At the beginning of this year (2019), I made a few promises to myself… I wouldn’t necessarily call them “resolutions,” because I feel that term has some negative connotations associated with it. One such association is that everyone usually abandons their New Year’s resolutions quite early in the year. I didn’t want to start my year off in a negative light, so I decided to call them goals and promises. One such goal was to rid my life of single and multi-use plastics. I’m doing this because a) plastics are extremely harmful to the environment and b) they often leech chemicals into our food. I have already done some considerable groundwork ridding my house of plastics, but we do still use some. So, here are some easy steps that I have taken – and you can take as well – to remove plastics from your life!
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Reusable Travel Cups
I actually wrote a blog about this sometime last year that also explains why you should switch from plastic use (health-wise and environmental-wise). I personally love to use glass travel cups. I did drop one once and the straw shattered everywhere (because I use glass straws, too), but I haven’t dropped one since. I do love using glass because there aren’t any harmful chemicals that can leach into whatever is inside, it’s easy to clean, and is durable (meaning it will last forever as long as you don’t drop it or heat/cool it too quickly).
But, just using a reusable cup or bottle, you will cut down immensely on the amount of plastic you use in every day life. And, as California just passed a law preventing the availability of plastic straws in restaurants, you can be happy knowing that you are making a difference in keeping less plastic from entering our landfills and oceans.
Reusable Produce and Bulk Bags
Now, I typically never use those plastic produce bags you find in the produce section at your local grocery store. I simply just grab whatever it is I want (say, 3 avocados) and throw them in the basket! But, there are instances where I do have to use bags (buying loose small items like Brussels Sprouts or bulk grains). And, as I already employ reusable shopping bags, this is just another item I add to my arsenal to cut down plastic use and waste!
These mesh food bags are perfect for buying produce and bulk items! And, they have handy tags on the side which displays the weight of the bag (so the teller can reduce that from the total weight at checkout)! Though, these will not work if you are buying bulk flour, sugar, or any other fine substance (as it will fall through the mesh).
For buying fine substances like flour, I suggest bringing the actual container you will be storing it in (like a large mason jar). Simply find the scale at the store, weigh your container, and make note of it so the teller can deduct it from the total weight.
If you are unsure about using your own bags and containers for shopping the produce and bulk sections, simply ask a teller or store manager and they should be able to help!
Reusable Snack and Freezer Bags
If you have kids, then you know that having snack bags available for lunches or a play day a the park are of the utmost necessity. When I’m home with my kiddos, we nearly always head out for errands or to play and we ALWAYS pack snacks. As most public places frown upon glass containers, my go-to is a reusable silicone bag. These can be washed easily in the sink and this set comes with various sizes that can satisfy nearly any need in the kitchen. Goodbye Ziplock!
Additionally, you can also use beeswax wraps to wrap virtually any kind of food in (save for meats and foods that contain a lot of liquid). These are great for wrapping a sandwich or open produce in. You can fold them up into little envelopes to use as a snack container or as a lid for an open bowl! If you can’t justify the price tag for one of these, you can make your own with 100% cotton from your local fabric store and some beeswax! Goodbye plastic cling wrap!
So, we have entered into a use-and-toss lifestyle. But, you already knew that. What you may not know is that “disposable” razors are a HUGE waste problem. They often cannot be recycled as they are a combination of various elements. So, where do they go? Straight into the earth or ocean, nearly 2 BILLION of them per year.
Luckily there is a solution, and it’s a classy one. Get yourself a safety razor (the MK-33 Long-handle one is my suggestion) with disposable blades. Safety razors use a single blade and they are both economical and can be recycled. Hooray! The handle will cost you the most, but it will last a VERY long time if you take care of it. And, as the replacement blades are so inexpensive, you can shave with a new blade EVERY time if you so desire.
Rather than throwing them away individually, it is suggested that you create a “blade bank” to toss your used blades in that has a lid and is up and away from the hands of little ones. You can buy a Blade Bank or crate your own with a can, jar, or even an old medicine bottle. Once full, write “USED BLADES” on it and recycle! There are also some blade buyback programs should you wish to investigate that.
I am on year 21 of being fertile. I started my period at the young age of 10 (which was basically unheard of 20 years ago. Now, not so much). So, I have been using feminine hygiene products for more than two decades! So, nearly every month for the last 20 years, I have bought a box of tampons, most of which were individually plastic wrapped and had a plastic applicator. When I didn’t want to buy the “fancy” ones, I would buy the ones wrapped in paper with a cardboard applicator. But, nonetheless, I typically used the ones with plastic.
Then, one day I finally found out what was actually in tampons and I was floored. I have been putting cotton (if it was actually cotton) full of pesticides and other harmful chemicals straight into my body – nestled quite closely to my reproductive organs. So, then I switched to “clean” tampons. I often bought L. from target – BUT they are all individually wrapped in plastic and come in a plastic container. What? Why all the plastic?! This wasn’t going to work.
Luckily I didn’t need any feminine hygiene products for nearly three years (thanks to back to back pregnancies and breastfeeding). So, once Aunt Flo finally did return, I decided to switch to a menstrual cup. BEST. DECISION. EVER.
Once, I figured out how to use it properly and adjusted it for my own comfort (snipped off the tail), I was soooo happy with it. You only have to empty and clean it twice a day, and there is no risk of toxic shock syndrome. And, you’re also keeping ALL THAT PLASTIC (and chemicals!!!) out of your life. Win.
There are a few different brands, so research and find which you believe will work best with your body. I have the Diva Cup which will most likely be carried at your local store.
Shampoo and other Toiletries
When I think back to when my hair was really long (just above my butt), I cringe at the thought of how many bottles of shampoo and conditioner (especially conditioner) I went through every month. My hair is a bit shorter now. Actually I’m due for a trim. But, since my hair is shorter, and I have kids (and less time to myself), I wash much less and use much less. But, I am still conscious about what I do use!
Switching to shampoo and conditioner bars is a great way to minimize your plastic use in the bathroom. Most companies that make these little bars wrap their products in paper, meaning there is minimal waste. This rings true for body wash bars as well.
There isn’t a huge availability on Amazon for conditioner bars, but you will find a better turnout on Etsy.
Toothbrushes and Floss
How often do you throw out your toothbrush? I think the general rule is every three months you should toss your toothbrush and start using a new one. So, that’s 4 toothbrushes per year per person in your house. Doesn’t seem like a lot, does it? Well, now think about this across the country. Over 1 billion toothbrushes are discarded per year. 50 million pounds of toothbrushes end up in landfills in the United States.
A great alternative to your traditional Colgate plastic toothbrush is an eco-friendly one made of Bamboo and nylon. These Bamboo Toothbrushes are bio-degradable and compostable (except for the bristles, which are made of nylon). So, you can toss them in the recycle or remove the bristles, say with pliers, and toss it in your compost bin! Even better, this brand sells both adult and child toothbrushes. At this point in time, I haven’t been able to find a toothbrush that is 100% biodegradable (as they have nylon bristles). But, switching to a bamboo-handled brush over plastic is great start. Eventually the market will catch up and come up with something that is completely earth-friendly.
Floss is made out of nylon, which isn’t really eco-friendly (as mentioned above). I haven’t been able to find a cruelty-free floss. But, there is Silk Floss (made from silk worms). This floss is biodegradable and comes with a refillable container. Another eco-friendly alternative to floss is a Waterpik! A Waterpik is a pressured water contraption that shoots water between your gums. I have had a Waterpik for many years! I hate flossing, and I find it much more convenient and fast (especially because I have a permanent retainer on my bottom teeth that proves troublesome for traditional floss). There are many different types of Waterpiks, so find one that works best for you! I have linked two different ones above (one wireless and the other wired)
Water Filtration System or 5-Gallon Water Jugs
A lot of plastic waste comes from single-use bottles. It’s crazy to me to think about how many people buy bottles of water in bulk. I get it, tap water is gross and has hidden chemicals and additives in it. I don’t drink it. I wouldn’t suggest that you do either, unless you live on/near some magical natural spring. The rest of us are usually subjected to the water our city supplies. So, how do you get rid of plastic water bottles? A great option would be to install a water filtration system in your home. These are pricey, but can be worth it. We will hopefully install a full house system when we buy a house (one day).
For those of us that can’t quite afford or justify installing a water filtration system… the next best bet (and what we do), is reusable 5-gallon water jugs that we fill at a local water store. And, oh my goodness is this water tasty! So, we invested in 5 of these 5-gallon jugs (which we fill every 3-4 weeks) and a cold and hot water cooler. Currently we use plastic ones as that was what we could afford at the time. But, we have reused these 5 jugs over and over again for the last 1.5 years, saving from buying countless single-use bottles. I can’t even tell you the last time I bought a personal bottle of water (like Dasani or Arrowhead – which is yucky anyway). Eventually we hope to switch these out for glass bottles, or if we end up buying a home before then, we will most likely install a full-house filtration system. If you don’t have a water store near you, there are also water delivery companies that drop water at your house, and collect the empty bottles upon your next delivery. Simply google “5-Gallon Water Delivery” or “Water Delivery” in your area. Some grocery stores and health food stores will have a water station where you can fill water jugs while you do your normal grocery shopping!
Another option, rather than buying single-use plastic bottles, would be buying a personal water filtration system like the Berkey Stainless Steel Water Filtration Unit. Berkey makes many different types of filtration systems (countertop, water bottle, even a shower filter). The issue with these is that the filters are not recycleable. But, two filters will filter 6,000 gallons of water. So, your footprint would still be less than buying plastic bottles of water.
Single Use Coffee Pods
Okay, this is also a HUGE one. These are the worst. We live in such a time of ultimate convenience when it comes to making coffee at home. I meant, single cup brewers are so awesome especially for households where only one person drinks coffee (like mine; husband). But, these single cup brewers are horrendous for the environment. It is estimated that 9 BILLION K-cups ended up in landfills last year. And just like other plastics, these things will either never decompose completely or take a HUGE amount of time to break down… leaching obscene amounts of chemicals into our earth in the meantime.
So, if you are one of the k-cup users, there are other options for you to reduce your environmental footprint! We started using reusable K-cups maybe 5 years ago (when we first got our single cup coffee maker). We have been using these K-Cups for years, but in my effort to get rid of plastics in my house, we will be switching to these stainless steel ones in the near future.
These are very easy to use. Simply find your favorite coffee in bean form or grounds, put the ground coffee (if you got whole beans, you’ll have to grind them first) in the K-Cup, close the lid, and put it in as normal. When done, discard the grounds into your compost bin or in the trash (do not put grounds down the sink/garbage disposal), rinse and reuse! Plain and simple.
In the event I start drinking coffee on a regular basis, we will most likely switch to a French Press.
It can seem overwhelming to think of how many things you need to change to minimize your environmental footprint. But, you don’t have to do everything at once. Changing things as you can will make an impact. So, maybe start with the next toothbrush you buy, or with your razor. This will make a change and cause you to start thinking more long-term about the products you are investing in.
What are your favorite eco-friendly products?