Every Jan 1, I pick at least two things I’ll adopt in the coming year to eliminate plastic in my life and reduce my waste stream. I hope I get more ideas, resources, and great hacks from others on cutting the plastic umbilical cord. My suggestion is what a yoga teacher told me long ago: start where you are. Choose 1-2 changes you can make, and sustain over time. Here are things I’ve adopted over the years, in no particular order:
- Eggs: only in cardboard, never clear plastic, never, never, NEVER styrofoam
- Bottled water: no individual bottles of water; when in Chicago, I used Hinkley Springs; in rural Michigan I have a Britta.
- Film plastic bags, or any bags at retail: no. On foot, I have a large tote, and carry the fabric grocery bags that smash into a little pillow I can carry; car has various size bags, depending on where I’m shopping. Largely avoid bags, and voice feedback at places like Ulta that only use plastic. I was initially surprised how seldom I really needed a bag.
- Film plastics: NEVER put them in your recycling. They jam up the belts in the sorting facility, causing shut downs and efficiency.
- Bags for produce: when I stopped putting my produce in bags at grocery, I was astounded at how much I reduced my stream. My heart sinks each time I’m in line and see someone with three potatoes in a bag…stop.the.madness.
- Cosmetics: I’ve used MAC cosmetics almost exclusively over 25 years because of their recycling program. I bring in six pieces of empty (MAC only) cosmetic containers, and get a free lipstick or eye shadow. A no-brainer. They recycle 107,000 pounds of hard-to-recycle items each year. Wow-ZAH!
- Face and Body Wash: I have LOVED my scented body washes and hand soap over the years. Jan 2020 I discovered the beauty of scented, beautiful bar soaps, ditching the big plastic bottle in the shower. Turned out I don’t feel at all deprived of that little luxury.
- Carry out food: – None that is packed in styrofoam. (Finally May 2020, Dunkin’ got it. McD’s has been on the path a long time) I do still get carry out in plastic containers; I re-use them at home, recycle at end of life. I’m torn between supporting a local business, eating my favorites and being conscious. Not easy.
- Single serving beverages: only in aluminum cans or glass. Aluminum is first choice, as most aluminum gets recycled; most glass does not, but at least it’s not toxic like plastic. I always have a bottle of water in my car. I think I eliminated at least 48 individual plastic bottles a year, 240 in last five years, as I was forced back into long drives to care for Mom and Brother. I use reusable cups when permitted, but don’t go down a shame spiral if I miss one here and there. Intention and progress are my victories.
- Compost: I’ve always had a composter, but struggle to get a larger amount of food scraps composted each year. With compost, I just try to do a little better each year. I just had to have some trees removed in December; I kept all the mulch and wood on site.
- Recycling: all mixed matter in your bin is not created equal. I take packaging into consideration when ever I shop. Tech packaging can be awful (HP, lose the styrofoam!). I recently purchased notebook computers for my business from Lenovo, and was very happily surprised to see 100% corrogated cardboard packaging. Only two small plastic ziplocks with software docs was not recyclable. Of course it’s not my #1 consideration, but definitely has moved up from tie-breaker to important consideration now that so much of my purchases are delivered. Packaging waste was WAY UP in my house in 2020. So…
- Cardboard: Please everyone, break down boxes flat! And do an extra one that you see in the bin when you run out there. All this allows the processing lines in the recycling sorting facilities to stay efficient.
- 2021, what are the next two items up now?
- Hand Sanitizer! During my reactive buying phase in March 2020, I got nothing but plastic! Now, I’m transitioning to refillable sanitizer containers– byhumankind makes reusable metal mini bottles for sanitizer. Taking on the world of personal care products, where rarely do we recycle (think dental floss, toothpaste, deodorant), I’m just giving them a try now. While I may not stick with this company, but just seeing a new way to look at the wasteful parts of my life helps me continue on this path of gradual improvement. I’ve also purchased 70% alcohol in bulk, and dilute with water to have my own sanitizer in glass spray bottles.
- Fabric Softener: I use liquids in giant bottles I buy at Costco. Now that I know that 75% of plastic ends up in landfill, toxifying our groundwater and soil, I’m in the guilt-ridden stage with laundry and cleaning products. So I’m starting here with wool dryer balls. They are a sustainable way to substitute a chemical in a plastic bottle with a natural product. I’m just starting on this journey, so I’m curious about performance. But this is why I only pick a couple of items each year– so I can spend a year integrating the habit and learn along the way.
This is the first time I’ll be posting on social media; looking forward to more great stories and shares from folks. #ecotictok is also my new fun way to stay connected with like-minded folks that want to walk a little lighter on Mother Earth.