It is prime resolution season and you could do what everyone else did in 2018 and promise yourself that you’ll get buff or eat less. Or, you could focus on more environmentally sustainable living in 2019.
Below are 5 easy ways to reduce waste, live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, and leave the Earth in better shape than you found it. They are listed in order of difficulty, from easiest to hardest (though they are all minor changes).
Stop using virgin plastic
Here at R&R, we focus on finding products made from recycled material. Thankfully, there are many everyday products made with recycled plastic, as well as from recycled paper and cardboard. After many hours of research I have found tons of companies out there trying to reduce waste by using recycled materials.
You can find high quality products packaged in 100% recycled plastic, such as shampoo and conditioner, dish soap, laundry soap, etc. Or, many products are made from recycled plastic, like toothbrushes, food storage, toys, snack bags, trash bags (70% recycled), among many others.
Using recycled plastic diverts plastic waste from the landfill. It requires less energy and water to make. Buying products made from recycled plastic helps send a signal to companies that consumers care about the waste they create.
Besides the direct benefits, it also builds demand for recycled materials in the U.S. This is critical since the recycling industry is in crisis. In response to our growing trade war, China has tightened its rules for accepting recyclable material. And guess what? Most of the stuff you put in your recycling bin ended up in China. Local governments, cities, and waste facilities are awash in recyclable material and the prices have cratered, increasing incentives to divert recyclables straight to the landfill rather than reuse it, or to cancel recycling programs completely.
Small steps for a plastic-free house
Do you know that plastic will last approximately 500 years in a landfill? And in the 70 years we’ve been making plastic, we’ve created 9 billion tons of it! PBS did a great series on plastic waste, see below for the opening segment.
There are a few estimates out there, but the current percent of plastic that actually gets recycled is around 7% to 9%. So purchasing recycled products is great, but cutting out plastic completely is better. There is a reason the waste hierarchy starts with “reduce.” The best way to reduce waste is to stop creating it.
There are so many innovative companies out there selling products that allow you to avoid plastic and embrace the zero waste movement. Pick a few areas where you want to give up plastic forever. Here are some no-brainer ideas:
- Give up plastic wrap by transitioning to cloth wraps, like these reusable food wraps we love.
- Ditch the plastic razors and go old school for shaving. Superior to disposable razors in quality and shave experience, will last forever, saves you money (in the long run), AND it reduces a source of plastic waste in your house forever! There are options for men or women.
- Or check here for all the zero waste products we have rigorously tested. You can choose what makes sense for your life.
Start packing your lunch
Save money and the Earth at the same time?! This is a no-brainer. I’m always astounded at the amount of waste produced by one meal at a fast casual restaurant. There is a lot of greenwashing going on at these places too. For instance, providing compostable cutlery and plates but not having a compost collection bin does not reduce waste (R&R finger wag at you Roti, Union Market in DC, among countless others). It just ends up in the landfill like all the other trash.
We have tested and recommend numerous helpful products for taking food to work or school, many made from recycled material. Like ChicoBag’s snack bags made from recycled plastic, which I use almost every day. We also love these reusable food wraps for a sandwich and this stainless steel lunch box that we use for the kids’ lunches.
Cut out single-use plastics while eating out
Life can be crazy hectic, so there will be days when you won’t pack a lunch. However, you can easily pack a small zero waste kit and cut out most of the single-use plastic from a meal on the go.
Banning plastic straws was all the rage in 2018. You don’t have to wait for your city to ban straws. Be your own benevolent dictator and ban straws from your life with these metal and silicone straws from Klean Kanteen. We carry them around for the kids and for the rare occasion when we really need a straw (sometimes you just need a milkshake).
Single-use plastic forks, knives, and spoons are also completely unnecessary. My wife and I have been using this travel set of cutlery for a few years (I’m still looking for a good set made from recycled plastic). They work perfectly and are really compact and light. You won’t even notice them in your bag.
Finally, there is the Lex Luthor of single-use plastic villains - the plastic water bottle. Please please please tell me you don't use disposable plastic bottles to drink water!? Its ok, we still love you. Above is a picture of all the plastic bottles we pulled off about 100 yards of the Anacostia River banks during a clean up last year. Plus, we all have to start somewhere, and if you are using disposable single-use plastic bottles to stay hydrated, Klean Kanteen has plenty of solutions for your hydration needs.
The double-walled version, which is a little heavier, is nice since it is insulated. But for lunch trips the single-walled version is light and does the job (plus it is cheaper). There are lots of other stainless steel bottles out there, but we like Klean Kanteen because they are an awesome company. They are a B Corporation, give to 1% for the Planet, and are focused on environmental sustainability.
Zero waste grocery shopping
You can go pretty extreme following the zero waste philosophy, especially when it comes to grocery shopping. I applaud all those zero waste enthusiasts, they totally rock. However, I’m focused on the easiest and most practical shifts in lifestyle. I realize it is tough to find the mental bandwidth, not to mention the time, to change up your routine.
So here are some basic things you can do to shift towards zero waste shopping:
- Start using a reusable shopping bag
- Buy bulk when possible
- Start collecting up jars for storage
The first one - reusable shopping bags, is an easy one. We have a collection of canvas bags we’ve acquired over the years. Just throw them in the trunk or over your shoulder on the way to the grocery store. My wife also has a bag made of nylon-like material that can be folded up to the size of a man’s wallet. She just carries that around all the time.
ChicoBag has a line of compact bags that seem very handy. They come with a little carabiner and storage bag, collapsing down to hang on a key chain, backpack, or purse. We haven’t tested them but we love the company and have been fully satisfied with their other products.
A member of our Triple T (our trusted team of testers) is currently testing these reusable fruit and veggie bags, so stay tuned for more on that. But at first blush, they seem like a good option to avoid bagging up your produce in plastic. Or, we just throw them in one of the reusable shopping bags and skip the individual bagging.
Buying your groceries in “bulk” is another easy option, assuming your local stores have that option. Check out Litterless.com, they have a search tool to help you find bulk shopping options (note: when I search DC, Whole Foods isn’t listed, so it isn’t full proof).
Our Whole Foods has a bulk shopping area where you can get all types of dry goods, like rice, beans, etc. You can also get nuts, raisins, and dried fruit in bulk as well. If you live in the Mid-Atlantic region you might be lucky enough to have a MOM’s Organic near you. We love MOM’s and they have great bulk shopping options. As an aside, they recycle everything - jeans, shoes, even Christmas lights during the holiday season!
What do you put this bulk food in? Two good options are using paper bags or glass jars. We mostly use small brown paper bags, which are free at Whole Foods, to transport the food back home. This works for us since we mostly buy dry food in bulk. For coffee, we just reuse old coffee bags. We reuse the paper bags until they wear out, then rip them up and throw them in the compost. Once we get home, we put the food in glass jars.
Some zero waste sites recommend bringing glass jars with you. You need to have them weighed before you start putting food in them though. The Going Zero Waste blog has a helpful guide for that approach.
You can either purchase jars, like Ball’s mason jars, or go the free option (which we do). We just clean out jars that collect in our house from pasta sauce, large jars of syrup, or other products that come in glass. Some of these jars are really high quality. It is funny that we’ve been throwing them in the recycling bin all these years. We especially like the jars that Classico pasta sauce uses, called Atlas mason jars. The sauce isn’t bad either!
Tiny Trash Can has a guide on removing all the labels. However, we are lazy so we just throw them in the dishwasher and gradually peel the labels off over time. Eventually, in addition to reducing your waste, you get a visually pleasant way of storing your food.
So, in conclusion, I hope you found these suggestions helpful. I think you will find these shifts in lifestyle super simple to implement.
Not only will you help the planet, you’ll feel better about yourself too. Those little twinges of guilt add up over the year as you wonder where all that trash you haul to the curb is going. Make 2019 the year those trash bags start getting smaller and smaller.
Anyway, good luck implementing them and hit me up on email if you have any questions or reactions.