The picture of a bloated whale washed up on the shore comes across my computer screen. The headline announces that the pregnant whale died and her belly was full of plastic. Single use forks, paper plates, fast food cups. All things designed to make my life easier had the opposite effect on the whale’s. My heart feels heavy. It strengthens my resolve to avoid those items when possible.
Being low-waste in today’s world isn’t easy. We’ve all grown up on the ease of throw away items and to do something other than that is tough. Using reusable items means more dishes, more laundry, more work. But I think we are starting to realize that we have to consider the lives of others. We have to consider where all of these things go.
The zero waste community is often full of perfectionists who have perfected the art of zero waste to a small jar of mostly produce stickers and twist ties. As a busy mom, it feels like an impossible task to join them. But the good news is that you don’t have to. Reducing waste does not require a perfect plan, you can easily start with a few simple steps.
If everyone in the America cut their trash usage in half – if we went from 4 bags of trash per week to 2 bags of trash per week – it would reduce trash by 125 million TONS, per year. A good portion of our trash is those single use items like plates, forks, straws, fast food cups. Reducing our dependency on these high waste items goes a long way in reducing the amount of trash each year and it doesn’t require a whole lot of effort on our part. Here are 7 ways to do just that.
1. Use “Real” Items.
Using a regular plate is just as easy as using a paper plate. The same goes for forks, knives, cups, etc. There are situations where its difficult to make that switch but when it comes to usage at home or at work, use real items when possible and save those disposable ones for when its really needed.
2. Cut out paper towels.
I know “Unpaper Towels” are trendy right now but I just have cloth napkins. I find I love the patterns and colors better and they are often less expensive. They don’t snap together like unpaper towels but I don’t want them to snap together anyway. But either option are great! I still keep a roll of disposable paper towels in the pantry but super yucky jobs like pet accidents.
3. Get some re-usable straws.
So many people say to just ditch the straw but I happen to love drinking from straws sometimes so we have a set of 5 stainless steel straws and a little brush to clean them. If you aren’t into stainless steel there is also bamboo, glass and even paper straws!
4. Skip the plastic zipper bags.
I have a great collection of glass containers that I store all our leftovers in. My glass containers have been used hundreds of times and that’s hundreds of plastic bags that have not been added to a landfill. If I find myself needing to use a zipper bag (it happens!) I simply wash it, air dry it and save it for later. I can get dozens of use from one zipper bag too.
5. Use reusable shopping bags.
Ok, this is one place I’m admittedly not very minimal in. I have probably 30 reusable shopping bags. But I’ve only bought maybe 3. All the rest were given to me as goody bags are events or free from certain stores like Whole Foods. I keep 4 sets of one big bag with several smaller ones – two sets in each car. That way I’m never at the store without them.
6. Be mindful of food waste.
An estimated 40% of food in America is wasted. This happens either because we buy it and don’t end up using it or we cook it but don’t eat it all. (Of course, there is waste along the line before that but we can’t do much with that.) The best way to fix this is to only buy what you know you’ll use and only cook what you know you’ll eat. Don’t forget the beauty of leftovers! And for those little bits that don’t get used, consider a small backyard compost that you can add to your veggie or flower garden.
7. Avoid buying too many things.
The point of reducing your waste is to do just that – reduce your waste. Even well made items that are meant to last a long time are eventually going to need to be discarded so its important that we only buy what we need. Additionally, its easy to get caught up in “zero waste” and start drowning in reusable items.
- Reusing items, like jars, is a simple, and cost effective way, to build a “zero waste stash”. I have a splendid collection of pickle jars, jelly jars and salsa jars. They are totally free (after you use the food that came in them, of course) and if you buy the same brand routinely, then they all match too. My favorite jars to use are my 33oz coconut oil jars from Sprouts and I recently saw just he jars on sale at Sprouts for $2.50 each! I have at least a dozen saved which means that alone has saved me over $30.
- Buy secondhand or at thrift stores when possible. Lots of really great, reusable items can be found secondhand and can add to your stash without adding to the production of more items. I have a collection of nesting glass mixing bowls that I bought at a thrift store for less than $10.
- Before you purchase a reusable item, think on it for a few days and decide if you really need it. I like to put items in my online cart and then wait to hit the checkout button. I come back a week later and if I still feel I need it, I’ll purchase it, but many times I have found another solution.
Every Little Bit Helps
You don’t have to be the person who brings a glass container to the deli counter. You don’t have to be the person that purchases produce from the farmers market weekly. You don’t have to be the mom that refuses to stop for a quick bite to eat somewhere. You can continue living your life almost exactly as you do now, but with a few small changes, and it can make a really big difference in our beautiful world.
What simple ways have you found to reduce your waste?
What would you like to do but haven’t been able to do yet?