Growing up, I never saw trash.
It was hidden from me. Why? Because I lived in one of the wealthiest cities in the entire world. Because I was privileged and privileged people pay money to not have to stare pollution in the face.
Plastic waste did not truly hit me until I was peeling plastic shopping bags and food containers off of my body while swimming in the Indian Ocean. I had traveled across the planet to Bali in hopes of basking in paradise. But instead I was swallowed by the island’s trash. On the streets. In the jungles. It was everywhere. And I, as a tourist, was only contributing to the problem.
After my trip ended, the images of trash didn’t. I was responsible for that trash. Through privilege I grew up thinking that pollution was something outside of my concern. A distant issue that sure, might affect me someday, but not today. I am so ashamed of this.
Let’s be honest – the third world is essentially the first world’s trash can. We export our factory work to poor nations and fill their skies with smoke and debris. Their children are being diagnosed with asthma in their infancy and school gets canceled due to severe smog. We consume and consume and then ship all of our waste back to the third world for them to deal with it. Because the health of Americans is more important than the health of Indians or Chinese or Brazilians, right?
8.3 billion tons of plastic waste has been produced since plastic was introduced in the 1950’s (source). That is equivalent to about one billion elephants or 23,000 Empire State buildings. I don’t know about you, but I can’t even wrap my head around that.
This is our reality:
No, this is not a rant about how much humans suck.
This is about what we can do to be a part of the solution. And even if you are convinced we are all “doomed” anyway — do you really want to go out without even having tried? I know I don’t.
So here are 7 realistic ways to decrease your plastic waste:
1. Buy Bulk Foods
Buy a pallet of mason jars of your preferred size. I personally have 12 quart-sized jars for items such as grains and legumes and 12 pint-sized jars for smaller items like seeds, seasonings, and spices. Shop at your local grocery store in the dried bulk foods section. Weigh your mason jars with the cashiers beforehand so they can calculate the difference upon checkout. Bonus, food is cheaper this way!
2. Use reusable food wraps
Being a leftovers queen, I used to go crazy with Saran Wrap which is not only unhealthy for humans, but detrimental to the environment. Use these vegan wax food wraps instead:
3. Personal Water Bottle
Plastic water bottles are so outdated. It doesn’t matter what kind of personal water bottle you choose — the options are endless. I personally prefer my 32 oz. Takeya:
4. Use DIY Natural Cleaning Agents
Cleaning products not only have recently been linked to childhood obesity, but they come in heavily-packaged plastic containers that have to be bought over and over again. A few years ago, our family started using our own DIY vinegar-based cleaning solution and never looked back. Here is a DIY recipe to try.
5. Reusable Straws
Plastic straws are a recent target of conservationists because due to their small size they are rarely recycled. Cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and New York City have passed legislation to ban them and enforce the use of compostable straws. I like to take it one step further with these reusable stainless steel straws.
6. Cloth Diapers
Every year, 250,000 trees are cut down for the production of disposable diapers. I will be completely honest — we have not converted to cloth diapers with our son. Like most parents, we can’t imagine adding another chore to our plate especially one as daunting as cleaning reusable diapers. BUT, it is something that has been consistently on my mind. Here are some organic all- natural reusable diapers that I have been eyeing recently.
7. Consume less overall
Easier said than done right? Our family seems to always have an Amazon package on its way. I am sure a lot of you are in that same boat. Especially those of you with kids. But the truth is — we need so very little. One thing I like to do before buying anything is waiting a full 24 hours before I buy it. About 50% of the time, I don’t need or want what it is anymore by the next day.
If you have any additional suggestions or tips on how to decrease plastic waste, please comment below or send me a message!