So you’ve seen the recent video about trash island, or you’ve seen any one of the thousands of pictures of wildlife trapped in or killed by the plastic that we as human beings are so fond of. You’re ready to stop contributing to the problem, but you’re overwhelmed, and don’t know where to start.
The thing about plastic, is that it’s 100% unnecessary. Plastic came into its heyday in WWII, when it was produced for a variety of military uses, but after the war, plastic exploded into the consumer market, ushering in the era of convenience…and leading us to the throw-away culture that gave birth to trash island.
When you dive deep into the world of sustainability, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and feel unsure of what ONE PERSON really can do to make an impact. I know it’s not the most exciting thing, but starting small is the best way to make sustainability a habit in your life. So if you’re wondering where to start….
START HERE, with 3 Do’s and Dont’s for sustainability newbies.
1. DON’T be too hard on yourself.
I put this first because when you start to care about the environment, sometimes you stop caring about your sanity. At least I did.
I felt suffocated by all of the plastic I was surrounded by. In my pantry, my bathroom, at the store, at work…I became hyperconscious of everything I was doing, and it made me a little miserable. I realized that I wasn’t taking into account the way that small actions add up over time.
When you start making these changes, you are going to feel SO SMALL, and you’ll wonder if the impact your having really even matters, in the grand scheme of things.
Let’s play a game for a second. Say you drink two plastic water bottles every day. If you switched to a reusable water bottle, you would be saving 730 bottles a year. If you’re 21 when you make this change, you’ll end up saving approximately 43,880 bottles in your lifetime.
The average human being produces 4lbs. of trash a day, 1460 lbs. a year. If we all lived to be 80, we would have produced about 116,800 lbs. of trash in our lifetime. It’s possible that you could reduce that number by 90%, just with a little time and attention.
But it’s INEVITABLE that you’ll forget your reusable shopping bags, or get served a smoothie with a plastic straw, or forget to sort your trash and recycle from time to time, and when that happens, please remember that you are only human. You’re doing the best you can. Be kind to yourself, so that you can continue to improve the ways in which you decide to be kind to the world around you.
2. DON’T throw out what you have (if you can avoid it)
There are a lot of really useful, beautiful zero-waste tools out there. But tossing out what you have just to buy something “zero-waste approved” is actually creating more waste, and contributing to the problem instead of solving it. Use what you have until it you run out or it wears out, and THEN start looking for a sustainable alternative.
We still have a HUGE ziplock bag supply, for example. We’ll probably be using those for at least 6 months before we invest in reusable plastic bags, so, as much as it makes me angry, we use them, and we try to reuse them until we can’t anymore, and we live with that.
There are also a lot of zero-waste products out there that are good ideas, but that you really don’t NEED if you want to reduce your waste. I use our house silverware instead of buying bamboo cutlery, and, for the most part, I just go without a straw instead of buying a plastic-free alternative. Remember, the goal is to create LESS demand and LESS waste, not more.
3. DON’T change it ALL overnight.
This is a tough one for me. I’m a Fire, Ready, Aim kind of a person, and when I want to do something, I go ALL IN…consequences be darned.
But trying to change the way you grocery shop, purchase clothes, prepare and store food, take care of your body, AND clean your house all at once….trust me when I say that it’s too much to tackle.
So how do you know where to start? Take a peek in your trash cans and figure out what category the majority of your waste falls into…paper products, food waste, plastic bags, etc. THAT, my friends, is your perfect starting point. Once you know what the majority of your waste consists of, you can start to come up with a plan to reduce that waste item first, and then move on to the next.
For example, if you find that your trash bags are all full of barely used paper towels, you can start to use microfiber cleaning towels or cloth napkins instead of paper towels for cleaning and eating.
3 Things you SHOULD do when going WASTE-LESS:
1. DO refuse single use plastic when eating out
This is one of the easiest things you can start getting in the habit of. I keep a set of silverware and a cloth napkin in my purse at all times. If I’m going to a smoothie shop, I’ll grab my reusable smoothie cup. This requires the SMALLEST bit of planning, but can make such a massive difference in your waste production.
Another easy way you can refuse single use plastic is to simply say the 3 magic words– “no thank you”.
Ask for your drink with no straw and no lid, ask the worker to put your dressing directly on the salad, not in a little plastic cup. Kindly refuse the tiny little ketchup packets and use the HUGE bottle you have at home. Bring your own tupper ware to take your leftovers home in. Invest in a metal or bamboo straw, if you really just NEED a straw at restaurants.
This can be easy to forget at first, especially for the people behind the counter who spend ALL DAY putting
straws in drinks. You have to be very vigilant about making sure that they don’t accidentally give you single use plastic…but please be kind to them (and yourself) if there’s the occasional slip up. The more people who start refusing single use plastic, the more they’ll get into the habit of asking first, but until then, it’s going to be a little bit uncomfortable. I promise, you’ll get used to it!
2. DO compost
A simple, VERY impactful way to reduce your food waste is to start composting your biodegradable food scraps.
“Won’t they biodegrade in the landfill anyways?”
When your banana peels, egg shells, apple cores, and carrot peelings are thrown into a plastic bag and deprived of oxygen, all of the chemicals it releases when trying to decompose get trapped and turn into methane, a very dangerous greenhouse gas.
When your little carrot peels are thrown into soil, by contrast, and allowed access to oxygen, microorganisms, and sunlight, they can break down happily and safely, turning into a beautiful brown soil that can grow more yummy produce.
I plan on doing a separate post all about how I compost, but for now, I’ll link an AMAZING resource to get you started right here.
If you don’t have the time or space to compost, you can freeze your food scraps and find a local place to take them to on a weekly basis. You can look at your local city government website to find locations near you.
3. DO Buy in Bulk whenever possible.
Did your parents ever take you to one of those CRAZY candy shops where everything was in big plastic tubs? You got a bag and you could fill it up with whatever you wanted out of the HUNDREDS of options available…jelly beans, peach rings, circus peanuts, Reese’s…it was up to you to pick what you wanted and exactly HOW MUCH you wanted of each.
Bulk grocery shopping is the adult version of that candy store. It’s great for your wallet because you don’t have to pay the embedded cost of packaging, and you only have to buy as much as you need. It’s great for the environment if you use reusable containers and bulk bin bags. I got my biodegradable, 100% natural cotton bulk bin bags from COLONY CO. (not sponsored or affiliate, I just HIGHLY reccommend them).
All you have to do is fill your bag with the desired item, jot down the bin number and item in your phone/on a notepad, and then head to the register! Each bag comes with the tare weight on the tag, so at the register, you just ask the cashier to subtract the weight of the bag, and let them know the bin number you got the item from. Then take your goods home, put them in a glass jar, and there you go!! A beautiful, aesthetically pleasing pantry, full of food that’s good for your wallet, AND for the environment.