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Hearing about the environmental impacts of our everyday lifestyle choices can be a bit overwhelming. The realization that 300 million tons of plastic is produced each year, and that half of that is meant to be single-use can be very depressing. One may want to change that statistic, but it is easy to feel like the power of one is so small. I am here to tell you that it is not. Because the power of one turns to two and then to four, and so on. Imagine, if only 20% of the world’s population changed their consumption so as to create less waste, that would mean that there are 1.52 BILLION people who are consciously choosing not to use a plastic water bottle every day they go to work. Multiplied by the number of days in a year, and you can see the tremendous impact that may have. Extrapolate that to also forgoing plastic bags at the groceries, and to-go utensils at a fast food restaurant, and you’ve got a big dent in plastic consumption already. So we must try. I believe that each individual can contribute to a massive change.
- The Ever Growing List of Things I’ve Given Up in the Name of Frugality
- Less Waste: When Dining Out
- The True Cost of Gas
The question is, “where to start?” That, itself, can be overwhelming as well. I am here to say that starting the process is very simple, and easy. You don’t have to go zero-waste like, TODAY. That’s very unsustainable, and will probably make you want to quit faster than anything. We want the change to be slow, but steady. Choose one change that you can make each month, or week, or if you’re like me, each day. Practice that change and if you slip up, no worries, you learn and you can continue on for the next time. We all have slip ups! And we also all have our limitations. If you try to implement a change and you REALLY cannot stick to it, then that’s fine. Try a different one. Maybe come back to it at a later stage, when you’re more well-versed in letting waste go. All I know is that over time, the changes become easier and easier. I want to show people that creating less waste is a simple act of being mindful of what we do. It is easier than most think, and has impacts more than just environmental, which you must discover for yourself. The only way I can think of showing people, is to make a list of things I do myself.
Start with one.
Practice, practice, practice.
Have a reason, “Why”.
Be okay with failure.
- Plastic drink bottles – I now carry around a re-usable water bottle wherever I go. The reason is two-fold. First, I am ALWAYS thirsty. And second, you never know if you will have access to water sans plastic where you go. You can be going to a friend’s house and all they still have available is water packaged in bottles. So I take my water with me, everywhere.
- Plastic Grocery Bags – Bring your own re-usable grocery bags. I was so happy when the law got passed that grocery stores will charge an extra fee for plastic bags, but I was unhappy at how little it curbed people’s habits. People’s number one excuse? “I accidentally leave it at home”. Do what I do, and keep it in the back of your car, always!
- Plastic produce bags – I never package my produce in plastic anymore. I just grab my fruits and veggies and throw them right into my grocery cart. I also have two mesh bags to keep together bunches of stuff, such as brussel sprouts for instance. Anything that can be difficult to put on the conveyor belt at the check-out stand in one go. But mostly, I go without. Why do we need separate bags for our produce? Even the wet lettuce just gets thrown into the bin. It’ll dry on it’s own.
- Paper Towels – I wrote about how I nixed paper towels by replacing them with rags. Even better, our rags are a collection of old T-shirts amongst us three roommates.
- To -go cups – I carry around a Keep Cup in the back of my car at all times. Even though this is useful for coffee mostly, it can also be used for soda from a soda machine. It is actually my universal cup. The lid seals and I can throw it in my purse, even with liquid in there! It’s my favorite.
- Frozen foods – There are some types of food you just can’t buy without plastic. Frozen foods is one of them. I have not bought frozen foods in over a year. The cost for convenience is just too great. And my health is better for it, too! In general, I try not to buy anything in plastic when we go grocery shopping. Plastic jars are traded in for glass jar alternatives. Meats and cheeses are purchased fresh and wrapped in paper. Pasta and bread and ice cream are made at home, using ingredients that could be bought in paper bags or glass containers. I even bring my own jar to get fresh squeezed orange juice, or cold brew, or peanut butter. The list goes on, here.
- Plastic utensils – I actually carry around metal spoons, forks, knives, straws and wooden chopsticks in my purse, all the time. I have a utensil holder that keeps them clean and together, too.
- To – go containers – I have been seen to pull out a tupperware from my purse to package the food that I don’t finish when we dine out.
- Fast food, in general – This is another one that is better for our health. Fast food is typically wrapped individually, and sometimes contain plastic. We will break our fast food streak once every 2-3 months, to purchase things wrapped in paper, I suppose. But in general, even the paper we try to avoid.
- Single use products for the menstruating person- I wrote about how menstruating persons should invest in a reusable cup, to get rid of single-use tampons and pads. It’s environmentally friendly, and cost efficient to boot!
- Plastic covers and wire hangers from the dry cleaners – I am one of those people who goes to pick up my clothes from the local dry cleaners, and strips them off the of hanger and out of the plastic right then and there. They look at me funny, but never say anything. They take the hangar and plastic back for re-use.
- Shampoo, conditioner, and lotion packaged in plastic bottles – I have switched over to Plaine Products, which packages toiletries in aluminum cans that are refillable!
- Plastic toothbrushes – We have now switched over to exclusively Bogobrush toothbrushes, although I am open to try bamboo toothbrushes in the future.
- Deoderant packaged in plastic containers – I buy deoderant in glass jars such as this. I wish it were refillable – I guess my next step would be to make some at home in order to reduce waste all together.
- Gift wrap and greeting cards – I love the way a present looks wrapped up with a bow, all pretty and sparkling. But then I think about what happens to all that fluff once the present is unwrapped. Most likely, without a two year old to play with it, it would go straight to the trash bin. It’s true that we have cut down our gifting significantly, but even those few gifts that we give, they are now given without gift wrap, or covered in a linen napkin, if anything.
- Gift cards – Money placed on plastic cards; ugh. If we are gifting money, we either write a check, or better yet, hand over cash, so as to avoid wasting a check.
- Cosmetics – I never was into make-up. Luckily, I never feel the need to wear it. I have created a very minimalist make-up routine, and since then I have switched over to a traditional pencil eyeliner and an eyebrow pencil, which are sharpened to wee stubs, and which are essentially just wood. I used to wear mascara but when my last one ran out, I couldn’t find an alternative without plastic. So I have actually been going without, and no one has mentioned a thing yet.
- Driving around everywhere – The best investment Mike and I ever made were two bikes. I guess you can’t call mine an investment, because it was a hand-me-down from my old man. But Mike bought a used one from Craigslist for $100. We have now made a huge effort to reduce carbon emissions by biking on weekends to our coffee shop dates, farmers markets, and groceries. Anywhere, really, that we could bike to.
- Stuff, in general – I have less of everything, which then creates less waste. Why I ever needed multiples of stuff, I will never know. I used to have like fifteen water bottles, over fifty pairs of shoes, hundreds of articles of clothing and accessories.