Starting your journey towards an eco-friendly lifestyle, or even more so, towards waste free living, can feel overwhelming as the more you learn, the more you realize how many changes you have to apply to your daily life.
Nothing happens over night, so we suggest you start with the notorious ‘Big Four’! The following four items are probably the biggest trash producers in most of our lives, but they are also the four simplest and easiest swaps you can start with.
The plastic bag has easily become the symbol of the fight against single-use plastic, this 1959 invention, which was created to save the world and its trees, has now become one of our biggest polluters.
The U.S. alone uses 100 billion plastic shopping bags each year, and with 12 million barrels of oil utilized to make them, these bags are a problem from start to finish. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, although they have an average life span of about 12 minutes, plastic bags are responsible for the deaths of 100,000 marine animals every year.
As well as being more environmentally friendly, it’s also important to point out that reusable cotton bags are even sturdier than single-use plastic ones, meaning that a switch to reusables is a win-win for everyone!
Knowing the facts, and realizing how important it is to stop saying “Yes” when a cashier asks you whether you would like a bag with your purchase, is one thing, remembering to always have an alternative with you, is another.
When you’re out shopping and suddenly realize you don’t have a reusable bag with you, you have three options that will allow you to stay away from the plastic bag on offer (please remember that even ‘Biodegradable’ or ‘Compostable’ plastic bags are still a hazard): First, you can go home and get your own bags, two, you could ask for a cardboard box from the store room, three you could look around and see if the store sells reusable bags. Option one, going back home, will certainly teach you a lesson for next time (especially if you don’t live exactly around the corner), option two, will leave you with a box to repurpose or recycle (make sure you are recycling correctly though), and option three can become expensive if you forever keep resorting to buying reusable bags all the times you need something at the store.
Find a way around this problem by creating a system based on your routine that will ensure you are never without a bag. For example, if you’re used to getting your groceries on foot, you could buy bags that attach to your key chain, if on the other hand, you’re used to driving to the store, keep your bags in your trunk. Whenever you’re done unloading the shopping though, always remember to re-attach your bag to the key chain, or put them back in your car.
Single-Use water bottles
Just like saying “Yes” to plastic bags sometimes seems like the easiest options, purchasing plastic water bottles also seems like the simplest alternative. Sadly though, it’s this convenience based culture that has gotten us into this mess of single-use plastic pollution, so we really need to force ourselves out of this mindset.
A staggering 50 billion plastic water bottles are consumed and disposed of each year solely in the US, and although most of them are intended to be recycled, only 1 in 5 actually are, which means that making the switch to reusable bottles should absolutely be one of the first things to achieve a less wasteful life.
Buy one, or maybe even a set, of reusable glass, stainless steel, or safe aluminium water bottles. By always having more than one bottle ready, if you enjoy cold water for example, you will always have an extra one in the fridge. That way, you don’t have the excuse of not having refilled it up in time for it to get cold, before having to head out again. If you don’t enjoy cold water, you could always have more than one but in different sizes for example. You could have a bigger one for when you know you’ll stay out all day, or if you’re heading to the gym or for outdoor sports, and then a smaller one for when you only have a small handbag with you, and you’re tight for space.
Keep and eye out for water fountains and water stations in case you need to refill your bottle when you’re on the go, and if you don’t particularly like the taste of tap water, consider investing in a filter. Reusable water bottles may seem like a complicated or time consuming option, but in the long run it’s actually the least expensive alternative.
In case plastic pollution wasn’t enough to convince you to step away from plastic bottles, keep in mind that 25% of bottled water actually comes from similar sources as your municipal water supply (in other words, the tap!), but most importantly consider it a necessary switch to avoid being exposed to harmful toxins that can over time leach out of plastic bottles.
Straws are a little bit trickier, because most of the times it’s not so much remembering not to use them, it’s remembering to let somebody else know that you don’t want to use them. It may take a while, but once you’ve gotten into the habit of always letting your waiter know that you do not want a straw with your drink order, you’re all set.
Of course, if you don’t like drinking from the rim of the glass (when you’re having a smoothie for example), then there are a number of perfectly eco-friendly options available, for example you could purchase straws made of bamboo or stainless steel, which is the only material that has a closed recyclable loop.
Compared to bags or bottles, straws may seem less of a problem, but the fact that they are so lightweight is why they can so easily blow into rivers and oceans and harm animals by getting stuck in their airways, or by being mistaken for food and consequently ingested.
Take away coffee cups
Take away containers, just like single-use plastic cutlery that is handed out with take away food, are all things that sooner or later you will need to address, but sticking to the big four, start with tackling take away coffee cups (if you’re not a coffee drinker but nevertheless stop often to get other warm or cold drinks, this swap counts for you too!).
The easiest alternative to avoid these cups is simply to take some time to enjoy your drink comfortably sitting down while sipping your coffee from a good old mug. If you don’t have a lot of time to spare, and usually have to wait for your drink to reach a lower temperature before being able to consume it, you could always ask for it in a mug, but request that it be served at a more drinkable temperature.
If spending a bit more time in the shop is really not an option, then invest in a thermos, or, if your reusable water bottle set included a double insulated bottle, use that! This move may not only help the planet, but it could actually even help your pockets, as quite a number of coffee shops offer discounts to those who bring their own cup.
Once you’re done, simply rinse that bottle out and then fill it back with water (if you still had some leftover water, empty it in a plant somewhere before walking in to order your drink). Other solutions to avoid single-use coffee cups could be a reusable ceramic (although we understand it could be trickier to carry around with you all the time), or a stainless steel travel mug.
Please do not think that paper cups are a viable option. Not only are you avoiding plastic waste by creating paper waste, but paper cups are also usually lined with a plastic coating.
Btw, since we’re talking about coffee…did you know that it’s the world’s second most tradable commodity after oil and that it’s increasing demand is causing problems outside of the single-use plastic pollution issue? Click here to find out more.
By tackling The Big Four you’re on your way to make even bigger and more eco-friendly changes to your life! Keep following our blog for more tips on how to lead a more sustainable life, and visit our shop, for other easy swaps such as bamboo toothbrushes and reusable makeup remover Sets!