We all are aware that the planet is dying, and I’m talking on life support, begging for dear life type dying, but we all sort of ignore it and pretend as though everything is chill. Honestly, it boggles my mind, especially because until a few months ago, I used to do the same thing. Then, I visited the Package Free Shop over in Brooklyn, and was ~enlightened~ to the world that is zero waste.
So, now I’m going to enlighten all of you, so together, we can work to save our planet, before the buffoon we’re forced to call our president ruins it and we’re forced to evacuate and seek shelter on Mars or Jupiter.
Sound good? Sweet.
Zero Waste is this huge concept, and considering everything comes either wrapped in plastic or in a plastic bag or bottled in plastic, it is almost impossible for us to imagine producing no waste at all. I realize that it sounds drastic. But, stick with me here, because we’re not aiming for zero waste, at least not right away. For now, all we’re doing is reducing our waste. You know, like the 8.3 billion tons we’ve produced, that continues to pollute our world and the creatures living in it. We’re going to work on reducing the amount of plastic we consume, no labels, no pressure. Sound good? Sweet! Well, we have a lot to cover, so let us waste no time:
Before we begin on super simple swaps that anyone can make to reduce their plastic consumption, we should learn a bit more about plastic pollution and how it affects our world.
Plastic is all around us, polluting our oceans, wiping out natural habitats, taking up space in landfills, and the two are linked. Now, I don’t have enough time or knowledge to explain all of the details on this, so here are a few statistics and resources:
- Humans produce almost 20,000 plastic bottles every second
- “Fewer than half of the bottles bought in 2016 were collected for recycling and just 7% of those collected were turned into new bottles. Instead most plastic bottles produced end up in landfill or in the ocean.”
- “Plastic production is set to double in the next 20 years and quadruple by 2050 so the time to act is now,”
Low Waste Essentials
Let us begin with the biggest culprit, or at least one of: the plastic water bottle. There is no reason that anyone with access to clean drinking water, which is most of you reading this article, is purchasing bottled water. Not only does it cost money for the same stuff, but you are using so much plastic, it actually makes me nauseous. Those who would like to get a filter of some sort can, although I drink from the tap and haven’t died thus far. But, point being, no plastic bottles, get a reusable one. Okay? Okay.
Those who are being affected by the hurricane right now, obviously that is an exception and getting a few giant bottles of water is smart.
You might already have a plastic one of these lying around the house, somewhere in the depths of that drawer that never gets opened, but if you don’t have a portable coffee mug, there are a ton of cute, eco-friendly options. I got an ~aesthetically pleasing~ black one made from bamboo fibre from the Package Free Shop.
Iced Coffee Cup
Yes, I realize that plastic cups from coffee shops in front of a white-washed wall have some sort of appealing aesthetic, but is the ‘gram worth losing our planet? I’m all about the aesthetic, but there are some things we must compromise for the sake of the greater good. Plus, the reusable mug and mason jar I bring to coffee shops with me have a cool aesthetic of their own, and unlike the alternative, these are eco-friendly, and a great conversation started.
Don’t think that one cup makes a difference? Assuming a lot of people reading this are caffeine addicts like I am, we’re going to say that you have one iced coffee a day. That would be saving 364 plastic cups a year, and if a quarter of the population did this, can you even imagine how much plastic that would save?
I ask that because I’m a writer, not a mathematician, and I couldn’t figure out the numbers. But, trust me guys, it would be a lot. So, yeah, that one cup does make a difference.
You can use the same mug for hot and cold coffee, but I like having a different one for each because I’m a special level of extra. I have a tall mason jar that holds 24 oz, and not that I would bring myself to drink something from Starbucks, but size reference for those who enjoy burnt espresso beans and lackluster cold brew, you could fit a Venti in here, no problem. Plus, I got a stainless steel lid and straw set for it, no plastic at all, and it is the cutest thing ever. TBH, I think this lid has gotten more compliments than I have.
Straws are a huge waste of plastic, and a frickin’ gigantic source of pollution. You could always go without one, duh, but for those who like to use a straw like I do, carrying a stainless steel one in your bag doesn’t take up any room, prevents a fuckton of plastic from entering our landfills (and the oceans, THINK OF THE SEA TURTLES), and might inspire others to start doing the same.
Remember back in middle school, when school lunch came with a spork? Well, turns out when sporks are made up of stainless steel and not flimsy plastic, they can be both sturdy and useful. This one folds and collapses, making it easy to throw into a bag and take with you for lunch on the go, or take-out.
Those who drink from Keurig machines, I pose a question, and I ask this with sincerity: do you really hate yourself that much? Keurig coffee is disgusting. I mean, I would rather not drink coffee for the rest of my life than drink only from a Keurig machine. You might have fallen into this sort of blind ignorance that it isn’t that bad, especially for those who dump mounds of refined sugar and chemical-ladden creamers into their cup of coffee, but I promise, it really is that bad. Now, for the sake of taste and taste alone, I would recommend ditching that gigantic, wasteful hunk of plastic and investing in a french press, but since we are talking about the environment here, I guess I should touch on that as well.
How bad are these single-use pods for the environment?
In 2014, enough K-Cups were sold that if placed end-to-end, they would circle the globe 10.5 times.
Case closed. Go get a french press, and after tasting it, that alone will convince you to never look back. Cheaper, delicious, and doesn’t taste like wet dog. You’re welcome.
Oh girl, you are going to accumulate a lot of mason jars. I mean a lot. But, I love my mason jars, and I always get compliments when I bring coffee or lunch somewhere in them. I use these for everything: buying bulk grains and beans and spices, packing lunch and snacks, using as a coffee mug, storing leftover produce for another recipe, etc. Hopefully you don’t end up with a giant basket full of them like I totally don’t have at home.
Plastic bags are as bad, if not worse than, plastic bottles. Once you learn more about how much waste we as a species actually produce, you begin to see it everywhere, and one of the quickest things I realized is that everything is packaged in plastic. Carrying a cotton tote bag, whether it be for groceries or clothing or whatever the fuck, will mean one less plastic bag is being used, and if each of us did this, it would make all the difference in the world.
While cotton is preferred, the whole point of reducing waste is to use less. I already had a stash of these bags made from recycled plastic bottles, which at the end of the day, is still plastic. But, I will continue to use these for now, because I already have them and I don’t want to produce unnecessary waste, and pass up resources that are fine for now. So, don’t feel the need to purchase new bags if you already have some!
I don’t purchase or use paper towels. Might not be plastic, but it is still waste that can be replaced by a reusable rag that does the same thing. These are made with organic cotton, and can be thrown in the wash in a mesh delicates bag. Super absorbable, I have never had a problem!
Everything from this bamboo toothbrush is recyclable or compostable, down to the bristles. Fuck yes!
I don’t shave half as often as anyone else I know, but when I do, I use the safety razor I got from the Package Free Shop. People can be scared off by these but I love it, haven’t had a problem thus far, and I find it is much easier to clean because the blade comes out. $20 is about one almond milk latte more than most razors will cost nowadays, anyway, and as long as it is taken care of and cleaned properly, this should last a lifetime. Replacement blades cost less than a couple bucks, which will save you a shit ton of money in the long run.
Menstrual Cup or Reusable Pad (or IUD)
Now, this isn’t something I have to think about because I got an IUD, and therefore don’t get a period. It is incredible and I would recommend it to anyone who either doesn’t want a period, or is looking for a new birth control method. Of course, it isn’t for everyone, and not getting a period would probably scare the crap out of some people (lesbian privilege) so there are other alternatives, like a menstrual cup or reusable pads.
Since I started working from home, I don’t wear makeup all that often, but when I do I take it off with organic coconut oil and these reusable facial cloths. Works wonders, and actually forces you to wash your face after, which I totally didn’t do before. Be sure to get the refined coconut oil and not the virgin, because otherwise your face will smell like coconuts, unless you’re into that sort of thing.
Bars of Soap
You can buy naked bars of soap anywhere, from LUSH to Whole Foods, or sometimes at a cool local soapmaker! Check to see if there is one in your area before buying from bigger brands. But, no matter where you purchase soap from, it comes package-free and does the job, not to mentions smells amazing.
Something that once prevented me from further looking into zero waste was the misconception that it was going to be expensive and cost a lot, and while there might be an initial investment at first, a lot of these items are reusable and end up saving you money in the long run. Plus, these aren’t much more expensive, if at all, than other alternatives. For example, I spent $20 on a great razor that should last forever, and all I will continue to pay is $2 for replacement blades. Instead of purchasing bottled water, which makes a lot of drink less water because we don’t want to go through it so quick, hence making us dehydrated, I use a reusable water bottle and don’t pay anything.
Choosing not to ignore the elephant in the room, sometimes it does feel weird bringing in a container for a meal that you are taking to go, or asking someone not to put something in a bag, or bringing a mug for coffee. But, it does get to be less and less weird, especially because you educate people along the way. Plus, the fact that I can look back at most of the past few weeks and see a much smaller amount of plastic and general waste motivates me to do better, use less, and strive towards being even lower waste. People care a lot less than you’d think, and a lot of people I’ve met think that it is really cool that I’m low waste, and tell me they’d love to do the same and have been wanting to, but don’t know where to begin. Baristas give me a discount for bringing my own mug as an incentive, and farmers at the farmers market have given me discounts on the produce I bought because I brought reusable cotton produce pouches, and as he said, doing our part is important.
We’re growing in numbers, as as more people take a stand for what they believe in and reduce their waste and plastic consumption, the world around us will learn more about the movement. Promise.
Remember, this is a process. One doesn’t go from drinking out of plastic cups and getting produce wrapped in plastic to zero waste overnight. I’ve give myself six months to a year to really learn all that I can about the zero waste lifestyle, and to get used to the changes. You don’t think about it like this, but changing everything that you have ever done is a process, so it is okay to treat it as such. I find it to be more effective and long-lasting for someone to take more time adjusting to any new lifestyle change than doing such overnight and burning out in a week or two. Take the time that you need, and remember that reducing waste starts with the first simple swap. You don’t have to commit to anything, nor do you have to live any type of lifestyle, as long as you are reducing your waste and looking to be more sustainable, that is a huge leap forward, and a giant step of progress.