7 Ways to Live Without the Landfill – Lessons from the Young Urban Unprofessional

Over the course of the last 30-days I tried my best to live without the landfill, i.e. I recycled or composted almost 100% of the things that came into my life.  I have learned a lot along the way and I’ve found that I’m only scraping the tip of the iceberg.  This post is a summary of 7 changes of habit that helped me reduce my contribution to the landfill.   Many of these ideas might seem pretty obvious but after having experienced this challenge I have realized that changing small habits can make a tremendous impact on reducing needless waste.

#1 – Water Bottle:  Having a Nalgene or something similar helped me to reduce the amount of bottled water and other beverages I bought and the number of bottles I had to recycle.  If you always carry one of these in your car, backpack, or messenger bag then you’ll almost never need to buy water (plus it’s healthy to be well hydrated).  I don’t recommend getting the full 1Liter Nalgene bottles because they’re too difficult to carry around and who really needs 1Liter of water at a time if you’re not hiking?  I would opt for the 1/2Liter version (BPA free of course).  They are also leak-proof which is a bonus.

# 2 – Travel Coffee Mug: I bought an insulated stainless steel spill-proof coffee mug (previous coffee blog post).  It keeps hot stuff hot, it keeps cold stuff cold and it totally eliminates the need for Styrofoam or cardboard cups, sleeves, or lids which are a huge source of waste.  Americans throw away nearly 400 million disposable cups every day, so from here on out I’ll be trying my best to use my own mug.  Also, many places will only charge you for a small coffee if you use your own mug.

So get one of these:

To avoid getting one of these:

#3 – Recycle:  Before this month I would have called myself a recycler; cans, bottles, cardboard, etc.  Since then I’ve realized how much stuff I just simply threw away that could have been recycled.  Recycling is a habit and it needs to be practiced.  To help, I got a recycling bin for my apartment.  Look into what your city allows you to put on the street (it differs from town to town).  For info on how to get a recycling bin free from the city of Boston as well as a list of what is ok and not ok to recycle click here  This is easy to do, it’s free, and having a recycling bin in your apartment will act as a reminder to recycle before you automatically throw something away.

Many cities provide these to apartments for free. Keep right next to your trash can in your kitchen.

The city of Boston gives this out for free as well. These are curbside recycling bins, no need to sort your recycling, they take care of that for you.

#4 – Smart Grocery Shopping:  First I had to make sure to bring reusable bags with me to the grocery store (packpacks work great, cloth bags work too).  I started making a pass around the perimeter of the store before going through any of the isles (previous blog post).  Everything on the outside is typically fresh and the farther you go into the isles the more packaging you’ll be dealing with.  Also, I didn’t buy meat in bulk as it generally comes in Styrofoam/Saranwrap packaging. 

Lot's and lot's of Styrofoam, yikes.

Instead I bought my meat from behind the deli counter instead.  I also brought my own container for the meat which was never a hassle (aside from the weird looks you get).   If for whatever reason you end up with plastic bags at the checkout counter, or you have some from previous excursions to the grocery store, you can usually bring them back and the store will recycle them for you.

#5 – Avoid Convenient Stores:  I typically travel out of the city every weekend for various adventures and until this challenge I didn’t realize how many times I grabbed a snack or a bite to eat from a convenient store while en route to my next adventure.  It always ends up in trash production.  I started to plan snacks for the road ahead of time; something to munch on, a full bottle of water, and some caffeine in my travel mug.  This helped me to avoid stopping at a convenient store for anything more than using the restroom.  I’m not a health nut by any stretch of the imagination but I’m pretty sure nothing good comes from eating at convenient stores anyway.  Everything is individually wrapped and the food is anything but fresh.  Going to a convenient store will undoubtedly result in trash production so from here on out I’m going to try to avoid them all together.

"Fast, Fresh, and Friendly" - Well at least they got 1 out of 3 right.

#6 – Use Your Own Bag:  I found that every time I purchased something, whether it be a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream or a 6-pack of beer, the clerk behind the counter, as if on autopilot, would throw it in a plastic bag and I would have to politely decline and put the item(s) in my backpack.  I don’t need a plastic bag to carry one or two items, that’s incredibly wasteful.  However, our society has adopted the plastic bag as a norm and it has become an automatic response to expect one as well. Unless you’re on a shopping spree you can probably manage carrying with two hands the majority of what you purchase at a store.  Similar to grocery shopping, having a backpack or a reusable cloth bag with you works great.

#7 – Build/Buy a Compost:  I found that a majority of my waste came from food.  Being an unmarried male with no kids who is constantly on the go, I find that I constantly have food that will either go bad or that I can’t enough of before it goes bad.  Starting a compost for my apartment had a tremendous impact on the amount of material I threw away.  To see how I built one for $15 check out my Compost Construction for City Slickers post.

$15 + 1 hour of construction + 2 minutes every week = great fertilizer and zero food waste .

It is definitely more of a commitment than my previous tips from this month but it is definitely the most rewarding.  If you have a back yard you can also build/buy your own outdoor compost.  You can get them from the City of Boston for about $50 (about 1/2 the retail price).  I spend about 2 minutes every week putting that week’s food scraps into my compost.  In a few months I’ll have plenty of fertilizer.  I’ll most likely use it to grow plants to give away as presents so make sure you’re nice to me over the next 3-4 months.


  1. Water bottle to bring around with you while on the go
  2. Reusable travel coffee mug, preferably stainless steel, beware of plastics
  3. Obtain a recycling bin for your house/apartment and keep it next to your garbage can as a constant reminder
  4. Grocery shop around the perimeter of the store and avoid buying prepackaged meats
  5. Avoid getting snacks at the convenient store, plan ahead
  6. Use your own bag when making purchases at a store
  7. Build/buy a compost to reduce food waste

Thanks again for following this month’s challenge, feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments, concerns, or insults via email at theyoungurbanunprofessional@gmail.com or via twitter @youngandurban.  I’m looking forward to my next 30-day challenge of meeting a new person on public transit every day.

This entry was posted in August - Life Without the Landfill. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to 7 Ways to Live Without the Landfill – Lessons from the Young Urban Unprofessional

  1. JunE says:

    Thanks for the tips and for educating yourself and us

  2. Amy says:

    Hey there, congrats on finishing your month without a landfill! Hope you keep it up! I am currently looking up the best way to do a compost at my house in Killington, how is the smell of the worm bin? My home is small, so I think something outside might be better for me, but then there’s all the snow we get…. I still want to give it a try though! Good luck with your next experiment!

  3. @Amy I’d suggest checking with Killington’s town office to see if they have bins available. Outdoor composts usually don’t use worms while indoor ones do, I just stick the bin underneat the sink. So far it just smells like dirt so that’s good. I add food scraps at the end of every week and make sure they are well covered by bedding to keep the flies away. My parents in Maine have an outdoor compost so I’m sure something similar would work for Vermont. Check out my blog post on how I made my own if that’s the route you want to take.


  4. Dan says:

    Congrats on experiment 1! Your posts made me realize both how much waste we produce, but also how many materials are recyclable. I think we’re going to try a vermiculture bin in our new apartment.

  5. Joan says:

    Yes It is good for us all to recycle. Nana did for years. She did paper, plastic, and newspapers, and cans. So she shared that for years they use the igloos in her town behind the town office they were at the landfill nobody wanted to drive there so they moved them worked better to have them in town. I don’t go to the extent that you have gone but do recycle all plastic, cans, and garbage, plastic bags. I do use cloth bags. The meat is definately a hard one for me to do with a large family, but could work on that one. I do use a metal coffee mug from QVC, and good issue that it keeps hot food hot and cold food cold. Most convience stores will give you ice just for the asking like Dysarts in Orono ,have used it there for years. I use instant coffee from home with my metal cup . Have had problems with styrofoam for years. I did use a compost for sometime not currently but could do more. Thanks for the reminders. Great Job…

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