For many, the biggest challenge of reducing waste is letting go of daily habits. “How am I supposed to get my Wawa coffee??” we say. The answer, my friends, is reusables and a little planning.
I suggest, if you’re looking to reduce your waste, that you tackle one little thing at a time. Soon, your old habits will be forgotten and you’ll be confused by people who are still using plastic water bottles or double bagging their groceries in cheap plastic bags. Re-using products made of more sturdy materials is always better for the environment (no plastic ending up in the landfill), simplifies things (less worrying about cracked eggs or ripped bags) and often has economic benefits as well (some states/countries charge you for plastic bags, making bringing your own a much cheaper option)! I went shopping at my bulk store today for the first time since before going abroad, and it felt so good and so natural to buy things without cheap, plastic packaging. That feeling inspired me to write this post, in the hopes that you guys can get that same satisfied feeling when you shop in a less wasteful way!
Here are a few of my go-to reusables that have simplified my life and made my shopping and eating habits much more eco-friendly:
1. Grocery Bags
This is a SUPER easy one. My mom has been bringing her own bags to the grocery store for YEARS, and I have continued that tradition since moving out. It’s so simple to keep a couple of bags in your trunk for use if you’re out running errands. Most grocery stores sell them for a few bucks if you really don’t have any, but I’ve found that I have a million tote bags from random events that I can repurpose into grocery bags. If you’re already using your own bags, I suggest you take it to the next level and get yourself a Baggu (not an ad, just a suggestion) or another form of fold-up reusable bag. I have one from IKEA, and it fits in my tiny cross body bag. That means I can keep it with me for those moments when I didn’t know I’d be shopping, or didn’t want to bring bulky reusable bags into the mall. This makes it super easy for me to refuse the plastic bag for all of the products I buy. I’ve used it to grab shampoo bars at LUSH before, buy a dress at Uniqlo, and it also comes in handy as a way to waterproof your stuff if you’re caught in the rain and need to protect a camera or laptop. 🙂
2. Water Bottle / Reusable Cup
I’m sure many of you are already using a reusable water bottle – the cost benefits are amazing and refill stations/water fountains are abundant, making it super easy to refill your bottle out in public. If you’re not, get to it! I’m sure you have a reusable bottle laying around your house somewhere, and it’s so much cheaper to reuse than to buy cases of water. If your tap water isn’t potable, grab a Brita filter. The benefits will outweigh the initial cost, and you’ll be greatly reducing how many plastic bottles end up in the landfill and subsequently in the ocean.
I wanted to mention another form of reusable cup that I’ve been utilizing lately. In my brain, my water bottle is for water only, and having to clean it out after putting another drink in it is a hassle. If you want to grab a zero waste iced coffee at your favorite cafe or bring a mixed drink to a party, reusable cups with built-in straws are the best. They can go in the dishwasher, and many cafes (including Starbucks!) will give you a discount if you bring your own cup. Plus, the plastic (Starbucks also sells glass and metal versions) is sturdier and will help you avoid those awkward times when you squeeze your cup and the lid pops off and spills your drink all over your car. The same, of course, goes for thermoses/to go mugs. These cups with straws are also super handy at parties where you’re likely to spill your drink if it’s in a solo cup (it’s also a lot harder to roofie a drink with a screw off lid and a straw….just sayin’). These babies are also great for taking a smoothie on the go, filling up at a soda fountain, etc. I have been using one of these for a few years now and they’re great. You should be able to find them at any store that sells home/kitchen goods, like Walmart, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, etc. As I mentioned previously, Starbucks also carries a selection of really nice, sturdy ones, but they’re a bit expensive. Another tip – try to avoid ordering online to reduce your carbon footprint. 😉
I’ve written about my silverware pack before, but I wanted to reiterate how much of a lifesaver those have been, especially when traveling. The little pouch fits in almost any size bag, making it super simple to take a fork, knife, spoon, chopsticks AND my straw with me everywhere.
You don’t realize how frequently you use plastic until you start actively trying to avoid it. My job always uses plastic silverware when we have events because we don’t have access to a dishwasher. However, the break room has a sink and dish soap, so it’s simple for me to bring my own silverware and wash my own dishes after. If enough people take responsibility for their own dishes, the demand for plastic silverware will go down. This not only means that less silverware ends up in the landfill, but it also means that manufacturers are making less because there is a lower demand, which requires less oil and releases fewer toxic fumes into the atmosphere. This is why it’s important to resist the urge to say “oh, it’s only one water bottle” or “oh, it’s only one plastic bag.” If enough people truly commit to refusing plastic, the need for it will go down.
I’m reading Bea Johnson’s “Zero Waste Home” right now and she always says shopping is voting. Supporting local, organic, plastic-free shops will help them thrive and send a statistical message that we should have more places like those. Support a business because you agree with their values, not because their milk is 50 cents cheaper than another store. It will help the local community thrive and you’ll have more of a sense of purpose in your purchases.
Of course, shopping needs vary from person to person and where you can shop is entirely dependent on what options are near you. I also don’t want to shame people into trying to avoid all plastic and start shopping only at crazy expensive organic stores like Whole Foods just because you feel like you have a moral obligation to. The ability to try to go zero waste, try out different stores, etc, is a privilege that many do not have. So with this post, I simply ask you to start small. If you find zero waste overwhelming but you want to make some changes in your lifestyle, try using these three simple reusable items. You won’t regret it, and you won’t go back.
p.s. (If you already do all of this because you’re a sustainable wizard, check out this list of Ultimate Zero Waste Swaps for some fun ideas to start replacing other items in your life with a plastic-free alternative. Some of these also make great gifts!)