The Top 20 Things We Throw Away (That We Shouldn’t)


How often do you have to empty the trash cans around your home? If you take a trip outside to the dumpster every couple days, it’s time to examine why your garbage bins fill up so quickly. To cut down the amount of waste you send off to the landfill, here’s a list of things you shouldn’t be throwing away.

Water Bottles

Yes, they can be recycled but, with a water filter on your faucet and a reusable thermos, there’s no need for disposable water bottles. Stopping the bottle habit is one of the best things you can personally do for the environment.

Tissue Boxes

When you go to the store to restock your supply, buy refills for the boxes you already have instead. Better yet, switch to a handkerchief.

Paper Napkins

Cloth napkins are a much better choice in all regards. They’re reusable and much more stylish.

Paper Towels

Bar towels are just as effective as their disposable counterparts. Though washing cloth towels year after year may seem counter-intuitive to eco-friendly folks, in the long run it’s much better for the environment than disposables.

Razor Blades

Buy a razor sharpener to make dull blades like new again. (Whoever invented the idea of throwaway shaving razors has a special place in a melting ice cap.)

Counter Wipes

Your counters will gleam all the same when you clean them with a sponge or rag.

Paper Coffee Cups

When you swing by your favorite café for a steaming cup of joe, bring your own reusable cup. Consider purchasing personalized photo mugs for yourself and your loved ones, and spread the eco-friendly inspiration.

Cotton Balls

There’s nothing a disposable cotton ball can do that a washcloth or reusable make-up applicators can’t.

Plastic Utensils

If you’re going on a picnic, bring along a reusable flatware set.

Paper Plates

Laziness is not a sufficient excuse for using paper plates. So, when you throw a big party, suck it up and wash a massive load of dishes instead. Or, our favorite, put the kids to work!

Plastic Shopping Bags

When you go shopping, bring along a reusable tote to carry your purchases. You’ll look more stylish than you would lugging around flimsy old plastic bags, and you’ll make a non-confrontational eco statement, too.

Dryer Sheets

You can easily make your own reusable dryer sheets and kiss the disposable alternative goodbye.

Printer Cartridges

When you run out of ink, refill your printer cartridges at places like Walgreen’s or CVS instead of throwing them away and buying new ones.

Coffee Filters

Replacing disposable coffee filters with one that’s reusable will cut down your amount of daily waste.

Ziploc Bags

To keep food fresh, rinse out empty containers of cottage cheese or yogurt to store leftovers time and time again.

Swiffer Pads

Convenient? Yes. Eco-friendly? Not by a long shot. So, stick to your old-fashioned mop.

Baby Wipes

Considering how many times you have to wipe your baby’s butt every day, the environment would be better off if you used washcloths instead.

Paper Lunch Bags

Pack your lunch in a reusable bag instead of the more traditional paper alternative.

Plastic Hand Soap Dispensers

Invest in a reusable hand soap dispenser. In addition to giving your bathroom a decorative touch, it’s less expensive to refill them with bulk quantities of liquid hand soap.

Disposable Contact Lenses

As long as you take proper care of your contact lenses and clean them in solution every night, substitute disposables with non-disposables. Instead of tossing a pair after a couple weeks, they can last up to a year.

Image: L’Enfant Terrible

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37 thoughts on “The Top 20 Things We Throw Away (That We Shouldn’t)

  1. a rag? gross. id LIKE to help the envoironemnt out, but i dont plan on getting tetanus to save a couple blades. and about that “use plates instea dof paper plates” stuff? yeah. think of all that water your gonna waste washing all those dishes. and all the soap? and all that time!convinient things are invented to be USED. have fun whiping your butt with a preused rag. ima stick to toilet paper.

  2. Plastic water bottles make up a very small percentage of our trash. Your reusable grocery bags cause more damage to the enviroment than plastic bags since you need to use it 100 times before the impact is the same as a plastic bag.

    The environment is just fine, we have plenty of landfill space, and you guys are all a bunch of chicken littles.

  3. u00a0what the fuck there is nou00a0eraseru00a0fucku00a0thisu00a0shit from someone in englandu00a0shit from someone in england

  4. “Menstrual cups” are sort of the same thing, and seem to be slowly catching on, theres even a group on Livejournal totally dedicated to these things. Creepy!

  5. Omg! Use washcloths as baby wipes? What is this the dark ages? Are you gonna wipe your own ass with a washcloth or use toilet paper? That’s what I thought. Haha…belly button lint. That’s great. I think you’re great on green bags and reuseable bottles but honestly I’m not getting tetanus from old razor blades. I agree that we should use real plates too. Swiffer pads don’t work anyway. Oh and if you put nailpolish remover, for instance, on a washcloth, forget it. Next you’re gonna suggest reuseable tampons! Eww

  6. Here are a few things I do:

    1- I only use my hands to blow my nose as nature intended, or if needed, I use the leaves from the trees.

    2- I shave with a stone that I keep sharp, like the cavemen used to do.

    3- I only eat vegetables that come from my backyard. Lots of dandelion salad and clover salad, and mushrooms.

    4- I stopped eating meat and I only eat insects from my backyard. The crickets are delicious when not cooked (crispy and juicy)

    5- I bought glasses at the Salvation Army instead of wearing lenses. For only a dollar! The 1987 style fits me quite well.

  7. An old wool sweater cut up into the right sizes make excellent substitutes for swiffer pads, and youre re-using something – not making more stuff

  8. ” Stamp
    October 13th, 2009 at 12:06 am

    and p.s. I forgot to add coffee filters as well as tea bags, including the used coffee and tea, are all fine “compostables”.”
    Don’t compost tea bags! Tea bag material has a fine network of polyester fibres in it which the manufacturers put there so they can heat seal them.
    If you compost tea bags, you will get polyester “ghosts” left behind – these are barely noticeable in a standard compost heap because the turning process tends to scrunch them up but it is obvious in a wormery – over months a layer of net can build up that the worms can’t penetrate. My solution is I let the bag cool down a bit then rip it and pour the leaves into my compost caddy. The bag unfortunately goes into the bin. I am considering going back to loose leaf tea using one of those “old fashioned” infusers so I can still have one cup at a time. If you don’t know what I mean here’s the wiki article

    Here’s a link to a post I did on this on my blog

  9. the one about printer ink is iffy in my book….refilling most major brands of toner doesn’t actually work well… there’s a chip inside each cartridge that keeps track of the toner amount….no matter what the refill shop says they can’t always reset that counter, sometimes it doesn’t reset fully, and sometimes it’s just not reset-able..

    why do you think every HP printer has a different cartridge? so that they can keep one step ahead of the refillers…HP (and most other brands) are now including a postage paid envelope with new toner so that you can send the empties back where they recycle it themselves (they actually replace the counter chip etc…)

    you’ll have a much better printing experience if you use new toner (sorry mother earth)

  10. I’m sorry, but whoever wrote this article is either a masochist, or they’ve never worn contact lenses in their life. Non-disposables simply can’t compare to disposables in terms of comfort, hygiene and clear vision (non-disposables will eventually degrade and become contaminated with debris, no matter how often / well they are cleaned). 1-month disposables are a good compromise, IMO, but 1-year disposables?! Forget it.

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  12. Cotton balls? Really? How about navel lint? This stuff is getting to be a bit much.

  13. I could not stop laughing while reading this…WHY IS EVERYONE WORRIED ABOUT GOING GREEN. Trust me when I say That the entire
    Eat on paper plates, fertilize your lawn with used motor oil, smoke that cigar and drink that whiskey……The One thing you can always count on is Human nature…It is Our nature to destroy each other and ourselves…It’s what we are… Embrace it…You can not honestly stand there and tell me of any other species on this planet more COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE then a HUMAN..IT”S OKAY PEOPLE….LET GO OF YOUR FEARS…..THERE IS NO FUTURE…Kids can’t even make it through School without killing each other…GET OVER IT

  14. Oh yeah, and as @stamp says it should go in the compost not the landfill bin. I try to cut down on it but what I do use, goes in the compost.

  15. @Donald I have one cloth for my benches and a separate one of a different colour for floor spills. I use them with warm water and detergent (if I’ve been washing dishes) or perhaps a squirt of eco-friendly cleaning fluid if I feel so inclined. Both cloths go in the washing machine with the tea towels, towels etc once a week. Anyone who thinks this isn’t sanitary probably needs therapy rather than paper towels.

  16. Love the tip about crochetting swiffer pads. now I know what to make for my sisters who won’t give them up!

    We use a regular mop, but I love the idea of crocheting something that can maybe do a quick shine of the wood floors!

  17. and p.s. I forgot to add coffee filters as well as tea bags, including the used coffee and tea, are all fine “compostables”.

  18. Don’t listen to these city folk. Paper napkins, towels, tissues and other paper by-products (w/o plastic filming such as on some paper plates…) can go into your compost bin. The fiber is great stuff and makes for excellent fertilizer.

  19. This list would be much better if it gave slightly more information on replicating other aspects of disposable items in their reusable counterparts. For instance, many have forsaken sponges and rags for countertop cleaning (as well as mops for the floors) due to their tendency to become hotspots for all the germs around the kitchen.

  20. Luanne, Since I had chemo a few years ago, I use nothing but Kirks soap. In fact I’ve used it since I was born 66 years ago. All cocoa butter are more mild than others I’ve tried. Kirks is also not as expensive as “beauty” soaps.

  21. You can crochet or knit pads for the swiffer mops. I googled it to come up with a pattern and then my 80 yo mother revised it to fit my oldie goldie one that they first came out with. It’s just a strip the width of the mop head and then the length plus enough to fold over the ends to hold it on. Wash and reuse. I love it.
    Thanks for the tips. I will be joining this site.

  22. Refillable kleenex, where can I get those and something to sharpen my blades? I read somewhere that you can lengthen the life span of blades by storing them after use in mineral oil. Haven’t tried though, has anyone out there tried this and can tell us how it works?

  23. Awesome post, Tina! I’m a bit late in the comment chain – but I’m really impressed by this list! As Luanne already stated above, we should all be thinking more like this. I hate to even admit how many times I’ve dropped an unused cotton ball and just throw it away. Thanks for your ideas!

  24. Where do you get refills on Kleenex? I have never heard of that either. Also, can you sharpen disposable razor blades? need to look into that.

  25. Do you have outdoor space for a clothes line or are you looking for a folding rack for inside?

  26. Most dryers don’t even work that well. I’m looking for a good clothes line. I’m sick of it.

  27. The clothes dryer is a far bigger issue than dryer sheets. Just to clarify what Sterghe said, my point is not that I don’t use dryer sheets, my point is that I don’t use the dryer at all.

    Honestly, I don’t understand why anyone would use a clothes dryer. It’s not easy, it’s not cheap and it’s bad for your clothes.

    The amount of energy consumed by a clothes dryer is phenomenal. I heard a UK statistic once that said that if everyone in the UK used once less dryer load per week, they could decommission an entire power station as a result. Imagine what cutting it altogether could do!

    Honestly, on the scale of eco-sins I think an SUV for weekend use is more forgivable than a clothes dryer. (Not that I drive an SUV – I don’t actually have a car).

  28. I agree with Caitlin. Our household scored 14 out of 20 on the “doin’ it already” count, but like her, there are some we don’t do regularly enough to count but still aren’t terrible about doing. We do keep ziploc-style bags, for example, but wash and reuse them over and over again. (The recycled plastic container idea might work if we bought more food in such containers–but we don’t.) We also have cheap unbleached paper coffee filters, because the big bag we got a couple years ago is still half full, but we also compost them with the coffee grounds. We keep a roll of paper towels, but use those for frying (as Caitlin mentioned) and cleaning up cat hairballs; daily kitchen work is done with cloth. So, perhaps there’s some middle ground here somewhere? And also, there’s room to go further–like Caitlin, we don’t use any dryer sheets or fabric softener.

    I also agree with Jennifer about the disposable diapers. My kids are almost adults now, so we have none of these, but they’re major landfill-occupiers, and they neither decompose nor burn. And, I agree with Kirsten on the packaged food, for the environmental reasons under curren discussion as well as because of both health and general thrift.

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  30. Fabulous list, Tina! What is a good alternative for make-up remover wipes? Seems like there must be a good gentle soap rinse that we can towel dry off. Have you heard of any. I love your alternative uses for these items. That’s how everyone one of us should be thinking. My husband argues we all throw out food that can be used in soups, etc. He sometimes removes items from the compost pail. He’s a die hard.

  31. Agree with you on many of these – I use handkerchiefs not tissues, recycle my ink cartridges, I even buy milk that I can return the bottle for sterilisation and reuse. Some of these products I’ve never even heard of – what’s a swiffer pad?

    With some of them, I’d go further. I’d argue, for example, that there’s no need for any sort of dryer sheet. It’s far better for your clothes and the environment and your power bills to drip dry. Just get a folding clothes line if you don’t have an outdoor one.

    With others, I’d make a plea for some leeway. I use paper towels to oil my wok and to drain deep-fried food like felafels. I don’t use it to dry my hands (hand towel) or to clean (sponge or cloth).

    I need to buy paper plates for a party not because I’m lazy but because the six dinner plates I own are not enough and I’m also worried about breakages. If I had the space and didn’t move countries every few years, I’d probably buy thrift shop plates to serve as a party set.

    I do keep the containers from my cottage cheese etc and reuse them. I also have zip loc bags – they are not single-use items but can be rinsed and reused again and again.

  32. I have NEVER seen tissue box refills!

    What about disposable diapers? I think those are horrific for the environment. Not only are they plastic bags that are thrown away many times aday, but they’re filled with liquid and odor absorbing chemicals that don’t need to go into landfills. Not to mention all the energy that goes into MAKING them!

  33. Great list. Another good thing to avoid if possible is packaged food in general (frozen dinners, etc.). Sometimes the packaging is recyclable, but if you have the time to make your own food, it cuts down on other environmental impacts, too, not just waste.


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