The average American will throw away 600 times their own body weight in waste over their lifetime.
As I’ve written before, environmentalism and minimalism can easily go hand in hand, especially if you take a minsumerist view instead of the typical consumerist way of life in this country. However, I have noticed that everyone has their line. Some people will be eco-friendly up to a point, because convenience is worth it to them on some things. Many people don’t know about the environmental impact their actions (and purchases) have on the environment. Some don’t even realize the economic impact on their personal finances. How much MONEY will you save by switching to something reusable if you don’t have to buy a new one every so often?
Take disposables for example.
In my daily life, I’ve been noticing the disposable items around my home and workplace. It seems that everything is made of plastic and paper (and Styrofoam, eek!). There’s all this plastic stuff we just throw away and stop thinking about because it’s gone from our lives, never considering that it can take over a thousand years to degrade in a landfill. Also, note that plastic is not biodegradable, but it will degrade into toxic chemicals that can pollute our groundwater and air.
The more I learn about plastics and the impact of disposable items in my life, the less I depend on them. Thinking about my leftovers that I packed in a plastic container has me worried about chemicals leaching into my food. Next time I’ll remember to pack in Pyrex.
I’ve been doing some research on the commonly-tossed things in my life, and here are some small substitutions that I or anyone else can make to save something going into the garbage to spend a long long time in a landfill.
Kitchen scraps: It has been estimated that Americans throw away 12-40% of the food they buy. Oh my goodness. First off, reduce the amount you buy in the first place by planning meals and buying items with a long shelf life. Also reduce your dependence on imports by growing your own produce or buying locally with the seasons. Reuse leftovers, either as the same meal or turn them into something else — freeze bread to make stuffing or bread crumbs when you need them, make leftover mashed potatoes into pierogies or potato pancakes, etc. And “recycle” most of your food scraps by composting, either in a vermicompost bin with worms or an outdoor compost pile.
Beverage and food containers: Bottled drinks are a gross waste of your money, and you would immediately save some green by going green and brewing your own iced tea or putting your tap water into a reusable water bottle or travel cup. Reduce your purchasing of prepackaged drinks and to-go items in disposable packaging. Reuse glass jars and bottles for other purposes (paint them to make a simple vase, for example, or use wide-mouth jars to store dry goods in the kitchen). Recycle what you cannot reuse.
Bath and beauty products: Shampoo, conditioner, hair products, lotion, body wash… full of chemicals in a disposable plastic package. Reduce your purchase of these items by making your own (and keeping in them in those handy repurposed glass jars we talked about) or by buying natural products made without the chemicals. Reuse bottles if possible. Recycle as you use them up. It only takes a minute to rinse them out for the recycle bin.
Dental hygiene products: Did you know there are biodegradable toothbrushes? Yeah, me either. There are also sticks you can chew on that apparently clean your teeth. I’m still using an evil plastic toothbrush but when I replace it (soon, it’s getting to be that time), I will look into natural and biodegradable alternatives instead of sticking plastic and more plastic in my mouth and into the Earth when I am done. There is also vegan floss in a paperboard container, which you can compost or recycle. I currently use the little plastic floss-picks, which are very convenient, but I care enough about the planet to learn how to floss properly again.
Update: Though plastic, this toothbrush comes with a prepaid mailer for recycling and is made from recycled yogurt cups. .
Menstrual products: Here is where the line is for many people. Tampons and pads are bad for your body (chemicals, plastics, bleaching, GM cotton) and bad for the environment (so much waste in packaging and in disposal), but thinking about reusable menstrual gear makes a lot of people run for the nearest convenience store to stock up on disposables, just in case a revolution takes place. If it’s not too far across your line (or maybe your line is further away, in which case, I offer you this Internet high five: *high five!*), I encourage you to consider a silicone menstrual cup and/or washable cloth pads. If you’re curious about cloth pads, you can get a free one from Party In My Pants Pads.
Paper goods: Cloth napkins, dish towels instead of paper towels, handkerchiefs instead of tissues. These are all pretty easy substitutions. But I’m going to get reeeeeally close to that line again and mention REUSABLE TOILET PAPER. Over your line? Ew! Within your line: High five. It’s currently over my line and I use toilet paper made from recycled paper. If you’re interested in cloth toilet paper, maybe start with just number-one and still use paper for number-two. That’s how I would personally start if I was going to go down the path of cloth wipes (which I do plan to use for babies, with cloth diapers, so who knows where my line will end up?)
Lots of these reusable and eco-friendly (non-plastic) options get me excited, but some make me want to sing Meatloaf songs to the planet. I would do anything for love, Earth… but I won’t do that. At this point in time. I’m an eco-work in progress.
Do you invest in reusable materials? Where is your line?