands?

And even if you’re not able to make a gift this year, instead of going out to buy one, how about planning an experience instead? While experiences may involve spending some money (such as concert tickets, spa day passes, or national park entry passes) it’s more of the thought, planning, and time set aside that counts  — especially if it’s an experience you can do together. Even a low-cost picnic in the park or a food/drink tour of their favorite treats will be appreciated and provide a memory that can be cherished for years to come. 

In addition to reducing our consumption, we can find ways to truly enjoy the holidays and spread good cheer!

10 Ways to Improve Your Recycling

There is a common misconception that everything that gets put in the recycling bin ends up getting recycled. However, this is not the case! Just because an item gets placed in a recycling bin does not mean that it is allowed (and will be actually recycled!) in IWMAs recycling program. Follow these tips to improve your recycling:

  1. Visit the IWMA Recycling Guide to get a full list of what you can and cannot place in the recycling bin.
  2. Empty plastic food containers of all food and give them a quick rinse to remove any residue before recycling. Wet or soiled paper cannot be placed in the recycling bin. 
  3. Empty liquid contents from all bottles and jugs.
  4. Break down cardboard boxes so that they lie flat in the bin.
  5. Shred confidential documents selectively as shredded paper cannot usually be recycled. It’s not always necessary to shred a document entirely. You really only need to shred the parts that contain private information. Bag them before tossing so that the scraps don’t end up as litter!
  6. Take batteries, paint, pesticide and other chemicals to the local household hazardous waste (HHW) facility – it’s free! Batteries can be returned to the retailer where they were perched in SLO County.
  7. Pay attention to product packaging! Aim for items packaged in one material type, as items made of more than one material, like soy milk containers that contain foil, paper and plastic, usually cannot be recycled.
  8. Remember that reuse comes before recycling – by reducing your use of single-use containers and bags and opting for reusable containers and bags, you can avoid having to recycle altogether.
  9. Is your item still usable? Avoid adding to the landfill or recycling stream by donating usable items at a local thrift store or posting items online.
  10. When in doubt, throw it out! Don’t “wishcycle,” as this can potentially end up contaminating your entire recycling bin.

Eco-Documentaries That Will Put You in a Good Mood

Looking for a new feel-good film? Check out an uplifting and heartwarming eco-documentary — here’s what new:

Kiss the Ground

This full-length documentary narrated by Woody Harrelson features a star-studded cast to showcase the benefits of regenerative agriculture and its potential to heal and preserve our planet. It argues that soil and its ability to store carbon is the missing piece of the climate change puzzle. Watch it on Netflix or see the preview here.

My Octopus Teacher

South African filmmaker Craig Foster meets an octopus while freediving in a kelp forest off the coast of Cape Town. Intrigued, he returns to observe her and documents her life — gaining insight into her behavior, life cycle and the ecosystem of the kelp forest in the process — and over time, they form an unusual bond. Watch it on Netflix or see the preview here.

The Year Earth Changed

Narrated by David Attenborough, this one-hour special showcases how the pandemic-induced global lockdown in 2020 gave people the chance to relate to the natural world in new ways, and how even small changes in human behavior can have big impacts on the health of our environment. Watch it on Apple TV+ or see the preview here.

Go Green This Halloween

There is nothing spookier than overflowing trash cans and landfills full of unnecessary waste. That’s why this Halloween, IWMA encourages you to consider going green with these five tips:

  1. Get Thrifty – Halloween costumes create a lot of waste every year and are often only worn once. Instead of buying a new costume and props, shop around and get creative at thrift stores and online marketplaces like Craigslist or OfferUp.
  2. Creative Decorations – It can seem tempting to buy cheap, single-use decorations every year, but investing in permanent spooktacular decorations will save you time and money in the future. Earth 911 suggests choosing items that are made from sturdy materials like wood or cloth instead of plastic or Styrofoam that are more likely to get damaged in storage. You may even be able to find seasonal decor secondhand on Craigslist or OfferUp. Take items that might be destined for the trash or recycling and use them to make fun props for a haunted house, a front yard cemetery scene or ghosts and scarecrows.
  3. Reduce Food Waste – Hand out candy rather than leaving out a basket or bowl of candy. In addition to making sure trick-or-treaters aren’t left empty-handed, this can combat ambitious trick-or-treaters from grabbing a massive handful of candy that may end up uneaten and thrown away!
  4. Use Reusable Supplies – If you are hosting a Halloween party this year, avoid buying single-use items like cups and plates and opt instead for reusable utensils, cups and plates.
  5. Pumpkin Carving – Painted pumpkins might look great, but they are not compostable once covered in inorganic material like paint, glue, glitter or wrapping. Carved pumpkins, however, can still be composted in your compost bin or backyard and are a timeless spooky option.

However you choose to celebrate this year, please stay safe and have a great time!

Transform Your Pumpkin (Waste), No Fairy Godmother Required!

With the fall season comes pumpkin flavored snacks and decor. But did you know that pumpkins can be used as more than just seasonal decor?

Instead of composting your pumpkin, first see if you can find it another use. While Jack-o’-lanterns or pumpkins that have been carved and sitting out may not be able to be consumed, check out the following pumpkin-repurposing ideas, edible and otherwise:

Power Up Some Pumpkin Purée

Did you know pumpkins are high in fiber and beta carotene, providing an array of health benefits? There are many different varieties of pumpkins, and those used for decorative purposes are in fact edible and ready to be used in recipes!

Use the pulp of your pumpkin to whip up a purée that will keep fall festivities going as the base of pumpkin bread, lattes, soups, and more!

Stock Up on Soup

Take the insides of your pumpkin and make your own pumpkin stock for a soup. Add in other vegetable scraps for more flavor, and know that there’s no need to buy vegetable stock when you have a pumpkin handy!

Seed Galore

Pumpkin seeds can be a valuable source of potassium and protein. Go ahead and scoop out those pumpkin seeds and roast them for a delectable and nutritious treat.

Pumpkin Spa Day

Is your skin in need of a refresher? Your pumpkin is here to the rescue! Use the insides of your pumpkin for a face mask rich in vitamins and antioxidants.

Pumpkin Planter

Give a seedling a home by taking a hollowed-out pumpkin and filling it with soil. As the pumpkin decomposes, it will provide the seedling with nutrients.

These are just some of the spookily creative possibilities available with pumpkins— we dare you to go ahead and find some more!

Transform Your Trash into Treasure

Throughout the country, groups are getting creative with trash. Hosting fun events such as upcycled trash fashion shows or art exhibits teaches the community that what once was waste can become a treasured item once again. But what can we do personally to help reduce trash in a creative way? Here are some ways you can embody the phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” inside your home.

DIY Bulletin Board

Wine bottle corks attached together can make a fun and creative bulletin board that’s also a personal keepsake. Cherish the memories spent with friends “earning” your corks, while enjoying your collection as a new functional household item. Pastel and Macarons has a helpful tutorial with instructions.

Recycled Jewelry

A bit of jewelry wire and two hooks can turn small keepsakes into wearable gifts for those you love. You can make earrings out of everyday items like bottle caps, recycled beads from broken jewelry, soda can tabs, sea shells, and so much more. For more ideas, check out these 14 tutorials for recycled jewelry ideas.

Framed Keepsakes

A frame is a great way to display an item of sentimental value. Find a used frame at a thrift store or give an old frame a new life by sanding it down to wood or repainting. You can frame items such as drawings or paintings by family members, old t-shirts,quilt scraps, or even pressed flowers, to name a few ideas. Check out these tutorials for over 40 projects using your old picture frames!

Graphic Cutting Board

Have a cutting board that needs to be replaced? Transform it into a beautiful kitchen display through this creative idea. Instead of throwing out an old board, you can use waxed paper or transfer sheets to press an image onto your board. You can use newspaper, a page from an old book, a handwritten family recipe, or a line drawing.

Eco Tips for Coffee Drinkers

Whether you’re a casual drinker, coffee connoisseur, or something in between, here are a couple of tips for keeping your cup of coffee as waste-free as possible.

Coffee Capsules

Did you know coffee capsule packaging creates around 1 billion pounds of waste each year? Switch to a reusable capsule, or ditch this method entirely.

Drip Coffee or Pour Over

Switch to a reusable filter. Or use unbleached paper filters, which can be composted after use.

Cold Brew

The classic cold brew system can be upgraded to fully reusable materials by using an oversized glass jar and an endlessly reusable cotton cold brew bag.

And no matter which brew method you choose, don’t forget to compost your leftover coffee grounds!

Going out for coffee?

Follow these tips:

  • Ditch paper and plastic in favor of your own reusable cup.
  • Skip the straw — you don’t need it.

A Closer Look at Your Clothing: The Sustainability of Synthetic vs. Natural Fibers

The clothes we wear help us express ourselves to the world. But have you ever taken a closer look at what your clothes are actually made of?

Synthetic Fibers

Synthetic fibers have become popular in clothes from everyday wear like casual t-shirts, stretchy jeans, and leggings, to quick-drying and technical sportswear.

The majority of synthetic fibers are made of petroleum, and often undergo refinement processes requiring significant energy, water, and chemicals. Even recycled synthetic fibers like those made from rPET can be problematic, as with every wash, they release harmful microplastics that pollute our waterways.

Unlike natural fibers, synthetic fibers can take hundreds of years to decompose— and considering around 17 million tons of textiles end up in U.S. landfills per year, that’s a problem.

Common synthetic fabrics include:

  • polyester
  • nylon
  • elastane (spandex)
  • acrylic

Natural Fibers

Natural fibers are made from plants and animals, and although more environmentally friendly than synthetic fibers in various ways, they can still carry drawbacks. Clothing made from natural fibers like cotton can use a lot of water to produce, be subject to toxic dye treatments that pollute waterways, and be grown with the use of harmful pesticides. Because synthetic fibers have become so cheap to produce, clothes made of natural fibers are generally more expensive than synthetic fibers. However, clothing made of natural fibers does decompose— and can even be composted, as long as it does not contain toxic dyes or is not blended with synthetic fibers.

Common natural fibers include:

  • cotton
  • linen
  • wool
  • hemp

Whether you’re choosing synthetic or natural fibers, seek clothing that is free from toxic dyes or chemicals, and try to consider its quality, how long you will be able to care for it, and ultimately, what will happen to it after its use.