Jumping into events made me more cognizant of how wasteful they can be. Watching thousands of dollars in flowers loaded into trash bags at the end of the night was just the tip of the iceberg. The amount of trash, as well as supplies, used to get through one event or cleaning that large of the space pushed me to have conversations, do research, and find ways to slowly make change in my day-to-day life.
Where do you start? Just like a workout plan or healthier lifestyle, change starts with small steps and then adding on to make bigger change more realistic. To make something a habit, you will need reminders, notes, alarms, and other helpers to keep you on track until it is part of your normal day to day actions, and I don’t suggest trying to overhaul everything at once.
Shopping trips. Fabric pouches for produce and canvas or other reusable shopping bags will cut down tremendously on one of the most dangerous waste we create for oceans, animals, recycling centers, and more.
Plastic Bag Check:
- Shoppers worldwide are using approximately 500 billion single-use plastic bags per year. This translates to about a million bags every minute across the globe, or 150 bags a year for every person on earth.
Just don’t forget them! In a pinch? Ask for paper. Think outside of farmers markets and grocery stores. When you go to a convenient store, IKEA trips, Target, etc, bring your own bags. Sometimes it helps to keep a small canvas tote wrapped up at the bottom of your purse for those spontaneous purchases, and always keep your stock of bags in the car instead of at home so you don’t have to plan for shopping trips.
Ditch single use plastic bottles. Yes, they are recyclable, sort of. Plastics can only be recycled so many times because the product stops being usable. Many bottles are made from recycled plastic already and will have a limited amount of reuse. Plus, the sorting, cleaning, processing, and making more usable products is expensive. Replacing with a metal or glass reusable bottles is a great choice, because again, metal and glass can only be re-purposed so many times.
Plastic Bottle Stat Check:
- Globally, humans buy a million plastic bottles per minute.
- Each year, about 25 million dollars is spent in the state of California to dispose of plastic waste in landfills.
- The energy we waste using bottled water would be enough to power 190,000 homes.
Bring your own cup. Yes, recycling or reusing that coffee sleeve is better than tossing it, but that isn’t enough. Pick out a fun pattern or saying on a travel mug (I have a couple of hot and cold options in various sizes, as well as my handy mason jars with sip tops) and hand it over to your barista when you place your order. Some places will even offer a discount for the saved cup!
Other single use plastics. I love press and seal. It was one of the great improvements on old plastic wrap that I didn’t think I could live without, but can easily be replaced with bees wax paper covers/lids. Ziplocks can be replaced with wax paper baggies. Disposable containers can be replaced with glass or sturdy plastic containers. I actually love mason jars with different tops for storage and some for drinking and have an entire cabinet of different types.
Are you seriously still using straws? Sip tops on mason jars, flip top water bottles, or simply drinking from your glasses should be the only options. If you can’t live without straws, invest in metal, reusable straws and just keep them clean.
Get Green Now 2018 Straw Facts:
- The USA uses 500 million straws every day! That’s enough straws to circle around the Earth 2.5 times.
- Each year, 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals die from swallowing a plastic straw.
- Plastic straws take up to 200 years to degrade, but will never be fully off the Earth, as plastics are not biodegradable.
Swedish cloths. What? This is my newest addition and they are versatile! Reusable, super absorbent, and when they finally wear out, compostable. I have a backup roll of paper towels for things that need to get tossed immediately (let’s be realistic with kids and pets!) but I haven’t bought paper towels in months, and that adds up.
Speaking of compost. Unfortunately, most cities don’t have the greatest system in place for compost (or even recycling) so we need to take these efforts in our own hands, until they catch up. Depending on your living situation, a small bin inside your home with a larger compost pile outside or a local collection point are your best options. In some cities, private pick-up services have started and come with fun perks like fresh soil once or twice a year for your garden. In Tampa, we are fortunate to have Suncoast Compost who are even available for events and assisting in making them waste free through product selection, sorting and disposing of compost, recycling, and minimal landfill trash.
Check your products. Ingredients that harm the environment from Roundup, many cleaners, and personal products but can easily be replaced. Vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils can replace so many items in your cabinet. Not only do I spend less on cleaning products, the supplies take up less room and are multi-purpose, and I don’t have to worry as much, having a toddler in the home, if they are safe. All the ingredients are completely within my control!
Take it from these sites that offer their own recipes and chemical-free products:
- 27 Chemical-Free Products for DIY Spring Cleaning
- The Ultimate Guide to Homemade Natural Cleaning Recipes
- 19 Natural Cleaning Tips + Easy Recipes
Single-use cleaning accessories (are you seeing a pattern here?) Single-use items make cleaning easier, but they contribute to our trash volume. Swiffer duster and mop heads can be replaced with washable cloths. Duster heads can be replaced with microfiber, washable ones. Clorox wipes can be replaced with a spray and cloth. I think a lot of “advancements” were made in manufacturing and disposable products without thinking through the long-term affects on the waste we produce and the environment, so it is our responsibility to change our habits and improve these products once again. You don’t have to change your processes for cleaning, but changing out the products will make a significant difference.
Spring cleaning. I know when you get in the zone for Spring Cleaning, it is often at a point where you just want to purge and toss out anything worn or not used anymore. It takes a little more effort, but placing a set of large plastic bins out when you get to this point, instead of just trash bags, and these items can find new home or new lives. You don’t have to have a garage sale yourself, although that is an option, and my personal least favorite option so I recommend a handful of other things instead. Larger items can sell on Offer Up or similar sites. Barely worn clothing in great shape gets dropped off at a church that does outreach. Worn clothing or things that shouldn’t be donated can often be used by makers and clothing recycling centers. Housewares and small items can often times go to Salvation Army or Goodwill, but even a small bin on the curb marked “FREE” often disappears quickly. Think of the magic spot on the curb from “How I Met Your Mother.” Sell, donate, re-purpose anything possible before trashing.
Buy used. On the flip side of selling or donating used items, look for used items before buying new. Especially when it comes to kids products and furniture (other than mattresses), items are often only used for a little while and then replaced before they are used up. Kids grow out of toys and small furniture within 6 months during the first few years! People buy furniture to stage a home for sale or a product shoot and then sell those barely used items. Look at sites like Offer Up, Facebook Marketplace, Craig’s list, and you might be surprised what you find for a little more legwork but a lot of saving.
Get out of your comfort zone. It is worth it and necessary for individuals to make change with the damage already done to our environment and increasing populations, especially in urban cores. Once the small efforts begin to add up, it becomes a lifestyle change as well as conversation started with other people, that will tip off the domino effect. These small changes are within our control. The larger, product and policy changes will take time, but they are coming too, so stay ahead of the curve.
Did I miss something you do in your home or business? Tell me about it in the comments!
Get involved! It’s the natural next step after taking action in your day-to-day life: