How do you reduce waste and NOT go crazy? I’ve asked myself this questions A LOT lately. There is a spiral we can all plummet down when it comes to the environment. One video of a polar bear on a lone floating piece of ice morphs into an island of trash in the sea and onward until we’re totally and completely weighed down with guilt and despair.
Instead of heading down that path, I propose we discuss ten simple and actionable tips you can deploy easily in your own life to reduce the amount of single use plastic waste you create. I’ll admit that many of these swaps are not ground breaking. I used the word simple in the title because that’s how I want this to be and feel. Simple. Even giving one of these tips a try will significantly reduce the waste you produce over time! There’s a real truth to starting small.
1. Try a Reusable Glass Straw
You know the straw has gone out of fashion when Starbucks stops offering them to you. Thanks to their adult sippy cup lid you won’t even miss it. If you can’t bare the thought of going without a straw I highly recommend picking up a reusable one. I love this glass straw (that comes with a cleaner). Of course there are lots of other reusable straws made of other materials, but I’ve found glass to be the most similar to plastic when it comes to feel. If glass freaks you out go for a metal, bamboo or even a paper straw instead. Imagine the amount of single use plastic waste you will reduce with this one small change.
2. Bring Your Own Cup (BYOC)
This one is super simple, and yet it’s REALLY hard. We all have tons of reusable cups and tote bags. I know I’m not the only one. The tough part of using your own cup is remembering to bring it and cleaning it. We’ve all become SO used to the convenience of paper cups. I’ll be honest and say that I still have a really hard time with this one. On the other hand since I started bringing my own cup I’ve saved roughly $10 a month in coffee money! If that’s not motivation to keep washing my own cup I don’t know what is!
3. No More Paper Napkins
Ok, maybe not NO more paper napkins, we can’t adult and walk around with food on our faces (or can we?). What we can do is put a cloth napkin in our lunch bags and call it good for the week. Call me disgusting, but I don’t get my cloth napkin that dirty in a week. Throw it in the laundry at the weekend and then start over the next week. Honestly, this change has made me super happy. My lunch feels a little fancier and my face prefers the soft stripey napkin I use to paper any day.
Pro tip: It’s hard to find 1 cloth napkin for sale…but if you go to Pier 1 you can get them one at a time!
4. Nix the Plastic Fork
When I started working at my current job I noticed one of my co-workers would ask if I knew whether or not the lunch spot we were going to used plastic cutlery. At first I thought this question was hilarious. If I said yes, he would trot off to his car and grab his own personal travel knife, fork and spoon.
Over time his example started to seep into my subconscious. I started noticing the number of plastic forks around me. They get put into every to go bag no questions asked. I can’t say that I’m as hard core as he is, I still use plastic forks from time to time, but what I did do was purchase my very own personal cutlery set (Joseph Joseph GoEat Compact Stainless-Steel Cutlery Set, it’s cute and green and amazing). It lives in my lunch bag and I bring it home and wash it most days. This change was three years in the making, see change is hard for me too…but I did it!
5. Opt for a Swedish Dish Towel
My friend Sara Beth over at Inner Compass told me about this one. She loves using her Swedish Dish Cloth as a replacement to paper towels. According to her, they are super absorbent plus you can throw them in the washing machine or zap them in the microwave to kill bacteria. These babies are on my list to try next!
6. Buy a Spray Bottle
How is this going to help? Well, think of all the bottles of cleaner you’ve bought over the course of your life. Scary right? Also, if you haven’t bought many bottles of cleaner…equally scary. Anyway, if you just buy one spray bottle you can easily whip up your own cleaning solutions. Here’s a recipe for homemade window cleaner, homemade all-purpose cleaner, and homemade bathroom cleaner. One bottle, no messing.
7. Forget Saran Wrap
I’m still working on this one myself, but there are plenty of great options to avoid using plastic wrap. If you’re on Instagram you have no doubt seen ads for some sort of beeswax wrap. It’s basically waxed cloth that you can mold into any shape you like. You can use it to wrap up a sandwich or as a cover for a bowl. It’s reusable and washable. We have a couple pieces of this stuff and it can come in pretty handy. My one critique is that in a hot climate like southern California it sometimes doesn’t work too well. Another option I’ve been considering are these silicone stretch storage tops. They stretch to fit around a bowl and look like they provide a pretty great seal.
8. Ditch the Plastic Baggies
Damn is this a hard habit to break. I’ve relied on these babies for a long time and the idea of giving them up completely seems impossible to me at this point. BUT I have significantly cut down on my usage in the last year. I’ve done it by using regular storage containers and more recently I’ve been using these Stasher bags. They’re easy to clean, dishwasher safe, microwave safe, you can throw them in the freezer, or even use them to sous-vide your favorite fish.
9. Find a Refill Station
I completely recognize that I’m super spoiled by living in the LA area, but if you by any chance have a refill station in your city go to there! What’s a refill station? Well it’s a store where you bring your own containers and fill up household or personal products like laundry detergent, dish soap, lotions, deodorants, and whatever else they stock. My local is called Sustain LA, but if you Google “household products refill station” or you can try an online retailer like common good.
10. Buy in Bulk & Bring Your Own Containers
Last, but not least, try bringing your own containers to your local grocery co-op or even Whole Foods. As long as you weigh them before you fill (and tell the checkout person), you’re good to go! No need to bother with packaging from basics like oats, grains, flours, dried beans, fruits and nuts if you don’t have to. My friend Mike over at 52 Hikes with Mike also recommended avoiding foods and produce wrapped in plastic. I often forgo the plastic bags for produce all together, they’re a total waste. And when I really need them (like when I buy green beans) I throw them in a reusable mesh produce bag. It’s a super simple way to reduce your use of plastic bags.
I recognize that this post is a little different from my regular content, but this is something I’ve become more and more aware of as I’ve spent time outside. There’s no getting around seeing trash on the trail. It’s everywhere I go. I’ve started carrying a trash bag with me on every hike so I can do a little cleanup when I can.
I’ve heard people refer to “green” products as a scam. They say it’s just another way for companies to make money. Is that true? Kind of. But it’s also a risk for that company. If we all bought a Stasher bag in theory we wouldn’t need to buy more of their product. The truth is it’s going to take a long time for everyone to get on board. As far as I’m concerned the sooner you invest in these things the better, for you and our planet.
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