Two weeks ago, National Geographic shared a story about plastic pollution that photographer Randy Olsen has been covering for two years. In his story Planet or Plastic?, Olsen shares pictures that explain how 18 million pounds of plastic end up in our oceans each year. His photos also make it quite clear that discarded plastic wreaks havoc on the populations closest to it. At first glance, the pictures made my heart drop. I wondered if I might have used one of the water bottles pictured. I’ve never lived near a landfill or dumping sites, so plastic pollution hasn’t impacted me like it has people in the parts of India, China and lower-income communities all over the world who do. But at second glance, the pictures made me want to take responsibility.
I’ve known about the zero-waste movement since January. One day while listening to TEDx talks, I ran into a talk from Bea Johnson on how her family has produced almost zero trash in the last 5 years. This blew me away but also opened my eyes to the real problem that trash has become. What I learned since January is that the average American makes 4.4 pounds of trash everyday. This translates to just over 1,600 pounds a year and as a country, we create 254 million of trash yearly. That is enough to trash to reach the moon and back 25 times. If Americans continue to make trash at this rate, it is going to cause major issues for us down the road. China, who has traditionally purchased trash from us, has decided to no longer accept our trash beginning in January 2019. Some east African countries are considering banning second-hand clothing imports from America so to better support their own fashion industries. Things are changing and we need to change too, or else we will likely find ourselves living much closer to our trash and the problems trash brings.
So, how can we change this?
What sort of improvements can one person make?
Well, we can start by looking at the items we use differently. We can look for more sustainable, reusable and less toxic items. We can stop having a “disposable is better” mindset. We can cut back on the chemicals. We can also begin to consider the impact that products we use everyday have the environment.
How can we cut back or avoid products that require drinkable water and create toxic water during processing?
How can we reduce our consumption of animals/animal products that produce harmful gases or need a lot of valuable resources?
How can we hold our favorite companies accountable for the pollution that they create to earn profit?
How can we reduce our plastic usage and use our money to invest in things that can be reused?
As you can see, these are the questions I have been considering for the last 5 months. And in that time, I had made a lot changes to how I shop, cook and look at everyday items. There is a lot to think about when one first becomes interested in the zero-waste lifestyle. To make things easier, I have shared 5 of my favorite zero-waste swaps that can easily help one kitchen trash. These are items that if utilized can help make huge cuts in the 4.4 pounds each person is said to produce daily. The most ideal situation would be to find these items used or second hand, but the main thing is to get started however possible.
1. tiffin or bento box
Lunch boxes and containers have always been a hot commodity among kids and adults. Even now, I take lunch to work everyday so it’s even important for me, too. I remember my parents purchasing me a new plastic lunch box every year that I was in elementary school. It was usually filled with plastic-wrapped sandwiches, fruits in plastic zipper bags and a plastic straw for my juice box. So throughout my school experience, this equals out to a minimum of 6 lunch boxes (if not more) and pounds of plastic waste that all ended up in a landfill. A great zero waste swap is a stainless steel tiffin or bento box. These containers can be filled with healthy foods and will last for years. One of my favorite food bloggers has been filling her daughter’s Planetbox with goodness for years (check it out with #realnaturalkidslunchbox). This is a swap that will keep on giving (and keep you from running through Target like a madwoman the weekend before school starts looking for a new lunch container for your child) for many years to come. 🙂
Bamboo utensils are a really great zero waste swap. In the US, it is estimated that we throw out billions of pieces of plastic cutlery each year. A study from the San Francisco Bay area found that about 67% of the trash on their streets was made up food packaging waste. We can do a lot better than this by simply using reusable utensils. This is something that I am committed to and although I generally use a metal spoon or fork from home, this bamboo set would go nicely in with any lunchbox or tiffin.
3. drinking straws
Plastic straws are everywhere! According to Plastic Pollution Coalition, Americans use 500, 000, 000 (yes, million!) plastic straws everyday. Even at restaurants that serve food on reusable dishes, they still often times give every patron a plastic straw. These straws never go away. They end up in our oceans, which ends up inside of our sea animals. A simple swap is to purchase a silicone or stainless steel drinking straw, and to also say no to plastic straws. These are easy to clean, easy to carry and will likely save thousands of plastic straws from ending up inside the oceans we so desperately need.
4. produce bags
Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE grocery shopping. Up until recently, I never thought twice about placing every ounce of my fresh produce inside of a plastic produce bag. Because I buy lots of produce, a single trip to the grocery store could result in my using 10 or more of these in one trip! These bags never get used again and end up in the landfill quite quickly. A great solution to this is to purchase reusable produce bags. They are a one-time purchase and can prevent the need to use plastic produce bags ever again. Also, since I’m a grocery shopping pro, let me share an awesome tip. Please know that every piece of produce doesn’t need a bag. But these reusable ones are a great option for the produce that does.
5. glass jars
If you’ve noticed a trend yet, most zero-waste swaps simply require going back to what worked before we learned to simply use things once and throw them out. If your grandparents were like mine, they kept Mason jars around to use for food storage, drinking out of and for growing plants. Mason jars are fashionable now and are associated with all things southern, but when it comes down to it, they are great for storage and meal prep. I use them to hold salads, water, smoothies, soups, oatmeal, quinoa and veggie “bowls” and so many other foods. I also store my dried beans and grains. It looks great and I don’t have to buy a new one every time one gets discolored, starts to hold smells or looks old. I also don’t have to worry about anything in the jars interfering with my hormones.
If you decide to try any of these items, please let me know how things turn out for you. Small changes equal big results over time. I am excited to hear about how incorporating these reusables saves you time, money & makes our planet a greener place. If you are interested in learning more about the zero-waste lifestyle, be sure to follow the following IGers: @zerowastehome, @zerowastechica, @going.zero.waste and @zero.waste.collective. I’ve learned so much from following each of these people/accounts.
Thanks for reading,
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