While I've spent my whole life trying to live in a way that serves the planet, this year I became distraught by the news of the world's dying oceans and massive plastic problem. I realized that small, convenient changes - although helpful, are not enough. When making new year resolutions, I became fiercely motivated to radically change my life and actually see just how little waste I could create.
I still have lots of material belongings. I still drive a car that runs on gasoline. I'm still a human fraught with shortcomings and failure, but I wanted to see what it would take to authentically live my values, even if it meant making difficult choices.
Where to Start
Ditch the Disposables at Home
Say no to paper towels, paper plates, plastic silverware, disinfectant wipes, dryer sheets, tin foil, etc. Paper towels and napkins can easily be replaced with washcloths and hand towels. Same with single-use wet wipes for the countertop. Lastly, although it's a bit messier cleanup, I admit, tin foil is just unnecessary most of the time.
Ditch the Disposables When You're Out
You can really cut back a lot of waste just by consciously making an effort to always keep a reusable water bottle, coffee mug, spork, and reusable shopping bag with you.
Got it! What Else?
These next steps take a little more effort, but over time it becomes your new "normal."
Shop in Bulk
If you're new to this, that could mean buying bigger packages and definitely avoid single servings if at all possible. If the package is glass, keep it! Eventually, you can start to avoid packaging all together by taking the glass jars you saved with you to the store and filling those. It's becoming more and more common for grocery stores to have bulk sections with items ranging from grains, to nuts, to sweets, to household cleaners and bath and beauty products. Have the cashier weigh the empty jar before you do your shopping. Use resusable mesh bags or old pillowcases for produce you would put in plastic bags.
Shop at the Farmer's Market
In some areas it is possible to get most, 80-90 percent, of what you need from the farmer's market. Unprocessed food that grows in the ground doesn't come in packages. It also doesn't have to travel as far using fuel to get to you. It also doesn't require a factory that runs on fossil fuel or fracking gas. Such a huge impact on your community AND the planet and it's FUN!
Cook Your Own Food
I know our society feels hectic and busy, but slowing down to cook our own food is not only a radical way to slow down put ourselves first, it also saves disposable to-go packaging.
Limit Food Waste
See if you can use more parts of the plant. See if you can can or freeze or prepare food before it goes bad. Learn to turn peels and ends into savory broth or fruity ferments. And compost what can't be used.
If I don't find it used, I try to buy high quality items I really need and will wear a long time. I buy organic and/or recycled cotton made using fair labor practices. Try to look for companies like Prana that don't use plastic in their tags or packaging.
Part with Plastic
Take an inventory of every room. What comes in plastic that you could do without or replace? For me, it makes sense to use the plastic utensils and tupperware as long as possible. Since it was already created, I want to give it life before it ends up in a landfill. Other people worry about it leaching chemicals in their food. Either way, if it ever comes time to replace the plastic items mentioned, you can buy bamboo utensils and tin tupperware. In the bathroom, you can find bamboo toothbrushes. Toothpaste is something you can cheaply make at home so you don't have to buy plastic tubes.
Where I Struggle
While I've gotten pretty good at saving food scraps, I haven't made the commitment to compost just yet. I live in an apartment with no patio and I tell myself the story it's going to be a lot of work. Does anyone else compost in a small space and have a reassuring word or suggestion?
I also occasionally buy food that comes in packages. I do my best to eat fruits and veggies, but I still rely on the convenience of having an RXBar or Larabar with me.
Follow our blog for more tips to come, for ways Healthy Harvest is trying to reduce our footprint, and recipes that prevent food waste. Share with a friend who wants the planet to still be habitable for the next generation!