“Plastic pollution is a massive and at the same time intensely personal environmental problem…we touch and see plastic every day of our lives. With every trip to the grocery store we can readily see our waste footprint grow. On the bright side, all of us can do something immediate and measurable to reduce it.” David de Rothschild
Holistic minimalism means reducing all forms of clutter in your life, including the amount of clutter you produce through consumption of packaged goods. Maybe you’ve heard it all before at this point, but Americans generate more waste than any other nation in the world, with estimates between 4.4 pounds (2.0 kg) and 7.1 pounds per capita per day of municipal solid waste per person per day. Other more general studies state that Americans dispose of 32 million tons of plastic waste per year. There are a plethora of pretty simple ways you can radically reduce the clutter you put out into the world by painlessly changing a couple of your daily habits. Even if you don’t implement all of them right away, integrating one or two of these shifts into your lifestyle can make a big difference in the overall scheme of things.
18.1 Buy Bulk & Say Goodbye to Plastic-Wrapped Goods
Groceries in North America are the source of a whole lot of waste. On the one hand, according to Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council, as much as 40% of food goes uneaten in the U.S. (think about it…this means Americans throw away around $165 billion in wasted food every year and about 160 billion pounds of food goes to landfills…!). But beyond the wasting of actual food, there’s also all the packaging that food was in when you bought it to think about. Luckily there are more and more people waking up to the necessity of changing our consumption habits and saying “no” to unsustainable packaging. What’s great is that most of these waste reduction strategies won’t only save you from contributing to landfills, but will also save you a lot of money! Here are some ideas on how to kick packaging to the curb…
18.2 Reusable bags: An Absolute Must!
“The environment is where we all meet; where all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share.” Lady Bird Johnson
San Francisco was the first U.S. city to completely ban plastic bags in 2007 with several cities following suite, at least to the degree of taxing the use of plastic bags. Countries as diverse as Kenya and Australia have nationwide plastic bag bans that have had a major impact. Basically, if you’re not already on the reusable bag train, it’s time to get on board! There are plenty of thin little reusable bags available these days which are super easy to pack away in your backpack or purse for that last minute purchase you didn’t plan ahead for. If you have a car, just keep one in the trunk at all times. Same goes for your big saddle bags. If you tend to use your plastic grocery bags for other stuff once they’re in your home, like cleaning your cat litter or to put in your small garbage cans, just start buying compostable bags instead! At the very least the bag your garbage is in will biodegrade properly.
Lots of grocery stores also have cardboard boxes available for larger amounts of groceries. This can be another great option if you live nearby or have a vehicle as cardboard is way more recyclable and breaks down much faster if not recycled. For cyclists, you can also just bring your carrier bags in and put food directly in there!
18.3 Take Out Solutions…
“Think about it. Why would you make something that you’re going to use for a few minutes out of a material that’s basically going to last forever, and you’re just going to throw it away. What’s up with that?” Jeb Berrier
This is where tupperware, to-go mugs & metal water bottles become your new best friends! Same as reusable bags, these are must-haves when it comes to avoiding packaging waste. You just need to get in the habit of carrying a couple extra little things around with you when you’re out and about. And given the trend towards zero waste more and more companies are creating light, easy to carry models of just about everything! You can use the same container for hot drinks as for water if you get a thermos of some kind and rinse it out in between.
As for straws, if you’re really attached to drinking with them you can get yourself a reusable bamboo one online or in eco-friendly stores. Otherwise, you just have to mention you don’t want one whenever you’re ordering a drink! The same goes for the plastic cutlery often included in any takeout order. Simply say you don’t need it and either carry your own with you or keep some at your workplace if that’s where you usually eat lunch. If, on the other hand, you tend to pack your own lunches, then make a point of cutting out all the ziploc bag and plastic tupperware from your life as these will eventually get too grotty or cracked to continue using, and will end up in a landfill. Go for glass or metal containers!
Of course another option is to simply stop getting things to go…which could actually be a great choice for those of you wishing you could slow things down in your life! Choosing to no longer get food and drinks to go forces you to actually take time to eat or enjoy a coffee without being at work or on the way to somewhere else.
18.4 Whatever You Can Make, Do…
“It takes half your life before you discover life is a do-it-yourself project.” Napoleon Hill
As mentioned above, lots of bulk and zero food waste stores have a whole range of products available on top of your everyday groceries. This is great, because it means you can relatively easily shift from buying yet another plastic bottle of shampoo or an obviously not recyclable tube of toothpaste whenever you run out. Instead, you can just bring your container back to the store and refill it time and time again! Another option however, if getting to and from somewhere to refill on hygiene and household cleaning products is a hassle, is to just make your own!
Everything from sunscreen to deodorant to laundry detergent can actually be made at home with just a few easy to find ingredients like baking soda and apple cider vinegar and a couple essential oils! If you have kids, these are the types of projects that can be both super fun and educational. You can find recipes on several websites online for just about anything.
The same applies for a lot of food products you otherwise might buy in plastic containers, such as nut butters and milks and most jams and sauces like pesto, salsa or tomato sauce. All of these are very easy to make at home from scratch if you’ve got the time and motivation! Nut butters and milks basically just involve soaking the nuts overnight and blending them up, so the time involved is actually pretty limited (you probably want to look up step-by-step instructions for your first try though!). Making stuff at home not only insures that you know what’s going into each product, thus avoiding any toxins, additives, preservatives or plastic byproducts that a lot of companies sneak into their ingredients, but again, allows you to bypass a whole lot of totally unnecessary plastic waste.
18.5 For The Parents & Parents-to-be Out There…
Yep! You guessed it! Diapers are also big contributor to plastic waste that you can also get around by choosing the reusable option. Sure it’s not everyone’s idea of a good time to deal with washing reusable diapers…it depends how dedicated you are to the whole waste reduction thing and how squeamish you are about…well, human waste! In the good news, there are companies out there that actually offer reusable diaper washing services, such as Toronto, Ontario’s “Comfy Cotton” company. According to their website, disposable diapers make up a whopping 50% of household waste with 250,000 trees being destroyed and over 3.5 billion gallons of oil used to make disposables per year in North America. Parents who choose reusable diapers save between 1,000-2,000$ over the course of a child’s potty training. Needless to say, it’s worth considering switching to reusables!
There are also now some companies making compostable diapers, though you obviously can’t just send them to your local composting center due to the content! Cities like San Francisco and Calgary, Alberta have professional composting services specifically for diapers. Check out what’s available in your area! You may be surprised.
Action Point Summary – Here’s What You Need to Do Now!
Ready to say goodbye to plastic waste and hello to guilt-free grocery shopping? Here’s what you’ve got to do…