How to to make less trash and recycle more

How good are you at recycling?  I’m not your mother or your mayor, I’m just asking out of curiosity.

See, at my house we create a lot of trash.  Like, a lot.  And there are only four of us, which makes me wonder about bigger families.

As a kid growing up with 10 of us in the house, we never had enough trash cans for all our garbage.  We spent more than a few Monday mornings {trash day} running the overflow garbage bags all around the neighborhood to see where we could stuff in a few extra.

how to make less garbage

I wish I were kidding, but that’s just the way it was yo.  Being one of 8 kids sometimes meant having to stuff trash bags into the neighbors’ garbage cans on the street.

It’s called sacrifice.

Read more after the jump!

I grew up with super hippie parents in a wealthy suburban neighborhood during the Regan era.  Oh, and we were the only Democrats within a 5 mile radius.

My family composted, recycled, ate cracked wheat for breakfast, and spent our Saturdays weeding the vegetable garden or pruning the fruit trees.

how to recycle more

What I’m saying is that I’m no stranger to recycling, and I’m down with composting.  Those egg shells in the photo up top?  I smash those babies up to make fertilizer for my plants and repel snails.

For serious.

And when we get chickens, they’ll get a boatload of food scraps so we won’t have to throw them away.

When I forget to bring my reusable shopping bags to the library or grocery store, I ask for brown paper bags instead.  If I’m shopping somewhere and I’m only picking up a few things, I opt out of a bag entirely.  A lot of stores are emailing receipts instead of printing them, and anytime that’s an option I choose it.

how to recycle more

Here’s the bottom line: we can find ways to bring less into our homes, and we can do more to recycle it once its all inside.

There are a ton of things you and I can do to put out less garbage every week, and I want to put our collective brains together to think of a few.

how to recycle more
  1. At my house the #1 culprit for a full garbage can is paper.  Paper, paper, paper.  We have school notes, homework, artwork from the kids, junk mail and catalogs, and bills.
  2. Then come the paper by-products: orange juice cartons, take out containers, cardboard pizza boxes, boxes of cereal, and on and on.
  3. Plastic comes next; the 3rd verse is the same of the 1st.  Plastic containers of every size and shape make their way into my house like fog under the door; there’s almost no stopping it.
  4. Food products are next.  You know, meat, fruits and vegetables, and your breads.
  5. Electronics.  We’re all addicted to them.  While I’m writing this I’m currently using at least 4 pieces of gadgetry.  On an average day we all could probably bump that number up a whole lot higher.  And at some point, the gadgets break and have to go to gadget heaven to meet Steve Jobs.  What then?  How do you recycle those?


I’m recycling anything that isn’t nailed down, and composting whatever I can but I have so much room for improvement.  I’d love to hear what you do.  What does your city or community do about garbage and recycling?  If you compost, do you compost in your kitchen or your backyard?

So my question for you friends is: how are you making less trash?

Now that we’ve discussed what it is we need to recycle, next month we’re going to tackle a follow-up question about the actual nuts and bolts of recycling.

Get excited.

–This post is sponsored by Glad. They’re taking small steps to do their part and want to help you waste less too.–

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Hello there! I'm Allison Czarnecki, founder + editor of Petit Elefant, a blog all about style on a budget for every part of your life: style / home / travel / family. I do a lot of how-to beauty + style tutorials, travel posts, easy recipes, home remodel projects, and cool DIY crafts you totally want to try. I'm super happily married (to a hot Polish immigrant) and am the mother of two kids, a daughter and son, all of whom are featured here on the regular. We live in the country but we're a little bit rock + roll. Welcome!


  1. Carina :

    When my city first gave us the option of choosing a recycling container I opted in. I was ASTOUNDED at how much of our every day garbage was recyclable. Instead of having a totally full garbage can, it was half full.

    I do the same thing you do. I also use those brown paper bags as my recyling containers so that the kids can easily take the whole thing out.

    • Allison :

      You clever girl you, with your brown paper bags!

      I was astonished at how many people DON’T recycle in my city. And the dumpsters I see full of gently used lawn furniture and heaven knows what, headed to the city dump instead of a thrift store.

      We’re at the point where we almost don’t need a garbage can if we order a second recycling can.

  2. Emily :

    I love that there’s a cafe rio cup in your recycling! :)

    I wish they had a recycling program here. Instead, we get to sort it ourselves and drive it to the recycling place. Most people just throw their recycles away and it kind of drives me crazy. Oh and the recycling place doesn’t take glass but Target does, as if I need another excuse to go to Target. ;)

    As to how to make less trash, I don’t coupon so I don’t have to deal with the extra newspapers, I use both sides of the paper to take notes/let my daughter scribble on, and opt out of bags if I can. I reuse the plastic bags from grocery stores in my trash cans and with stinky diapers or for padding in boxes that I’m going to mail. I used to be good at bringing my own bags to the store and got the meanest looks from some cashiers b/c it’s inconvenient for them. I also don’t like how I can’t wash those bags and have them hold up. I’ve tried to unsubscribe to junk mail and store catalogs but have noticed a recent surge. Blah.

    PS we have chickens and I should be better at throwing things to them but they’re kind of picky and often leave what I’ve thrown to them on the ground. . . .

  3. nekobomb :

    We shred ALL of our paper and put it in the compost.

    I recently reused cereal boxes as indoor planters (we get the fancy Archer Farms granola. Tall, skinny, gorgeous.) Some really cool canned drinks make the cut, too. I have this Dr Pepper: Iron Man edition (!) that gives me a little grin at my kitchen window sill every day.

    My roommate and I live rather close to a business street, so, we often opt to walk for Redbox, take-out or simply bum around (better than driving aimlessly and wasting gas.)

    I use whatever plastic bag I manage to get for trash and hoard them for packing breakables.

    I seldom recycle glass. I reuse them for pasta, spices and soup for lunches! I use wine bottles for super-easy-to-grow vines and sometimes regift them.

    I’m currently attempting to upcycle my or donated clothing.

  4. whitkae :

    Paper is my biggest problem too!! I keep trying to opt out of all these junk mail, but apparently the message is not getting through. We found a neat solution for the paper though, some of the local schools have huge bins (they look like regular garbage dumpsters but usually painted) that are for paper recycling. The school gets paid per pound of paper or something like that. It is free & helps out the local schools. We end up dropping off a huge bag full at least once a month.

    I am not sure if your area does this too, but it is something to look into!!

  5. Marelize :

    We recycle and started composting this summer after my husband build a compost bin in our backyard using a plastic bin. I was a little skeptical since we live in Vegas where the summer is a billion degrees and I did not want a stinky backyard. But we had no problems at all. Love it. Next up, a vegetable garden. Any tips?

  6. Jill :

    Have you seen this blog? Zero Waste Home?? One of the tricks for them not to make trash, is not bring items into the home that create trash. so refuse, refuse, refuse….then, reduce, resuse, and recycle….. This blog is pretty amazing. Simple. Just like their lives. Hope the link works: (if not, type in google: The Zero Waste Home on Yahoo) It’ll take you to the video.

  7. Alicia W. :

    Our recycling can gets full much quicker than our garbage can! The tricky thing around my house is paper…I’d love to have receipts emailed to me instead of having to bring one home. My kids bring home a billion papers every day, so there’s all that to sort and take care of…whew!

  8. Sarah :

    Chickens, a definite YES!! we give so much to our chickens and compost out in the yard the rest of the food stuffs. they really are the gift that keeps on giving :)

    But paper, that is a tough one.
    Both of my kids are in middle school and this year we had the option to do all of the school notes and notices electronically so, obviously that’s what i went with. And besides it makes it all so much easier to find and reference.
    Aside from that, both kids got a flash drive, and literally they turn it in to their teachers instead of the endless stream of printing individual papers.
    Such a great idea.

  9. Michelle :

    I live in Oregon, we’re BIG recyclers here!! One interesting thing I noticed in your photos, we’re not allowed any plastic bags of any type in the recycling can. Along with recycling though we also compost.

  10. The Atomic Mom :

    I would like to recycle more, but our small town is limited in what they will accept. They like to remind us that we can recycle newspaper. I haven’t taken a newpaper in about 10 years — the only people that I know, that still take the paper are the older generations, everyone else reads the news online. I’d love to be able to recycle cereal boxes and glass, which seem to be high on our list of things we use but cannot recycle. I’d love to get less junk mail, but the post office doesn’t agree with me on that. The junk mail seems to pile up by the end of the week…thats the way to save the earth right there.

  11. Kimm W. :

    I happen to live in the same town as a major university, so we have a pretty good curb side recycling program. We can put all of our plastics 1-7, glass, junk mail and newspapers out in our bin. I live in Michigan so all of our cans and bottles have a deposit, we get $.10 for each one we return to the store. Since we have been using our recycling our trash amount went down by over half!

  12. Megan :

    I’m lucky in that my place of work recycles paper and let’s me bring in my stash whenever I want to. But one thing I’ve done to make it more convenient to recycle paper is put a second garbage container next to my garbage under the sink. (I sort mail and have a little office area in the kitchen.) This way what I normally would’ve thrown out…receipts, junk mail, post-its, etc…gets tossed into the second container. I can say there is no paper ever in our garbage now because there is no excuse!

  13. Natasha :

    Here is a site that you can recycle your electronics with plus earn a little cash or at least save yourself shipping in most cases.
    In our house we have a place to throw “clean food” trash so it will compost. With of course the recycle pick up, reuseable shopping bags, and using less ziplocs in school lunches we do our part. Now all I need to do is get the kids to pick up the yard from the neighborhood plastic trash that coincidentally makes it into my yard.