Monday, April 15, 2019

16 Steps I've Taken to Cut Down on Plastic and Waste

If you've been living under a rock or buried under an overstuffed landfill, you may not have heard that plastic is kinda swallowing the planet. I knew about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and that plastic was piling up in recycling storage facilities because China, who used to take a lot of cast-aside plastics, was no longer accepting recyclables. But then I watched a recorded episode of 60 Minutes where they showed the damage to nesting albatross birds on Midway Island. Baby birds are dying because their mamas are unknowingly feeding them plastic instead of food. Malnourished with plastic-packed tummies, they can't survive.


Then there were the two different stories about young whales being found with plastic in their bellies — 88 and 48 pounds to be exact.

I'll stop completely depressing you now and tell you what I've started doing to try to reduce the plastic I buy and dispose of, in hopes of making even a tiny dent in this problem. Good news—you can try doing this stuff too!

1. Switched from disposable plastic razors to a metal safety razor. 
This one, to be exact. It was scary—I was mildly convinced I might slash my achilles and never walk again. But save for a few nicks here and there when I have a brand new blade in place, it hasn't been bad to use at all!

2. Added Bee's Wrap to my kitchen drawer. 
This wonder wrap works just as well as Saran wrap but it's free of plastic, can be washed and reused 100 times, and can be cut up and composted when you're done using it. Love. Love. Love.

3. Bought silk dental floss.
This, too, can be composted when I'm done with it. And though it's not as slippery as the plasticky Glide I used before, it's soft and works great.

4. Ditched face wash in a plastic pump for bar form. 
I was worried that the bar might dry out my face (wimpy, sensitive skin) but it's been working great. I also use coconut oil (which comes in a glass jar) to take off my eye makeup at night. It's a little too greasy and comedogenic for me to use on my whole face, but the Cetaphil makes the perfect accompaniment to it.

5. Invested in bar shampoo and bodywash.
I researched options on this and ended up at Lush—where I fell in mad love with their Jason and the Argon Oil shampoo bar. I tried the Karma Komba one too but don't like it as much. And the conditioner bar really didn't work well with my hair. I do plan to try their Retread conditioner because it comes in a little pot that you can return to the store where they recycle them. Aces.

The bodywash Shower Bomb looks like it'll melt in one use, but I've used mine about 6 or 7 times now and it's only halfway gone. Works GREAT for shaving legs. It just has to be stored out of a soap dish where there's standing water. I keep it perched on top of a foot scrubby on my shower shelf.

6. Made my own lotion.
This was quite the science experiment. I Googled recipes and picked up some shea butter (in a glass container) from the local natural food store and vitamin E oil (unfortunately in plastic but it'll last a really long time) from Trader Joes'. Then it was just a matter of melting and mixing with coconut oil, some essential oil for scent, and a splash of avocado oil. The consistency is obviously oilier than regular body lotion, but I like it! It leaves my legs and feet very silky soft.

7. Sewed cloth cocktail napkins.
I know, I know—napkins are paper and can be composted. But they come packaged in plastic! And I have a ton of fabric remnants, so before the last party I hosted, I cut out some squares, sewed some quick seams and set them out as cocktail napkins. I plan to make some more out of black linen in effort to do a better job of hiding tough-to-remove stains.

8. Switched to stainless steel party cups. 
Every year, we host a Halloween party and every year we sift through the aftermath gathering plastic cups for the recycle bin. I wanted to find something that was easy and durable, and of course Amazon came through for me. After this year's Halloween shindig, I'll be washing and reusing everything!

9. Bought compostable cutlery. 
Again, we create a lot of plastic trash with the utensils we put out at our social gatherings, so I invested in some alternative compostable stuff.  I should probably use real silverware and just wash it, but I wanted to give these puppies a shot and see first. There may be a trip to IKEA in my future for the real deal though...

10. Adopted Method soap dispenser refill pouches.
The refill pouches use 80% less plastic than the dispensers themselves. EIGHTY PERCENT! I think we've been using the same dispenser for at least 5 years. I buy multipacks of the refill soap and those go a long way too, which is great. We use Method in the kitchen and in all our bathrooms. And—bonus—the soap itself is biodegradable.

11. Signed up for multiple Terracycle Brigades. 
I actually did this years ago and have been shipping my beauty waste and energy bar wrappers to them to be recycled free of charge. Such a great deal! But I also recently signed up for the Tom's of Maine Brigade since Mr. W uses Tom's deodorant and toothpaste. They make it super simple to ship your trash. I even collect beauty waste from family members, and it's all free to send every single time.

12. Invested in a Zero-Waste Box from Terracycle.
Now, this ain't exactly cheap so I know it won't be for everyone. But Terracycle does such great work that I was happy to not only send them all the bits and bobs I feel guilty about throwing in the trash—I was happy to support their business. We've had the box for over a month now and have been recycling all sorts of different things—from food wrappers to caps and lids to pieces of packaging. It feels much more responsible than tossing that stuff in the trash.

13. Turned frozen veggie bags, chip bags, and other "trash" into cat poop bags.
Now, we also use biodegradable bags for litterbox cleaning, but we've made it a habit to save anything bag-like instead of throwing it in the trash. Our recycling doesn't take plastic bags, so this seems like a simple way to at least get some sort of use out of them before throwing them away. Just gotta make sure not to put that "frozen broccoli" back in the freezer by mistake.....

14. Stopped throwing recyclables into the bin inside a bag.
I read online that plastic bags can get stuck and gum up conveyor belts at recycling facilities. Apparently the best thing to do is throw your recyclables straight into the big blue bin. So that's what we've been doing. We still line our kitchen bin with a bag (and have to replace it every couple months) but we toss its contents directly into the outdoor bin. I'm realizing as I type this that if I walked every individual piece out to the bin instead of keeping any in the house, I'd raise my daily step count. Hmm.

15. Tried ThredUp.
A friend of mine told me last summer that she was really trying to stop making fast fashion purchases. Those cheap pieces that go in and out of style are wreaking havoc on the planet, apparently. I went back and forth on how I felt buying used clothes (I was never a cool thrift store shopper in high school) but I discovered that ThredUp actually has stuff that's truly like new—some even with the tags still on it. I bought 3 sundresses and you would never know they had been worn by someone else. Also: So much cheaper than buying new clothes! And on top of that, they offer signup discounts and ongoing savings via email. I will definitely be shopping there again.

16. Started composting a whole lot more than kitchen scraps.
I've been composting for about 10 years now and will probably never stop. We have a tumbler composter, dome, and a freestanding pile down in our back forty where we throw stuff from the yard and lower garden. If you do any sort of gardening, composting is such a fruitful practice—you get great soil and you cut methane-producing waste from landfills. Win-win. Lately, I've been throwing used Kleenex, the occasional paper towel, and way more paper into the compost. Soon my dental floss and used Bee's Wrap will go in there, too. There may be a line to draw here though. When I told my dad I'd Google "compostable underwear" and that someday he might eat tomatoes that grew from my skivvies, he was horrified.

When I think about past generations, I'm inspired by what pros they were at consuming less, reusing more, and creating less waste and impact on the planet. Something to aspire to. And if you don't want to swap out your current conveniences, consider making a donation to one of the organizations fighting the rising tide of plastic around the globe. Every little bit helps!