I’ve never been much of an environmentalist. Not that I’ve been an anti-environmentalist, like the wackos currently in charge of our country—I’ve always recycled, brought reusable grocery bags with me to the store, and I carry around my hydroflask water bottle like it's my religion—but I wasn’t too concerned with my impact on the planet. Convenience and affordability trumped all else. And to be honest, I always just kind of assumed I would be dead before global warming and pollution really needed to be dealt with (I’m also kind of dark like that, just in general).
But recent news and images of tons of plastic floating around the ocean have really made me think more about the throw-away culture we live in and my part in it. There were a few things that got my attention. The first was an image on National Geographic’s Instagram that showed a seahorse clutching onto a pink plastic q-tip with its little tail. I’ve had a box of pink plastic q-tips in my bathroom for a few years at this point, and like any other person, I would just throw them out when I used them. Which doesn’t seem like a problem, but seeing that image made me realize that if I had just purchased cardboard ones, it would eventually decompose and not be a little baton floating around the ocean for eternity.
The second thing that got to me was a stat about how only 9% of plastic in the US gets recycled, which seems insane to me, because I always recycle any plastic bottles that came my way. But then I started thinking about all of the k-cups I’d disposed of over the years, and the takeout containers, and the shampoo bottles, and toothbrushes… you catch my drift. Why would I take the time to deal with leftovers I forgot about in the fridge for months when I could just toss the entire container? It didn’t even cross my mind to recycle shampoo bottles! Apparently my brain only associated recycling with grocery items—perhaps because of the frequency in which you go through containers in the kitchen quantified the potential waste in my mind, unlike one shampoo bottle that lasts months. What harm could it do??
A lot, apparently.
And I just want to point out I am by no means an expert on this subject. I’ve only spent the last few weeks reading about plastic waste and just waste in general, but I think it is important for everyone to assess their current output of trash and see where they could make small changes to reduce their overall waste. I'm in no way suggesting that everyone try to keep their trash in a mason jar for a year. That’s way too extreme and would set everyone up for failure, myself included. I also understand the struggles of living in a city and not being able to truly compost or grow food and whatnot. However, here are a few small things I’m doing and buying to help reduce my waste over the next year.
1. Purchasing Reusable K-Cups
I like having a cup of coffee in the morning. I never need more than one cup and my roommate doesn’t drink coffee, so a Keurig is the logical solution, but do I really need to be throwing away a little plastic cartridge every morning? No. I don’t. So I bought a four pack of reusable k-cups and will fill them up with coffee grounds every morning.
2. Buying Coffee From The Bulk Foods Section (And Bringing My Own Containers)
I’ll need coffee to fill my reusable k-cups, so instead of buying some pre-ground stuff in a plastic container or using one of those thin plastic bags at the grocery store, I’m going to bring a mason jar and fill that up with coffee beans. Apparently most places will weigh your container first and subtract it from the weight of whatever you’re purchasing. I personally haven’t tried this yet, but I’m sure it will be fine. This applies to other bulk items too, like chickpeas and rice.
3. Ditching Disposable Makeup Remover Wipes & Cotton Rounds
Not sure why it took me this long to realize that one-time use cotton rounds and makeup remover wipes were wasteful. Guess I never thought about it since they’re so small, but little things add up! I recently purchased these reusable makeup remover cloths from Amazon and I’m excited to try them out. They’re super soft, too.
4. Hopping On The Beauty Blender Bandwagon
I’m still not sold on the idea of beauty blenders. I don’t really get the shape and I’m not sure I’ll like it, but using a disposable foam wedge to apply my foundation every day seems pretty wasteful, so I’m going to find something will a little more longevity, like these reusable makeup sponges.
5. Actually Recycling Those Plastic Grocery Bags Properly
Most people aren’t aware of this, but your typical plastic Target bag or thin plastic produce bag cannot be processed in most recycling programs. They require their own recycling process, otherwise, if you throw them in with your cans and bottles, they’ll get stretched and melty and clog the machinery, making everything more difficult and expensive for the recycling company. Luckily, most (if not all) stores have a spot where you can recycle plastic grocery bags, so moving forward, I’m actually going to remember to take all of those bags that are stashed above my refrigerator to the store to be recycled.
6. Storing Food In Reusable Containers & Beeswax Wraps Instead of Ziploc Bags & Saran Wrap
Since I often cook for one, I don’t generally use all of my produce in one sitting. I’ll chop a quarter of an onion and save the rest of it for future meals in a ziploc bag. I might reuse the bag another time, but eventually it just ends up in the garbage. For a bit I was using ziploc bags that were made from “50% less plastic,” but let’s face it, they’re still plastic bags filling a landfill. So now I’m trying to focus on storing things smarter (and buying less food in general), which might mean buying more things to eventually buy less things, like these beeswax wraps. January is my month to get what I need to live smarter for the rest of the year.
7. Buying Larger Containers to Refill Smaller Containers
I love Aquaphor. If I was stranded on a deserted island, my one item would be Aquaphor. I have a medium-sized tube of it at home, and mini versions in all of my bags. Typically I would just throw out the mini ones when they ran out and purchase new ones to replace them, but my genius little sister mentioned that I could just buy a giant tube and fill up the current tubes that I have. Not sure why I didn’t think of that before, but that’s such an easy switch to make!
8. Just Generally Buying Larger Quantities of Things
One bigger container > multiple smaller containers. Not only does it require less packaging overall, but it’s generally cheaper per use too, which is sometimes difficult for my dumb brain to comprehend.
9. Giving Up Disposable Razors
Which means no shaving for me. Just kidding. Kind of… Buying a nice, metal razor and just changing out the blades when they get dull makes a lot more sense than tossing the entire razor.
10. Shopping Items With No Packaging Or Non-Plastic Packaging When Possible
I very rarely grab those plastic produce bags at the grocery store, unless I’m grabbing fresh herbs that were recently showered with water (although does it really matter if the rest of my groceries get a little wet??), but I’m going to be more conscious about trying to buy things that use no packaging, like produce, or smarter packaging—whether it’s getting meat from the counter wrapped in paper rather than buying something pre-packaged on a styrofoam tray with plastic wrap, or buying something in cardboard, glass, or metal packaging, which are much more easily recycled than plastic.
Simple swaps include buying a bar of soap in a cardboard box rather than a plastic bottle of liquid soap, buying bamboo toothbrushes rather than plastic ones, and opting for boxes of things rather than plastic bags.
This is by no means an all inclusive list, nor will it change the world, but these are a few of the simple things I’m doing to reduce my waste this year, on top of my continued efforts to reduce my food waste (which has been my New Year’s resolution for the last three years or so to varying degrees of success). I’m also just putting this out in the universe as a way to hold myself more accountable.
Check out Tare Market (thanks for the recommendation, Nathan!) and Package Free Shop for some more ideas and items you might find useful.