The idea of reducing your family’s carbon footprint can feel overwhelming but with some effort, it can be done. A great place to focus your family’s sustainability efforts is on creating less waste. The amount of trash produced by Americans every year is monumental. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), 292.4 million tons of municipal solid waste was generated in the U.S. in 2018—that’s an average of 4.9 pounds per person per day. The good news? There are plenty of ways to cut back and green up your lifestyle.
START A GARDEN
New Jersey is known as the Garden State, and Bayville resident Lisa Mazzuca has been gardening organically with her family since 2009. The mom of two says she learned along the way, documenting the progress on her blog, mynjgarden.com. “I started when my children were very young because I wanted us to enjoy outdoor activities together and teach them to grow food and live a sustainable life,” Mazzuca says. And she didn’t stop there.
The family now has a “food forest” full of fruit trees, berry bushes, perennial vegetables and native plants on their property. “A food forest provides years of harvests and requires minimal input from the gardener once established—which is great for busy families,” says Mazzuca.
If you’re new to gardening, it’s easy to get started. Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) recommends choosing a location with direct sunlight, since all vegetables require five to eight hours of sun per day. It’s also important to be sure the area you choose is free from drainage—that means there should be no standing water after it rains. Finally, make sure to plant your garden away from trees and other foliage so it doesn’t have to compete for resources. The experts at Duke Farms in Hillsborough suggest new gardeners plant annual vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, celery, squash, cucumber, melon and spinach.
COMPOST FOOD WASTE
Deanna Taylor-Heacock, founder of Good Bottle Refill Shop in Maplewood and New Jersey Family’s Mompreneur of the Year in 2020, says her family decided to tackle the biggest thing they could have a direct impact on their waste. “The first thing we did was sign up for a compost service,” she says. “Seeing our food waste for an entire week fill out a five-gallon bucket was very eye-opening.”
Composting is a process that breaks down organic food waste into soil or mulch through natural decomposition, according to the USEPA. To do it, combine food scraps like fruits, vegetables and coffee grounds with leaves, yard trimmings or grass in a compost bin. Enrolling in a service makes it even easier—simply fill the container provided and put it out for pickup on your designated service day.
Mazzuca’s family has been composting since 2010. She says it’s a great way to keep organic waste out of landfills, reduce the garbage your family produces and create nutrient-rich organic fertilizer for your garden for free. Check out litterless.com for a list of local composting services.
SIGN UP FOR A CSA
Joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) plan isn’t just a great way to support local farmers. Because the food is grown and transported locally, CSAs are more sustainable than a grocery store, says Jen Cardenas, a vegan and mom of three in Fanwood. “There also isn’t individually bagged produce. Usually, all of your produce is in a cardboard box,” she says. “There’s no plastic used at all.”
The first step in joining a CSA is finding a local one that works best for you and your family, advises Cardenas. Some CSAs require volunteers to help put boxes together, whereas others don’t have such requirements.
Participating in a CSA means paying for the program in advance or through installments during the growing season; in return, you’ll receive fresh produce, eggs and other farm products at regular intervals, typically from late spring to early fall. To find a CSA near you, visit Organic Consumer Association’s list of CSAs in New Jersey or type in your ZIP code at localharvest.org.
The Nature Conservancy created the below handy reference chart of tips for sustainable living. You can also download it here.
INVEST IN REUSABLE PACKAGING
To eliminate single-use items, Taylor-Heacock conducted a review of the items her family purchased on a weekly and monthly basis. Then, the family looked for sustainable and reusable items to replace them with. “We’re not 100 percent waste-free, but we say no to things like plastic bottles and Ziploc bags and always opt for easily recyclable aluminum cans when we’re out and about,” she says, adding that overall, it’s made a big difference.
Opening Good Bottle Refill Shop, a place where household products and pantry items can be refilled, is Taylor-Heacock’s way of helping her community move away from single-use packaging.
BORROW BEFORE BUYING
Before buying anything new, shop your home for the items you need, suggests Jamie Novak, a sustainability organizer in Scotch Plains and author of “Keep This, Toss That.” Many times, you’ll find what you need or something you can use instead. “I also love to borrow. We tend to forget about our library, friends and neighbors who can lend us things. We don’t all have to own one of everything,” she says.
Novak has her clients keep a running list of places to recycle and donate items. That way, you know where to send an item you aren’t using, in turn keeping it out of the landfill. She also recommends joining a local Buy Nothing group through Facebook. “You can post items to give, post wanted ads for things you need and even list broken items—someone might want to scrap it for money, tinker with it or [use it for] parts.”
MAKE ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOME UPGRADES
Reducing the overall energy consumption of NJ homes is a passion of sustainability expert and father Scott Fischer, who owns Ciel Power LLC, a home energy audit and energy efficiency retrofit provider based in Kearny. The first step in creating a more sustainable home? A home energy audit to assess how much energy your home consumes, says Fischer.
Fischer encourages families to take advantage of resources like New Jersey’s Home Performance with ENERGY STAR, which offers homeowners incentives to improve the energy efficiency of their homes; and the new Inflation Reduction Act provides renewable tax credits and rebates to eligible homeowners who make energy-efficient home upgrades, including installing solar insulation, purchasing energy-efficient appliances including super-efficient heat pumps, water heaters, clothes dryers, stoves and ovens and making other improvements to reduce energy leakage.
No matter what area of your life you choose to tackle, make going greener a family affair.
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