This year as you switch your calendars to a new year, make a resolution to reduce your “waste line” along with your waistline. Keep the following recommendations in mind when setting goals: be realistic, be specific, measure your progress, and don’t give up.
Don’t expect to change your lifestyle on a dime. The more realistic you are in your expectations, the better the outcome. For example, it’s probably not realistic to tell yourself you will start cooking every meal from scratch if you work a full time job and have three kids in afterschool activities. But, don’t sell yourself short by assuming you can’t change something just because it seems difficult! Take baby steps to make things easier — it’s best to start small and build upon your successes.
It’s hard to stick to general descriptions like “use less” or “reduce.” For example, you might have a goal to reduce your food packaging, but you need to dig deeper into defining what you must actually do to achieve that goal. Maybe you notice that you have a lot of single-serving snack packaging or frozen pizza boxes, so you choose to make modifications to your snack foods and expand your options for quick meals.
Measure your progress
In addition to being realistic and specific, think about how you can measure the goals that you set. Consider a goal to reduce paper towel usage. If you currently buy a roll of paper towels every week, set a goal to buy one every other week or less. Then you will easily know if you are achieving your goal or if you have work to do.
You may also need to designate a precise “consequence” for not completing your action. One family in the county’s Zero Waste Challenge set a goal to use reusable bags for groceries. If they forgot, they did not take disposable bags but instead had to carry everything in their arms. They quickly adopted the new habit to bring their own!
Don’t give up
Take time to re-establish your habits when you mess up rather than giving up entirely. Mistakes happen! If you’ve repeatedly tried and just can’t make a habit stick, maybe it is unrealistic for your family and you need to re-evaluate either how you can make it happen or what you can do instead. For example, a Hennepin County staff member wanted to make her own shampoo, but she kept putting it off when she found the DIY recipes too time consuming or complicated. Realizing the DIY route just wasn’t going to work, she decided to buy shampoo in bulk at her co-op grocery store using a reused bottle as a different way to reduce her impact. So remember that if you run into challenges along the ways, get creative about how to prompt your action or accomplish a similar goal.