There are certain things we do and items we buy because they are convenient. For example, the classic skipping of leg day, or heck, skipping exercise in general, because going out of our way to implement better habits for ourselves is hard, and inconvenient. Using a single-use plastic water bottle is more convenient than having to remember to bring our own. But our quest for convenience comes at a cost. And one of those costs is our planet.
I'm talking about plastic. Look around you. You cannot avoid plastic. Are you on your phone? Or laptop? You're holding plastic. What are you drinking from? It might be plastic. Draw a radius out from where you sit or stand and tell me how far you travel from yourself before you encounter plastic. Even if you were to stand in a forest amidst trees, or sit on a wooden boat miles from shore, there are pieces of plastic left behind by inconsiderate sources who hiked before you, or there are pieces of plastic suspended just meters below you in the ocean, with microplastics even more plentiful and nearby. These plastics take 10 to 10,000 years to decompose and incorporate back into the environment, often taking with them compounds toxic to terrestrial and aquatic life.
My awareness of the way we treat our resources, and our planet, is slowly growing. I take the trash out multiple times a month, and after I drop it into the dumpster, I never think of it again. But my trash, and my pounds of plastic, do not cease to exist; it is picked up and carted off to a landfill, a space of earth set apart to be filled with rubbish and rubble, often being piled high. And when we fill that spot, we'll need more room, because we have more trash.
Here are some simple changes that we have implemented in our home in the last several months to reduce our waste, our plastic waste in particular. They may have been simple for us, but if needed, start with one and go from there. Being aware is the first step.
1) Get yourself a reusable water bottle.
And after you've done that, get one for your partner, your children, your friend, and your roommate. This is a one-time purchase that will last you years, and will keep potentially hundreds of single-use plastic water bottles from seeing a landfill. Another perk: it will save you money in the long run.
2) Ditch the plastic grocery bags - use reusable ones instead.
And that includes produce bags! The mesh bag on the left in the photo above one of the lightweight bags we use to purchase produce, as well as bulk items like rice, granola, quinoa, and lentils. The bags may be hard to remember at first, but don't give up! The habit is worth it.
3) Say no to plastic wrap and flimsy limited-use storage containers.
BeesWrap products are cloths covered in beeswax, jojoba oil, and tree resin, allowing you to create a seal over containers or produce that you wish to preserve. We have had seven of varying sizes for eight months, and have not yet had to purchase more. There are other brands now emerging with similar products, so search around and see what fits your needs and price point. Also, using sturdy containers to store or transport food helps reduce waste and save money - we've used these glass containers for two years, and when we acquire a new glass container (pasta sauce and salsa anyone?), we wash it out and use it for purchasing or storing bulk ingredients.
4) Swap out single-use plastics in your bathroom.
Bathrooms are full of plastics that are used once and then tossed: liquid hand soap bottles, toothpaste containers, toothbrushes, lotion bottles, brushes and combs, tampons and pads, and the list goes on! Next time you walk in, look around and just notice it. That's the first step. Then you can consider how you can reduce your need of one-time use plastics. We've begun to opt for bar soap (palm oil free, or certified fair trade), and we invested in these glass containers to start making our own toothpaste and lotions. Recipes for these are aplenty, and we're excited to experiment with low cost and low waste options. The bee bar pictured was a birthday gift from my sister-in-law; the plastic free version of effective and beautiful smelling lotion! Our next step: bamboo toothbrushes - though the bristles will still be plastic, we do what we can.
5) Opt for wood or metal, and seek out secondhand or local options.
I get it, your metal things rust and your wood things catch on fire, I've been there, but at the end of the day, or the end of the life of your kitchen utensils and other supplies, wood easily biodegrades and metal can be molded into something else. On the other hand, plastic is notoriously difficult to recycle, and most often it ends up in the trash anyways. Consider what effect your choice of material will have. Also, next time you're in the market for something, consider stopping by the local thrift store for a less expensive and less wasteful option. Not all waste is plastic, and items in secondhand stores have more life left to give before they end up in the trash, or being repurposed; consider being the one who keeps them out of the bin.
Here are some other swaps we've made, or plan to make in the near future:
- Reuse or re-purpose plastic containers. (One of our yogurt tubs is now our bulk peanut butter jar; a flimsy water bottle is a bird feeder hanging outside our living room window.)
- Buy groceries in bulk, using your own containers. (Most items from the grocery store come wrapped in plastic - rice, cereal, beans, fruits, veggies - you name it. Using your own containers to buy bulk means you set the terms. You can reuse a lightweight plastic container for this, or take cloth bags, etc. Some stores will helpfully tare your container for you, if you are using heavy glass for instance, so you only pay for the extra weight you add in.)
- Ladies, purchase a menstrual cup. (I just made the switch to a Lena cup, and don't know why I was so worried - everything went more than fine. Use this chart to compare brands on the market, and use this calculator to see how much waste your period practices can generate in your lifetime.)
- Switch to a safety razor. (The EPA estimates that about 2 billion plastic razors are disposed of annually. That's a lot. A metal safety razor is a pricier purchase initially, but has the potential to last you a lifetime; and the blades can be efficiently recycled through scrap metal programs.)
- Follow a zero-waste or plastic-free blogger to learn more. (My favorites for inspiration include the ZeroWasteCollective and Geevie & Sophia from SustainYoSelf; I've linked to their Instagram feeds.)
It may seem like a lot, so just choose one for now. Or choose to simply start being more aware of your consumption and waste. It starts with using our heads, and incorporating our hearts, and soon enough we'll have our hands working and feet walking to a better place, both for ourselves and our planet.
***Disclaimer: Intentional consumption and reducing our waste is a privilege that many do not have. It takes time, money, and other resources; I recognize that, and hope you will, too. Do what you can; don't judge others for what they cannot. ***