Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

The earth-loving man’s guide to reducing waste

how to reduce waste
Image used with permission by copyright holder
The Manual’s stated goal is to help men become more engaged in their own lives. This week — which happens to be Earth Week — we’re encouraging you to make life not just better for yourself, but for all living things. We’ve already discussed simple ways to reduce your carbon footprint and how to wash jeans without using a ton of water; now we’re going to bring it home with a guide on how to reduce waste.

For expert advice, we reached out to Betty and John Shelley, the masterminds behind the Reduce Your Waste Project of Portland, OR. These earth-loving geniuses have become local celebrities for recycling, reusing, composting, and accumulating just one garbage bin of refuse in a year. No one is asking you to live by their standards, but you might consider incorporating some of their advice into your daily life — you know, for the sake of the planet.

Why Reduce Waste?

Betty Shelley wants you to know that everything you buy is harvested from the Earth, and when you throw something away, you’re not really throwing it “away.” Matter isn’t teleported to distant trash universe the second it hits your garbage bin — it most likely ends up in a landfill in your own backyard. Reducing your waste won’t just relieve the pressure on landfills, it will also help you save money on trash removal and reduce the need to mine materials for new products. As you’ll learn in this article, there are many ways you can reduce waste without significantly altering your daily routine.

1. Outdoors

We realize that many of our readers live in apartments, or otherwise don’t have much in the way of yards. Still, John Shelley was kind enough to provide a few tips on how reduce waste outdoors. In our piece on how to reduce your carbon footprint, we discussed the benefits of borrowing and renting tools. Here are a couple more suggestions to consider.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Lose the Lawn

A nice, green lawn has long been a must for middle-class families. However, caring for a lawn is extraordinarily wasteful and involves a lot of work that you probably don’t need. “By getting rid of the lawn, there are several benefits,” says John. “First of all, you’re getting rid of the lawnmower, the fuel that it consumes, the carbon emissions it produces. Also, you’re watering less and you’re not using toxic fertilizers.” John recommends replacing the lawn with plants that are native to your area, as they won’t require as much water as grass or non-native plants.

Make Your Own Mulch

Instead of paying a compost service to take away your yard debris, then buying a few cubic yards of mulch for your plants, you can make these expenses cancel each other out. “You can create mulch from your yard debris,” says John. “I have leaves, plant trimmings, and branches that go back into my pathways and around my plants. That way, I’m not paying to have debris picked up curbside, then re-purchasing it in the form of already-produced mulch at the yard and garden store. We also compost our kitchen scraps, which go back into our vegetable garden; they fertilize the very plants they once were themselves.”

2. Clothing

Getting the most out of your clothing is a great way to reduce waste. John Shelley is partial to high-quality used clothing at boutique second-hand stores. If you aren’t a fan of used clothes, you might purchase new, high-quality garments that are sustainably made and will last for decades.

dress shirts
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Spring for High-End Shoes

Buying high-quality shoes will reduce waste and save you money in the long run. Once your shoes start looking the worse for wear, consider getting them repaired instead of replacing them. “I buy the best brand shoes I can afford,” says John. “I have a pair of Allen Edmonds I’ve owned more than 15 years. Right now, the Allen Edmonds manufacturer’s shop is rebuilding them for me at probably one-third the cost of replacing them.”

Take Worn Shirts to a Tailor

John has discovered what the kids might call a “life hack” that allows him to get more use out of his dress shirts. “I double the life out of them by taking them to my tailor when the collars and the shirt cuffs begin to show wear and tear,” he says. “I have my tailor reverse them so that the worn collar is on the underside, and the same with the cuffs.” This trick is more affordable than you might think, and is certainly cheaper and less wasteful than buying a new shirt.

3. Grooming

If you’re like most men, you could probably stand to streamline your grooming routine. John Shelley also has some thoughts on green grooming, as you might have guessed.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Take “Navy Showers”

Though a long, 15-minute shower is nice, you probably don’t need one every day. If you insist on showering each morning, consider trying what John calls a “navy shower.” “I was in the Navy, and when you’re out to sea for weeks at a time, your water supply is limited,” says John. “With a navy shower, you get into the stall, turn on the water, quickly get wet, turn off the water, soap up, turn the water back on, and quickly rinse off. In less than two minutes, you’re done with your shower.”

Get Longer-Lasting Razors

You can also rethink the way you shave. To start, John recommends staying away from disposable razor handles. “Instead, use a permanent handle with replacement blades as needed,” he says. “Also, don’t use aerosol-type shave soap that comes in a can. Instead, I use a very thick foaming soap that comes in thick, recyclable packaging.” You might also check out our guide on how to shave with a straight razor and give that the old college try.

Related: Top Eco Friendly Grooming Picks for Earth Day

4. General Tips


Look in Your Garbage

The best way to become a more Earth-friendly citizen is to carefully examine your current practices. “Look in your garbage,” says Betty Shelley. “See what’s in it, and ask yourself what you can change. What really doesn’t need to be in there? Can you buy something else? Can you really recycle that, instead of having it in your garbage?”

Think About What You Buy

Once you’ve looked through your garbage, use your findings to become a more environmentally responsible consumer. “When you’re at a store and seeing something you think you need, but it comes in the wrong packaging, maybe rethink buying that item,” says John. “We try to avoid bringing things into the house as much as possible if it’s something we don’t really need. I guess you could call that term “pre-cycling” — thinking in advance of how you’re going to dispose of something before you bring it home.”

Using the tips above and many others, Betty and John Shelley were able to fit one year’s worth of garbage into a single garbage bin. After that, they fit 16 months’ of garbage in one bin, and now they’re aiming to go 18 months without a garbage pickup. What ends up in their garbage, you might ask? Almost exclusively dry, non-recyclable packaging. This level of waste reduction doesn’t occur overnight, of course, but you can get there if you start thinking critically about your waste.

If you live in the Portland area, you might consider taking a “Less Is More” waste reduction class from Betty Shelley. If you don’t live in these parts, stay tuned! Shelley has discussed the possibility of starting waste reduction webinars for folks from all over. 

TJ Carter
Former Digital Trends Contributor
TJ Carter wears many hats, both figuratively and literally. He graduated from the University of Oregon in 2011 with a degree…
Best SodaStream Prime Day deals: up to $100 off
cheap kitchen accessories that will change your life sodastream fizzi sparkling water maker

Prime Day might be behind us but there are still some leftover SodaStream Prime Day deals around to check out. If you missed a chance earlier this week, you could still reap some big savings on the best soda maker for your kitchen countertop. We've checked out all the best SodaStream deals available across all the major retailers online. We've also provided some buying advice so you know what to consider when buying a SodaStream. Check out these deals before they end very soon as time truly is running out.
Best Prime Day SodaStream deal
SodaStream Art Sparkling Water Maker -- $104, was $150

Making sparking water doesn't have to be complicated, and it's certainly easy with the SodaStream Art. You'll be able to turn flat water into sparkling water with the press of a button, and you'll have complete control over how much fizz you want in your drink. The carbonation process is manual using the device's lever, which means there are no batteries or electricity required. Combined with dimensions of just about 17.5 inches in height, 7.2 inches in width, and weight of 7.7 pounds, it will be easy to carry the SodaStream Art to any room in your home where it will be needed -- and it won't take up too much space anywhere you place it.

Read more
Best Garmin watch Prime Day deals: Up to $230 off right now
The Garmin Vivoactive 4 on a person's wrist.

Prime Day may be behind us but some awesome Garmin watch deals remain so you can still snap up a bargain if you missed out on the last couple of days of sales. If you're seeking a health-focused smartwatch, Garmin is one of the best brands around and it's a delight to see so many excellent Garmin watches reduced as they're usually typically quite expensive. We're also got some key buying advice so you know exactly what to look for when investing in one.
Best Garmin watch Prime Day deal
Forerunner 945 GPS -- $369, was $600

Athletes and those who are serious about achieving their health goals should have the Garmin Forerunner 945 strapped to their wrists. Designed for running and triathlons, the wearable device offers can track metrics such as VO2 Max and your training status, so you'll always be able to monitor your body as you challenge yourself to reach greater heights. The Garmin Forerunner 945 will also let you access full-color onboard maps to guide you during your runs, so you'll never find yourself off your planned path. The smartwatch also enables Garmin Pay, which will allow you to make contactless payments so you can leave your cash and cards at home.

Read more
Best Nectar mattress Prime Day deals: Queen beds under $1,000
A Nectar mattress.

Prime Day has ended but Nectar is continuing its sale meaning it's offering some exceptional mattress sales right now. If you still haven't bought a new mattress but you need to, take a look at these deals right now. Besides rounding up all the best Nectar mattress Prime Day deals, we've also come up with some key buying advice so you know exactly what to think about before you buy one. In no time, you'll have the best night's sleep you've had in years.
Best Nectar mattress Prime Day deal
Nectar Premier Mattress Memory Foam (Queen) -- $849, was $1,499

If you're having trouble sleeping, it may be because your mattress is all worn out and no longer comfortable. If that's the case, you should take advantage of this offer for the queen-sized Nectar Premier Mattress. It features a dual-action cooling system and the brand's ActiveCool HD phase change material that reacts to your body temperature to keep you cool through the night, and it's made of five layers across thickness of 13 inches. The mattress also offers minimal motion transfer, so you won't disturb whoever's sleeping on it whenever you get in or out of bed.

Read more