We’re bombarded with news about the alarming proliferation of single-use disposables that pollute our bodies and our environment, threaten wildlife, and are a drain on our natural resources. The focus is typically on single-use plastic products, but our throwaway lifestyle has created a dependence on single-use disposables that in most instances is completely unnecessary.
What can you do? Take a deep breath. You have the ability and power to make a difference. Even small steps can lead you in the direction of a Green Life and to one that has a positive impact for yourself and your community.
Consider adopting some or all of these simple and affordable steps to get you on your way.
Table of Contents
- Eliminate One (or More!) Single-Use Plastic Item
- What About Non-Plastic Disposables?
- Remember those Three (and More …) Rs
- Before You Leave the House, Don’t Forget …
Eliminate One (or More!) Single-Use Plastic Item
Whether it’s avoiding plastic straws, coffee cups, coffee pods, water bottles, plastic snack bags, and/or grocery checkout bags, it’s pretty simple to make the switch from disposable plastic that stays in our environment – virtually forever – to durable alternatives.
Take a look around your house and identify those plastic disposables that you can swap out for durable counterparts. Here are a few swap suggestions to get you started:
- Bottles. Instead of purchasing expensive bottles of water that in many instances is simply filtered tap water, keep a stash of reusable bottles for home or on the go. A few that I like
- Mugs. For hot beverages, a reusable mug is a simple way to reduce the number of take-out coffee cups and plastic lids. I personally like the glass versions but there’s a style to suit every need.
- Make your own fizz. Love sparkling water? Make your own. My husband gave up soda a year ago and now relies on our Sodastream to make sparkling water, sometimes with natural flavorings.
- Filter it. Worried about the water quality coming from your faucets? Purchase a water filter pitcher. Choose from a wide variety of sizes and styles. Or invest in a water filter faucet. We installed an Aqua-Pure under-counter filtration system a few years ago, which was ideal for our large (thirsty!) family. You can also get filters that mount directly on top of the faucet.
Avoid single-use plastic storage bags. These days there are so many durable, reusable alternatives.
What about PEVA and/or silicone products? Yes, some of my product picks are made from petrochemicals and may not be appealing to some. My philosophy is – as much as possible – use natural, durable products for your storage needs. When that’s not possible, I reach for the reusable bags or containers that are free of toxic chemicals or additives.
- Glass jars, from food products you’ve already used. For more ideas, see Tip #2 of my Spring Green Cleaning post.
- Silicone baggies. Stasher brand has a wide variety of sizes and colors and contains no BPA, PVC, or latex. They have an air-tight, pinch-lock seal to keep food fresh to store and marinade. Dishwasher and microwave safe.
- PEVA Baggies. Rezip storage bags. They look and feel like zip-top baggies, but they’re made from FDA-grade PEVA (BPA and lead-free). Perfect for snacks and sandwiches.
- Wraps. My favorite: Wrap-n-Mat. It’s cloth on one side. Yes, one side is plastic, but I pop the mat in the dishwasher and have used the same wraps for years.
Again, it’s pretty easy to ditch the single-use plastic wrap for reusable alternatives:
- A plate to cover leftovers.
- Beeswax. I’ve been using Bee’s Wrap brand for the last year and like the different sizes to suit every storage need. The product is compostable and reusable.
- Silicone. Try these reusable silicone food covers on bowls, containers, and even produce.
- Parchment or wax paper. There are tons of brands to choose from. I like If You Care brand. The company’s goal is to create products with the least environmental impact. The parchment paper is chlorine-free and certified compostable.
Plastic straw pollution is a growing problem. Fortunately, eliminating plastic straws from your life is easy to do!
There are a number of different brands and styles of reusable straws to choose from, including paper, steel, silicone, and even bamboo. I offer my picks for all of these types of straws in my recent post on reusable alternatives to plastic straws.
The best solution? Go straw-less!
Reusable/Recyclable. There are a few reusable coffee pods out there, but I haven’t heard of any yet that are ideal. Your better bet is to limit your reliance on pod-style coffee makers. Best bet: an old-fashioned coffee pot!
Compostable. Be careful that these aren’t greenwashed products! Compostable pods should have a certified compostable label. They then need to be disposed of in a commercial compost facility.
A good choice is Caffe Vergnano Espresso Compostable Capsules.
These get used once and then end up in landfills or pollute our environment. A refillable lighter is a long-lasting solution.
What About Non-Plastic Disposables?
It’s not just plastic that generates unnecessary waste and ends up in landfills.
They can be a serious threat to the environment. Consider eco-friendly alternatives.
Rechargeable batteries aren’t just good for the environment. They’re good for your wallet. Choose from a variety of different types.
I rarely use paper towels because there are plenty of alternatives: dish towels to wipe your hands; reusable kitchen sponges (I like If You Care brand); that cloth napkin you’re about to throw in the wash and can use to wipe the counter …
Cloth alternatives are best. Unless you have particularly messy kids, you can get a few uses out of them before they go in the wash.
Whether it’s plastic, paper, or some other material, that packaging typically gets tossed in the garbage. What to do?
- Shop locally and bring your reusable bags/containers.
- Promote delivery companies that minimize packaging.
- Recycle or reuse packaging.
Remember those Three (and More …) Rs
You may have heard of the three Rs: Reduce, Recycle, Reuse. One more “R” to add as you shed disposables from your lifestyle: “Rethink”.
Here are a few ways you can rethink your day-to-day activities in the home to reduce your reliance on disposables.
Save and Reuse
- Plastic packaging bags from various products – bread, deli, newspaper, cotton balls. Reuse these for pet waste, storage bags, and/or packaging.
- Jars from food products. Use them as storage containers.
- Gift-wrap paper, boxes, and bows for future gifts.
If you must use a plastic storage bag, give it a wash after you’ve used it and you can reuse it multiple times. Wipe down aluminum foil and reuse.
Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
A CSA is a group or delivery service that uses reusable packaging/containers.
Recycle and/or Donate!
Check your GTL’s Recycling Resources page and your municipality’s website for recycling guidelines specific to your town. For a comprehensive look into why, how, and where to donate/recycle, see my post on Green Cleaning.
Before You Leave the House, Don’t Forget …
Your Reusable Bag
There is a dizzying array of reusable bags to suit any shopping trip. I pop two or three small foldable bags in my purse for quick trips and leave the larger cloth bags for the grocery store run.
See my post on How to Reduce Waste On the Go for a list of styles and products.
A Set of Produce Bags
Purchase (or make your own) reusable produce bags. Even better, simply avoid using produce bags. (Do you really need a produce bag for a bunch of apples, grapes, carrots …?)
- Cloth. Simple Ecology has a variety of different sized organic cotton muslin bags to suit every need.
- Net/Mesh. My ChicoBag Produce Stand mesh bags have lasted for years. I also like Bewise Earthwise mesh bags, though they’re a tad more delicate than the ChicoBag version.
A Few Containers
Bring those glass jars and containers from home and use them to shop for loose food and bulk items.