The earth-loving man’s guide to reducing waste

how to reduce waste
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.


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

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.


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. 


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