A person produces 4.6 lbs. of garbage each day. Think about that for a moment, if this were a diet we were following, we would be gaining 1,825 lbs. each year. Disgusting, and definitely not sustainable. When you start to look at the amount of single-use packages we are consuming with every purchase, every meal, every trip to the washroom, it can get overwhelming. Where does it all go? Surely most is recycled right? Wrong.
We feel great lugging our blue bins to the curb each week, even patting ourselves on the back because we only had one black garbage bag, woohoo! Yay us. But what ends up at the recycling plant, doesn’t necessarily get recycled into something else. In fact, currently in the U.S only 25% of recycled plastic is actually reprocessed. And all plastics can only be recycled up to 7 times before they too end up in the landfill.
Ready for Change
It’s time we start thinking about our consumption of single-use items, in all facets of our lives, and adapt real change to our everyday routines. Let’s take your morning routine for example. You wake up, shower using bottled shampoo, conditioner and body wash (3 plastic bottles), scrub your face with facewash (1 bottle), use face cream when you’ve toweled off (1 container). You brush your teeth (1 tube / 1 plastic lid), and for a woman you may apply some makeup (x amount of containers). Once dressed and out the door, you go through your favorite coffee drive-thru and grab your daily cup of java (1 paper cup with wax coating – not recyclable, 1 plastic lid) and a muffin (1 paper bag with wax lining, not recyclable). By the time you get to work you have already used up to 10 plastic or wax-paper products!
Now let’s look at that same scenario from a reusable and sustainable approach:
You wake up, shower using refilled shampoo, conditioner and bar soap all from a local refill station. You scrub your face with a locally made facewash and apply cream from a glass container from that same local beauty shop. Brush your teeth with activated charcoal from a small glass jar (using your bamboo toothbrush of course), and apply some makeup made in biodegradable packaging. Bonus! The makeup manufacturer takes back the packages that can’t be composted. Win / Win. Once dressed you use your Keurig that was collecting dust and your reusable filter to make your cup of coffee in your ceramic to-go mug. You grab a muffin from your pantry and put it in your to-go cloth bag. With this scenario you are heading to work and have consumed no plastic single-use waste.
If each person took this same approach, we would not only save millions, ok, trillions of waste into our landfills each year, we would be healthier, more mindful of what we’re putting on and in our bodies, and saving money too. Take your morning coffee for example: At $2 per day in the drive-thru, you’re spending $10 per week just on your morning drink. By purchasing coffee in a tin or refilling a jar of coffee beans at a local bulk shop, you are spending a fraction of that. By using bar soap instead of fancy body washes that are laden with detrimental ingredients anyway, you are saving up to $5.00 or more depending on the type of body wash you prefer.
Change Begins Slowly
It all seems overwhelming when we look at our garbage-producing life with a microscope. But change with anything doesn’t happen overnight. If we start with small changes (daily coffee for example) and vow each week to try to change something else to make our lives more sustainable, by the end of the year we will undoubtedly see real results.
5 Easy Swaps to Start your Reusable Revolution at Home Today
- Plastic produce bags? Who needs ‘em. Bring a few cloth or mesh bags to put those apples and avocadoes in. Many grocery stores actually sell these reusable bags right in the produce section. Can’t find them? You can always use the paper bags beside the mushrooms for other produce too.
- Water, water everywhere. You don’t need water from a cheap plastic bottle when on the run. Many places now have hydration stations or even good ol’ tap water. You can purchase a charcoal water filter that fits directly in your to-go botte. That way you’ll always have fresh clean water to drink without the single-use plastic bottle. And water bottles don’t need to be fancy either! Use what you’ve got. That old glass juice bottle? Rinse and use it up. Mason jar? Why not! Try to look for glass over plastic even when it comes to reusable containers. They are more durable over time and there are no plastic agents leaching into your drinks.
- Soap swap. As discussed in the article above, you don’t need fancy body washes to do the job. A simple bar of soap can be purchased sans-packaging, smells great and uses natural ingredients that are better for your skin and the environment.
- Shop for what’s in season. You may love strawberries, but if its wintertime and you live in a cold climate, chances are strawberries are not only expensive at that time of year they’re also smaller, contain less nutrients and come packaged in plastic. Stick to fruits and vegetables that are in-season which means they’ll be local so you’re promoting farming in your area (yay!) but they’re also more likely to be packaged without plastic. Those same strawberries will be ripe for the picking come June, and sold at your farmers market in reusable cardboard baskets. Buy a bunch and freeze them for smoothies all winter-long. In the meantime, stick to potatoes, apples and other stone fruit that you can grab from the bin loosely.
- Just say no. No to bags, no to straws, no to extra packaging and no to take-out containers. It becomes easier over time, and soon enough you’ll start whipping out your own glass straw, using a cloth napkin at your favorite fast food restaurant and asking your dentist not to give you that needless new plastic toothbrush after your visit.
This reusable revolution is coming, and we are the change-makers and early adapters that are paving the way. Gone will be the days of needless single-use packaging. What we will gain instead are the relationships between local makers again. That small boutique bakery on your corner will understand when you ask for your bread in your cloth bag. The local restaurant will gladly accept your glass container for your leftovers to-go. The local pool will email you your receipt for swimming lessons and public washrooms will only have hand-dryer options. It’s exciting to think of the world we are creating, with every small change, big waves are hitting the consumer industry.