Let me first preface this post by saying that I am just an average girl who enjoys drinking a gas station fountain soda out of an extra wide plastic straw, finds ease in storing food items in single use zip top bags & could easily consume potato chips with every single meal.
This is all to say that opening my eyes to all the ways I’ve been wasteful (multiplied by the amount of other people making the same choices daily) made me look at these habits (+ more) a little differently. With time I’ve either weened myself away from some of my most habitual conveniences or found a more eco-friendly alternative instead.
And that’s not to say that I don’t occasionally reach for a Ziploc bag, or purchase something in an aerosol can, that I know everything, or that I make the right choice every time. But I am far more intentional about my decisions & am a firm believer that if we all make a few small changes, that they add up to make a big impact.
That being said, here are a few simple hacks I’ve honed in on over the past year or so. I’m sharing in hopes that you may find inspiration or consider adopting one or two into your everyday life.
In my opinion, this is the easiest step. Perhaps also the most crucial. And it doesn’t actually require you to do anything(!) except for adjusting your perspective.
Open your eyes to notice your habits or tendencies & what is possible to change. Ask questions or do your own research to look for alternatives & find out of those alternatives are actually useful or just greenwashing wordage to make it sound better than it actually is.
If you paused here & didn’t bother with anything else I’d consider it a victory.
2. Consider the packaging
It’s not only the things we consume that constitutes considering, but the stuff it’s packed in as well.
Does your grocery store individually wrap heads of lettuce or shucked corn in plastic wrap + Styrofoam? Perhaps there’s another alternative. I recently reached for the pasta sauce in the glass jar over plastic because it has a better chance of getting recycled or I can reuse it to store craft supplies or turn it into a soap dispenser with a handy dandy hand pump.
Some of my favorite brands are notorious for encasing things in a layer of hard plastic making them oh so appealing on the shelf, but oh so wasteful at the same time. It makes me wonder why we put so much product worth on the very thing that we’re just going to throw out when we get home (or get in the car).
3. Wash your shower curtain liner instead of replacing it
Label this amongst the things that keep me awake at night/I Googled at 3am one morning.
Yes, they’re cheap enough that it’s tempting to just buy a new one. But throw it in the wash with some bleach & white towels to prevent throwing away a giant piece of plastic. Here’s the recipe I used that worked like a charm:
4. Make your own supplies
Did you know- some dishwasher & laundry detergents come in bottles that cannot be recycled curbside?
Starting last year, we’ve attempted to make our own dishwasher detergent. All the supplies come in recyclable receptacles. Here’s a simple recipe my bestie handed down:
5. Start a compost pile
After scouring Facebook Marketplace & passing a free one on the side of the road, turning around only to realize it was gone, I convinced my handy husband to build us a compost bin. I thrifted a container that sits in our kitchen to collect egg shells, coffee grounds & veggie scraps which eventually get thrown into the compost pile. Now vacuumed up pet hair + dust & the occasional q-tip decompose in our backyard rather than taking up space in our garbage can.
We’ll eventually use the compost to create a garden to start growing our own veggies & continue the circle.
If you don’t have a yard or the space, check to see if there’s a local community garden nearby. Some recycling facilities also take compost! Store in compostable bags & toss in your extra chest freezer until you’re ready to make a trip.
6. Really embracing reusable or refusing disposable
It’s just one plastic bag, right? Multiply that by every weekly grocery trip or Target run, then multiply that by the amount of other humans justifying that, “it’s just one bag.” It’s a lot of bags.
In theory, they can be recycled at a drop off spot for film plastics, but like other plastic recyclables, not everything actually gets recycled. Here are a few alternatives for single use plastics that might fit with your lifestyle:
a. Keep a foldable reusable bag in your purse or car for spontaneous trips
b. Invest in cotton mesh produce bags
c. Use a metal or bamboo straw or try sipping your iced coffee or fountain soda straight from the cup
d. Politely decline the plastic fork when (let’s be real) you know you’re just going to dig in with your hands.
7. Buy in bulk when possible
Bulk stores & zero waste markets are popping up in big cities & Duluth is lucky to be home to Ren Market who provides our community with package-free alternatives & fill-your-own-jar household supplies/necessities.
Using a container that already exists in the world to replace a plastic tube of lotion that will ultimately be thrown away is basically the equivalent of hugging an actual tree. AND JUST MAKES SO MUCH SENSE.
8. Consider secondhand
Sure, it’s less sexy, takes longer to scout out & you may not find exactly what you had in mind, but sourcing secondhand lessens the demand for producing more stuff.
Every time you purchase something new you’re voting with your dollars, telling companies what you want more of. Choosing an item with life left to live not only saves it from a landfill, but prevents the resources & energy needed to create it from scratch.
It bears saying again, action is key, not perfection. Sometimes I forget my reusable bag, occasionally my impatience or procrastination kicks in & results in an emergency Amazon order, once in awhile I crave a vanilla McDonald’s milkshake & use the damn straw provided. What’s important is all the small steps that add up when we all make a conscious effort to make a change. The little efforts help balance out the bad habits even though we can’t always see it.
I’d love to hear what changes you’ve made, what you plan to initiate this year & where you’re inspired to make a difference!