Imagine if all the stuff you buy, use and throw away was piled up on the top of a hill. Down at the bottom of the hill is where you live, in a nice, little cottage with a fence and a garden. In the middle of a field filled with flowers. With bunnies. Lots of bunnies.

Gravity, being what it is, will cause that pile of stuff at the top of the hill begin to flow down the hillside towards your cottage. Your goal is to keep as little of all that waste at the top of the hill from getting down to the bottom. If at all possible, this should be done with as little disruption to your life, your income and your sanity as you can manage. As great a challenge as this sounds, it doesn’t have to be terribly difficult. In fact, it only takes some common sense and planning.

The first thing you do is stand at the bottom of the hill and look at all that stuff and say, “Dang! That is a lot of stuff!” Yes, it is. In fact, it’s too much stuff. Did all of that really have to be up there? Probably not.

The first step in reducing the waste stream is to simply not put it there in the first place. Want to guess what comprises the greatest percentage of the contents of that pile? Plastic? No, only 5% of landfill contents are plastic items. Glass? It’s 10%, but at least glass is stable and non-toxic. Disposable diapers? Wrong again; that old villain is less than 1% of the contents. Fast food packaging? No, that’s just 0.1% of what’s there. Waste management studies of excavated landfills show that between 55% and 61% of landfill contents are comprised of: paper, yard waste and construction/demolition waste. And the majority of that is paper. That laughter you hear is coming from dead trees, getting their final revenge.

Forget blaming over-packaging, too. The paper in landfill is comprised of newspapers, telephone books, catalogues, office waste and junk mail. Stuff that doesn’t have to be there in the first place. Admittedly, not all information that is now being printed on paper can or even should be mailed electronically, but a lot of it can. Some of those emails could even go to retailers, cancelling your paper catalogues and opting for electronic-only catalogues. They’ll be happy, too, because it costs them a lot more to print and mail the paper versions.

Even in the minority of the contents – the metal, cloth, plastic, glass – a great deal can be reused. It may sound as old-fashioned as saving string, but there is a lot that gets throw away (and recycling is simply throwing away stuff very carefully) that is perfectly good and even valuable that can be reused. Considering the cost of the paper you run through your printer, have you considered using the blank backs, at least for the first draft of that paper or article? That simple, little act alone can save you a surprising amount of money.

If you can’t reuse or repurpose it yourself, perhaps someone else can. Reuse centers and stores connected with non-profit organizations are happy to get everything from clothing to construction materials. You can take an in-kind deduction off your taxes for your generosity, too. Retail reuse stores will even pay for old stuff. Not a lot, perhaps, but what else are you going to do with that extra hair dryer that works, but you don’t use? Or that laptop (after you’ve trashed the hard drive)? It’s not much cash, perhaps, but it’s that much less in the landfill. Or piled on top of all those bunnies. Remember them?

Then there’s recycling. This doesn’t necessarily mean loading up the old Prius with stuff and driving down to the recycle center. Yard waste should be a no-brainer, but even a lot of non-coated paper can be used as weed barriers (instead of new plastic) on flower beds and vegetable gardens underneath the lawn clippings you’ve saved. Or paper can be hand-shredded and used in compost. Even with what’s left, consider this: Most recycling centers will take your stuff for free. You don’t have to pay them.

Whether you’re paying for garbage pickup or taking it to the dump yourself, you’re either being charged by the bag or at a flat rate by the municipality. That is cash right out of your pocket. That’s a direct benefit that you can see. And spend on more stuff.

Put less stuff at the top of the hill and divert more as it comes down the hill. You’ll be amazed at how little ends up in your back yard. And on top of the bunnies.

By Kris Rayner, on behalf of