I grew up in a very eco –friendly household. I didn’t really know it at the time, I assumed that everyone lived like that. Some of my most vivid childhood memories involve me forcing our un-motorized push mower up the hill in the backyard while cursing under my breath.
All the clothes were hung up on the clothes line to dry. The family had a system, hang the bigger articles of clothing on the 2 outside lines and the underwear and other un-mentionable would go on the inside lines. This at least gave us the illusion that the neighbors could not see our underwear flying in the breeze. My family didn’t even own a dryer for most of my childhood. A family friend gave us a used one when I was a teenager, but you had to put a piece of cardboard in the door to make it work. After the dryer came to our house, socks and underwear were the only articles of clothing permitted in the dryer. My parents still have that dryer today, and still use that piece of cardboard in the door!
As an adult I always had the intention to continue the habits that my parents taught me, but my laziness often got in the way. When I was severely overweight, convenience often won out over any other good intentions. Quick and disposable many times would trump environmentally friendly. As the weight started coming off, I found myself with more energy. I no longer felt the need to take a nap every day after work, which gave me back about 2 hours a day! This allowed me to be a little less lazy and a little more true to myself.
I was living a little greener, but I wasn’t really fully committed. After watching the news and seeing some of the changes that the government was making, I realized that I could no longer rely on the US government to make the big changes that the world needs to protect our environment. That was when I realized that change would have to start with me. I knew could only control my actions, so I really started trying to be a better steward of the earth. I still have a LOT of room for improvement, but I am headed in the right direction.
Some changes are harder than others. I’m not sure if I will ever be able to one of those people that keeps all their trash for years in a single mason jar, but I have significantly reduced the quantity of trash that I produce.
Through this journey, I have found 10 things that are relatively easy to do, but collectively, make a big impact.
1. Re-usable shopping bags- or none!
This one is my favorite! I have developed a little bit of an obsession with re-usable shopping bags. My husband says that if I keep buying more and more bags it defeats the purpose of trying to reduce my waste. There are just so many pretty one’s out there- it is like they call to me! I always have a few bags in the car- but being the forgetful person that I am, there are still several times that I find myself in a store with the bags in the car. I have one of those bags that folds unto itself that I try to keep in my purse, which is a good back up plan. Although, there are STILL times that the bags are in the car (or at home) and the bag in my purse has mysteriously vanished. At that point, I just don’t use bags.
Several years ago, I participated in a river clean up, where I canoed down a stretch of The Great Miami River and picked up trash. The amount of plastic grocery bags that I found in and around that river has forever cured me of any desire I may have had to use plastic grocery bags. Therefore, you may see me walking out of any given store with my purchases not in a bag at all. I know that not everyone has the same love of re-usable bags that I have (you would if you have a bag with a giant hipster cat wearing glasses) but just think of the amount of plastic saved if you just used your own bags occasionally. It is a learned behavior, the more you use the bags, the easier it is to remember them. Using them occasionally is better than not using them at all. And if you are looking for the best places to get the cutest re-usable bags- I can hook you up! I know all the best places!
2. Skip the straw
Skipping the straw has been a challenge for me, because I loved straws. There is just something about a big mason jar filled with ice cold water that is sipped through a straw that is just so satisfying to me. For years, every night before bed my husband would get me a big glass of water with a plastic straw and place it on my night stand. (Yes, I am aware that I am completely spoiled and have an awesome husband!) Giving that up was difficult for me, but now that I have gone straw-less for several months I don’t even really think about it anymore. There are a lot of people who use stainless steel straws. I have thought about getting one before, but just haven’t gotten around to it. I guess that means I don’t miss straws too much, because if it meant that much to me I would have already found a replacement!
The other big challenge with skipping the straw is going to restaurants. I am still trying to get better about this! I try to remember to ask for no straw with my drink, but many times those servers are just so quick! Once that straw hits the table it is wasted, even if you don’t use it, it still goes in the trash can. I’ve found that if the request for no straw is part of your drink order you are more likely to remember. For example, “I’ll have an unsweetened ice tea with lemon and no straw.” Sure, you still have the occasional server that gives you a straw anyway, just because they are on auto pilot, but if you don’t ask it DEFINITELY won’t happen. If I wait until they are bringing out the drinks, I’m normally busy talking to someone or distracted somehow and I’m not quick enough to catch them.
3. Carry a Reusable Water Bottle
I am a water-aholic. I drink so much water! It really helps with my weight loss. Not only does it help me feel fuller, it helps me retain less water. The sheer number of disposable plastic water bottles that are used each day in The United States is frightening. My water bottle has become an extension of me. I feel like I am missing a limb when I forget it at home. If everyone carried a water bottle think of all the plastic water bottles that would be saved! I also have a one of those double insulated water bottles that keeps my water super cold and refreshing.
4. Bring your own coffee mug
I am not a big coffee drinker, but I know many of you are! This is an easy way to reduce your waste and save a little money. I know that many coffee places will give you a small discount on your drink if you bring your own cup. The Starbucks near my house will give you 10 cents off- not a huge discount, but it all adds up! Just think of all the cups escaping their fate in a landfill. Plus, for me, I got a Yeti cup for Christmas a few years ago and if I use that, my drink stays hot for much longer than any disposable cup!
I also keep a stash of coffee mugs at my office so I never have to use the Styrofoam cups in the office closet. Plus, I think coffee or tea tastes better out of a cute mug. My current favorite mug has cats with sunglasses on it and says “Check Meow-t”. It’s the simple things in life that bring me joy!
5. Think Before You Throw Something Out
We live in a very disposable society. Landfills are overflowing with things that could easily be fixed, or reused in some way. As the old saying goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Instead of throwing something in the trash can, think, “Could someone else use this?” Consider donating it to a thrift store or re-purposing it. For me, all my rags are made from old worn out clothes that are not in good enough condition to donate.
6. Carry Your Own Utensils
It is so easy to grab a plastic fork or spoon for any meal on the go. I have started stashing set of metal utensils in various places. I have a set in my desk and another that I keep in my purse. You can buy a lot of different fancy utensils made of bamboo or something, but I just use what I already have. You do have to be careful though to avoid embarrassment. I learned the hard way, when I had to pick something up at the courthouse for work. As I went through the metal detector, I had to sheepishly surrender my collection of metal forks and knives that I had in the bottom of my purse. It was pretty embarrassing pulling out several forks and knives and handing them to the security guard. It was even more embarrassing, going and picking them up as I left.
7. Skip Zip-lock Bags
For a very long time my family used a lot of Zip-lock bags. It was just easy and quick. Once I started paying attention to the amount of plastic I used, I knew those plastic bags had to go. I found some adorable reusable bags on Etsy and ordered 3 sandwich bags- one for each member of my family. I loved them, but they were kind of expensive and when my dog ate one of them, I was hesitant to order more.
My creative wheels started turning and started thinking that maybe I could make them myself. My sewing stills are mediocre at best, but I was still able to make some sandwich bags without much trouble. In a future post I will show you how to make them in full detail! If you don’t want to break out the sewing machine, there are plenty of other options. I also have a few bees wax wraps (instead of plastic wrap) that I can use to pack food. Try washing and reusing jars and containers that you have around the house. I have a cupboard full of plastic containers from my “previous life” that I still use too. My plan is to use them until they fall apart, then replace them with a more eco-friendly option.
8. Shop smarter
Making an effort to live a greener life has caused me to pay attention to things that I would not even register before. One example is packaging. I used to never pay attention to packaging, now my mindset has shifted. If there are two otherwise equal products, one in a glass container and one in a plastic container- I’ll buy the one in the glass jar. Buying in bulk is another way to shop smarter. Not only do you save money, there are many products that you can buy with zero packaging. Flour, sugar, beans, rice, spices, honey- all foods that can be easily bought in bulk.
9. Skip plastic produce bags
It makes me cringe when I see someone at the grocery store pulling off one of those plastic produce bags and putting a single apple in it. Many times, you can skip the produce bag and encounter little or no inconvenience. I have reusable produce bags, but I rarely use them. I only really use them when I get green beans. Almost every other fruit or vegetable just goes without a bag.
My family composted when I was growing up, but when I moved out I didn’t have a compost bin. That was my excuse for years. Once I decided to really make a change, I knew a compost bin was in my near future. The sheer volume of different styles of compost bins was overwhelming! How can there be so many ways to compost? So I did what every grown woman would do, I asked my Daddy. His advice was just what I needed. He made it sound so simple, because, well, it is. He told me I could just build my own using materials he already had in his garage. With a little chicken wire and some poles I had a functioning compost bin. It isn’t fancy, but it’s functioning and that is all I need. Composting not only keeps more out of a landfill, it gives you beautiful rich soil that you can use in your garden. It is a win, win. Now, it just seems so unnatural to throw my fruit and veggie scraps in the trash.
Each of these 10 ways that you can reduce your waste are not difficult. The hardest part is switching your brain on to pay attention. I promise you once you start paying attention, it is hard to ignore. I believe that if everyone does at least one of these things to reduce their waste, we can make a big impact!
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