I’ve heard multiple people brag, “We only have one bag of trash each week, but we have a TON of recycling.” Yes, recycling is great. However, the model is reduce, reuse, then recycle. In that order.
So let’s break it down.
Ask yourself “do I need this?” This can apply to buying things or trying to get rid of things (I’ve been looking into minimalism lately and there are a lot of people blogging about it and sharing their stories. This is just one example of a site I found today with lots of great, easy lists). Something I’m trying right now with things is having an “Outbox”: put a box in the corner of your room with things you *might* want to get rid of because you’re afraid you *might* need it one day. After two weeks, if you haven’t needed to use it, get rid of it.
If you’re buying something new and you do decide you need it, ask yourself if this is the most sustainable option– Can I buy the same product with less packaging (think do I need to put this one head of broccoli in a plastic bag? can I wait on buying olives/trail mix until I can bring my own glass container and fill from a bar/in bulk)? Can I walk to the store instead of shipping from Amazon to my house? Reducing in both impact and quantity.
A big step to reducing is investing in good quality products. A reusable water bottle is a great place to start if you don’t have one. But don’t just go to Walmart and pick up a $4 that is going to taste like gross plastic anyway and you’re likely to forget somewhere. Invest in something like a stainless steel water bottle. A great resource I found this week is a website Life Without Plastic— they’ve got everything you could imagine for your plastic replacements and things you didn’t even consider. That being said, don’t rush out and buy replacements for everything from toothbrushes to ice trays right now. Wait for these things to live out their natural use cycle (those cheap plastic trays will crack sooner or later), then recycle those and get yourself the good quality ones.
So you decide you need vegetable samosas as you’re walking home and then magically pass by an Indian take-out place with its door open, the smell overcoming you. And then your face drops a little when your 2 samosas are handed to you inside a little Chinese takeout box, with a plastic cup of sauce, in a plastic bag. Panic because you’re terrible at being waste free? No, accept that behavior change takes time and think about functionally innovating. The inside of the takeout box is still clean (because it was also lined with a piece of tissue paper grrr), so save it as a container for something to take to work. You can throw it out then if you’re satisfied with your solution, or keep using it if it’s still clean.
The little plastic cup? Wash it out and save that too. I don’t know about you, but I am always wanting for little salad dressing containers. Then you can recycle that after the second use. Same goes for so many things. I love saving the heavy duty resealable bags that trail mixes and pitas come in. You can use them over and over– ziplock bags included. Pack the same snack in them, mix your salty with your sweet, rinse it out. And when you’re ready…
You all know what to do. Or do you? Not all plastics were made equal, that is, recyclable. Plastic bags? Not in the single stream blue bin– those get caught up in expensive sorting machinery. Contaminating the recycling stream can sometimes make the whole load have to go right to the dump. (One of my biggest fears is that recycling is actually just a myth….which is why we need to reduce in the first place!) What can and can’t be recycled varies by region, city, town. Learn where your trash and recycling goes. Learn what can be recycled and what can’t for your pickup. Learn about where you can take specific things, like plastic bags (even if you try your best with reusable bags, sometimes the cashier just doesn’t listen when you say “I don’t need a bag”) or ink cartridges. Think about how waste management can be improved in your area. If you’re confused, chances are everyone else is, too. Be proactive and make suggestions for disseminating educational materials to residents.
Sustainability shouldn’t be a burden. It takes time to adjust to your new practices and there’s so much to learn. Sustainability should, in fact, make things easier for you. And it’s not all or nothing. You’ll get overwhelmed if you’re trying to tackle every aspect at once. So commit to a few tangible, measureable goals. Write them down and revisit them weekly while continually learning what else you can do.
Small changes do make a difference. Celebrate your small victories. For example, I just ordered some reusable organic cotton rounds to replace regular cotton balls to apply my toner day and night. While eliminating cotton balls seems almost inconsequential, it can take 2,700 liters to produce the cotton needed to make a single t-shirt. So I’ve drastically cut down on the impact of those 2-4 cotton balls I used to use per day.
My inspiration for trying to cut back on waste came from this video, or this person I suppose:
Check out her blog, too, which is super useful and I’m learning a lot from: http://www.trashisfortossers.com/