Reducing your waste is as simple as thinking twice before you accept and buy stuff. By shopping smart and by making simple lifestyle changes you can make a big impact on the amount of waste you make every day. Our advice to you is to buy only what you need; when you do buy, think quality over quantity and don’t be tempted by the latest upgrades and the special offers, like BOGOs, 10 for $10, and free gifts.

Smart Shopping Tips

Before you buy groceries:

  • Check your cupboards, pantry and fridge before heading to the store, and avoid buying things you don’t need out of habit.
  • Create meal plans, so you buy just the ingredients you need.
  • Think about how many people you are feeding.
  • Consider how many days you want to eat leftovers.
  • Try to avoid doing the grocery shopping when you are hungry.
  • Read and understand expiration dates – ‘Sell-By’, ‘Best By’ and ‘Use-By’ dates all have different meanings; the important safety label is the ‘Use By’ date.

Before you buy clothes:

  • Think about what’s in your closet.
  • What outfits can you pair together with this new item you are thinking of buying?
  • Do you already have something similar at home?
  • If you wear specific items for work or school, think how many days you will wear them before you can do laundry.

Before you buy equipment:

  • Get advice from people who have bought similar items.
  • Read reviews.
  • Research the product/brand online.
  • Choose durable products designed to last longer.
  • Choose products designed to be energy efficient.
  • Avoid the temptation to upgrade items with the newer model just to get the latest gadget.

Before you buy supplies:

  • Choose reusable products over disposable, single-use items.
  • Choose products made from recycled content, such as paper products.
  • Buy refill items that contain less packaging, such as cleaning and personal care products.

Simple Lifestyle Changes

Use reusable bags

  • Carry a fold-up reusable bag inside your purse and take it out whenever you’re offered a plastic bag.
  • Keep reusable bags in the trunk of your car and grab them before you walk into the supermarket.

Bring your own lunch

  • When you order a takeout lunch every day, you create a trail of plastic utensils, paper cups and foam containers. Cut back on food packaging waste by bringing your own lunch in a reusable lunch box.

Use a reusable coffee cup

  • Keep your beverages hot longer in a reusable coffee cup.
  • Many coffee shops offer a discount for bringing your own mug.
  • You won’t burn your hand on that freshly poured coffee.

Save your coffee sleeve

  • If you buy a cup of coffee every morning, save your coffee sleeve, keep it in your purse and use it again the next day, you could save 365 coffee sleeves in a year.

Use reusable coffee filters

  • If you make your own coffee at home, ditch those paper coffee filters and replace them with a reusable mesh filter.

Use reusable water bottles

  • Use a refillable water bottle and refill it with water from a cooler, fountain or your fridge instead of purchasing bottled water.

Use reusable to-go containers

  • Restaurant portions are often larger than what we can eat.
  • Single-use to-go containers can stink up your car.
  • Clamshell food trays can leak if you tip them up.
  • If you eat out a lot, try carrying a reusable to-go container.
  • Try collapsible, reusable to-go containers; they take up less space in your purse.

Stop junk mail

  • Direct mail has its place, but no one likes seeing unread catalogs, magazines and coupons go straight into the recycling bin.
  • The Direct Marketing Association can help you get off unwanted mailing lists.
  • To cut down on unwanted mail from USPS, simply put a weatherproof sign on your mailbox that says: “NO ADVERTISEMENTS!”

Go paperless

  • Most banks, credit card, mortgage and utility companies offer a paperless statement option and will send you your statement via email. Visit their websites to learn more.
  • Choose e-receipts. Many stores, restaurants and coffee shops offer e-receipts, emailing you a receipt for your transaction instead of printing it out on paper.
  • Choose e-tickets. Many online ticket vendors will email e-tickets to your smart devices.
  • Download electronic coupons or vouchers to your mobile devices instead of printing.

Create your own gifts

  • Giving gifts you made yourself from items already in your home means more and costs less, like creating a cookbook from old family recipes for the college goers and the twenty something’s about to leave home for the first time, or fixing up an old picture frame and inserting a new picture of the grandchildren to give to your parents.
  • There are hundreds of DIY gift ideas on Pinterest, check them out!

Preserve your food

  • Store opened food in reusable airtight containers.
  • Use chip clips to keep food fresher for longer.
  • Freeze leftovers.

Buy frozen

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables have a shorter shelf life and seem to be the one food item that gets thrown away the most.
  • Try swapping fresh produce used less often for frozen versions, such as bags of frozen fruit and vegetables.

Use gravity to get the most out of your products

  • When a bottle’s contents are getting low, store them upside down, such as personal care products and condiments.
  • You’ll be amazed at how much lotion is still left in the bottle.

Print green

  • Buy paper made from recycled content.
  • Change the default setting on your printer to print double-sided.
  • Print in black and white.
  • Try printing two or more pages per sheet.

Tips on How to Reuse Items

Learning how to reuse items starts with thinking twice before you throw stuff away. Our advice to you is, by getting a little handier you can take good care of your belongings so they will last longer, and by getting a little more creative you can give old items a second life or an entirely new function.

Tips on Giving Single-Use items a Second Life

Reuse mailing materials, such as padded envelopes and boxes, a second time

  • Cover old mailing labels on boxes and padded envelopes with blank paper and clear tape.
  • Then add your new address and postage.

Reuse packing materials such as bubble wrap and foam beads

  • Some bubble wrap can be used up to three or more times before it loses its bubbles.
  • Foam beads can be used over and over.

Reuse plastic food containers, such as yogurt and butter tubs

  • Use them to store leftovers.

Rinse and reuse those plastic zipper bags

  • They can be reused to organize children’s puzzle and game pieces that otherwise seem to get lost.

Reuse plastic bags

  • They make good trashcan liners.
  • Can be scrunched up and used as packing material in boxes.
  • Come in handy to clean out kitty litter boxes.

Reuse plastic peanut butter jars

  • They make great piggy banks, by making a coin slot in the lid, or
  • Baby-proof container to store things like crayons.

Reuse glass jars

  • They can be reused to store and organize things like nails, screws and washers.

Reuse gift bags

  • Gift bags can often be used up to three times before they look old and worn, whereas wrapping paper crumples after just one use.

Reuse old toothbrushes as household scrub brushes

  • Despite their small size, about 450 million toothbrushes make their way into landfills each year.
  • The small brush is perfect for cleaning around sink faucets and in between tiles.
  • They are also great at getting small stains out of carpet.

 Tips on Giving Your Unwanted Belongings a Second Life

Before you open that trashcan lid:

  • Think: Do you have neighbors, friends or family with similar likes and interests to give your unwanted possessions?
  • Take unwanted items such as books, clothes and shoes to your nearest Convenience Center.
  • Take old toys, strollers and car seats to your nearest Multi-material Recycling Drop-off Facility.
  • Take unwanted home ware to thrift or consignment shops.
  • Post your unwanted stuff on craigslist to give/sell to someone who could use them again.
  • ‘Gift a Gift’ or ‘Re-gift’ unwanted items to friends and family in the name of resourcefulness.
  • The ReUseIt Network helps get things from people who have them but don't want them to people who want them but don't have them. Their goal is to find new uses for unwanted items that would otherwise be thrown into the trash. Look online for your nearest group.

Reuse electronic devices

  • Toddlers love playing with old flip phones that still play sounds and light up when the buttons are pressed.
  • Old smart phones and tablets with no service can still make great devices to play videos when you’re travelling with small children.

Rent Instead of Buy

  • Rent fancy clothes instead of buying them.
  • We’ve all gone shopping for a new outfit for a special occasion that ends up in the closet until you can no longer fit into it or it goes out of fashion.
  • The next time you attend a special event, why not rent your outfit instead?
  • If you’re short on cash, closet space or time to go shopping, renting is the perfect solution.

Lease equipment instead of buying it

  • It can be nice to own your own things, but sometimes you just need to use something a few times and you’re done.
  • Let someone else deal with the maintenance, repair and storage.
  • Most hardware stores will lease equipment to customers as well as sell it.
  • Look online for your local tool hire companies.

Share Instead of Buy

Think about all the things that you’ve bought that don’t get used from month to month, or even year to year.

  • With sharing you can use things when others are not and the other way around.
  • Sharing can also make projects more affordable.
  • It’s a new trend called the ‘Sharing Economy,’ and it’s being facilitated by the internet.
  • One example that has been around forever is your local library system. There are 20 libraries across Wake County, where you can borrow and download books and use computers for free.
  • Newer trends include car sharing and tool libraries.
  • Look online for your local ride share or car-sharing company, like Zipcar and Craigslist.
  • Look online for your local tool lending library.

Buy Used

Change the Way You Think of ‘New’

  • The next time you get the urge for some retail therapy, satisfy it by thinking ‘new to me’ instead of ‘newly bought.’
  • Start shopping at thrift stores and flea markets.
  • Vintage is in!
  • Kids, and especially babies, can grow out of clothes in as little as three months, so save yourself some serious money and shop kids thrift stores and local kids exchange consignment sales.
  • ReStore is a home improvement store that sells new and gently used furniture, appliances, home accessories, building materials and more to the public at a fraction of the retail price.

Maintain and Repair

Don’t get rid of something before its time is really up. Opt for maintaining and repairing your belongings rather than replacing.

  • Buy a protective case to shield electronic gadgets from damage.
  • Install a screen protector to minimize scratches and cracks to your touch screen devices.
  • Clean and replace filters on things like vacuum cleaners and central air systems.
  • Remove lime scale on appliances that heat water like washing machines, dish washers and water heaters.
  • Replace the rechargeable batteries in your mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, when they start struggling to stay charged.
  • Try your hand at DIY and fixing things for yourself. There are many fix-it and troubleshooting videos on YouTube.
  • Check out free repair manuals from IFIXIT.
  • If it requires a more experienced eye, support your local repair shops, such as shoe repair shops.
  • iCracked will send techs to your home or business to fix your iPhone.


Get creative with products that can no longer be used for their original purpose and find a new use for an item; it’s a new trend called ‘Upcycling.’

  • Pinterest is a great place to find inspiration for do-it-yourself repurposing projects.
  • Many old household items can be ‘Repurposed’ or ‘Upcycled’ into something new and useful, and you don’t have to be crafty to be able to turn old items into new, here are a few ideas:
    • Cut last year’s holiday greeting cards into this year’s perfect gift tags, with a pair of scissors, a hole punch and some postage string.
    • Turn that empty milk bottle with a screw cap into the perfect watering can by heating a needle and poking 8–10 holes in the plastic cap.
    • Cut an old pool noodle into boot stands for your closet.
    • Use an old ketchup bottle to fill your cupcake pan with no mess.
    • Wad up your old dryer lint and stick it inside a toilet paper tube to make a fire starter for the fire pit.
    • Use an old shower cap to wrap a pair of shoes in your case and keep the dirty soles from touching your clothes.
    • Hook a pants hanger off the doorknob of your kitchen cabinet and use the clips to keep the page open on your cookbook.
    • Turn that old CD spindle/holder into a reusable bagel tote to take your sandwich to work.
    • Hide your spare key outside by gluing a pebble to the top of an empty pill bottle, and bury the pill bottle in your flower bed, so only the pebble shows.
    • Plant your seeds in toilet paper rolls and then when you’re ready to plant, just stick the whole roll in the ground. The roll will decompose.

Tips on How to ‘Recycle’ More Effectively

Recycle everything you can’t reuse, repair or repurpose. When items can no longer be used for their primary or secondary purpose, we can still save the materials used to create them by recycling. About 25% of household waste in Wake County is recycled, but studies show us that figure could be as high as 60%. Here are some ways to recycle more:

  • Glass bottles and jars, drink and food cans, all types of paper and cardboard, plastic bottles and many plastic containers can be recycled in Wake County.
  • Make sure you know what is recyclable in your community and sort it properly.
  • Recycle vigilantly, as contamination is a major problem in the recycling industry; remember to keep those plastic bags, foam, greasy pizza boxes and single-use plastic plates, cups and spoons out of the recycling bin.
  • Don’t forget to recycle your bathroom waste, too. Items like toilet paper rolls, shampoo, conditioner and shower gel bottles, shaving cream cans, cardboard packaging, etc.
  • Return your plastic grocery bags to the store next time you shop.
  • Recycle all your plastic bags and film packaging such as bread bags, fresh produce bags, napkin, paper towel, bathroom tissue and diaper wrap packaging, dry cleaning bags, plastic retail bags, food baggies, pallet or shrink wrap and bottled water case wrap at the plastic bag recycling bins in store entrances. Find a drop-off location here.
  • Yard waste collection is provided curbside by many of the municipalities in Wake County. Check with your local town or city and put your yard waste out for collection each week.
  • With food waste making up one of the largest types of waste going into landfills, backyard composting can not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions from landfills, but it can put good nutrients back in the ground that your food came from.
  • No room for backyard composting? Vermicomposting is composting with worms to turn uneaten food into castings for use as a fertilizer or natural insecticide and can be done indoors and out.
  • Join Wake County’s food waste drop off program and receive your free kitchen caddy to collect food scraps.
  • Recycle old textiles, linens and clothes too old to be worn at your local Convenience Centers.
  • Recycle your old cooking and engine oil, old appliances, unwanted electronics, paint, rechargeable batteries, oyster shells, thermostats, tires and wooden pallets at Multi-material Recycling Drop-off Facilities.
  • No recycling program available? Organizations looking to increase their involvement in waste prevention efforts and decrease the amount of waste sent to landfills are encouraged to apply for up to $10,000 for innovative commercial waste reduction projects from Wake County.
  • Check Earth911, download the iRecycle app to your android or apple smart phone or go to to your find your nearest drop-off recycling location based on the item.

 Start reducing your waste today!

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