Where to Begin?
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
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 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.
- 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 plastic storage bags. These days there are so many durable, reusable alternatives: glass jars, beeswax, parchment paper, and a variety of plastic-alternative products that you can buy.
For packed lunches, I use Wrap-n-Mat. I love the way the mat opens up to act as a placemat. 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 plastic for reusable alternatives:
- a plate to cover leftovers
- beeswax wrap
- reusable silicone food covers
- wax/parchment paper
Eliminating plastic straws from your life is easy to do and can have a big impact in reducing plastic waste. There are a number of different brands and styles of reusable straws to choose from:
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 green-washed 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.
- Balloons. They can be a serious threat to the environment. Consider eco-friendly alternatives.
- Batteries. Rechargeable batteries aren’t just good for the environment. They’re good for your wallet. Choose from a variety of different types.
- Paper Towels. 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 …
- Paper Napkins. 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.
- Packaging. 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.
- Food. Food waste is a huge waste. Fortunately, it’s a pretty simple fix to reduce that waste. And it’ll save you money in the process. For more, read my post about food waste and ways to reduce your waste.
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
- Clean it! 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) group or delivery service that uses reusable packaging/containers.
- Recycle and/or donate! Check your municipality’s website for recycling guidelines. Rye Sustainability’s Where Do I Recycle? guide is a useful one for the NY metro area.
Before You Leave the House…
- Your reusable bag. There are a dizzying array of sizes, types and styles to suit any shopping trip. I pop two or three small foldable bags in my purse for quick shopping trips and leave the larger cloth bags for the grocery store run.
- A set of produce bags. Purchase (or make your own) reusable produce bags or simply avoid using produce bags. (Do you really need a produce bag for a bunch of apples, grapes, carrots …?)
- A few containers. Bring those glass jars and containers from home and use them to shop for loose food and bulk items.