(Disclosure: Oh hey, this post may contain affiliate links, which means if you buy a product through them, I get a small amount of money – at no additional cost to you – that helps me pay for running this website. I don’t like buying crap either, so I have no intention of linking to products that aren’t worth getting.)
This morning I watched a short video from NPR on microplastics and how they’re making their way into the ocean and our food chain. I was surprised to learn that synthetic fibers in our laundry contributed to this problem too – I had always pictured the plastic in our oceans in the form of bags, straws, and wrappers. The video left me feeling convicted about the plastic waste in my life, which is something that I would like to reduce and eventually eliminate.
As I write this, I’m munching on a Nature’s Path organic toaster pastry, made locally here in my state of WA. It also comes in those plastic foil wrappers, so obviously I’m not perfect when it comes to my commitment to keep plastic out of my life (but this is so yummy! And soooo bad for my teeth…). I also frequently forget to bring my reusable shopping bags (I got a really nice sturdy one in lieu of a plastic bag when I bought a souvenir at the Vancouver Aquarium – I’m glad they act on what they know), so I end up using paper bags at checkout.
Obviously, I have room for improvement. I do feel that we as Christians ought to give some thought about our consumption; whenever I hear about the stewardship of resources, it has to do with money. And sometimes planting trees through organizations such as Eden Reforestation Projects. But mostly money, and how to save and invest wisely. I have heard a total of one sermon that brought up the issue of wastefulness and how much we as Americans are putting in our landfills.
It’s not something that we think about very much, even after being confronted with information about the impact trash has on our environment. My mom is from the Philippines though, so I grew up with frequent admonitions to not use too much of this or that, and reusing everything possible (it’s not a stereotype that Asian-Americans grew up with parents who washed the Ziploc bags – it’s the truth). I thought I’d share a few things that help me reduce the amount of trash I generate:
Avoid Packaged Foods
A bonus of this is that it encourages you to eat healthier and save money by buying produce, which usually doesn’t come in packaging. Have you ever looked at how much packaging is involved in your food? My realization of this came about a year or so ago when I opened the fridge and was confronted with 4 loaves of bread from Costco – swaddled in a sea of plastic. The loaf was wrapped in cellophane and then put in a looser plastic bag, then two loaves were packaged together in an bigger bag. It seemed ridiculous to me, especially because it’s fairly easy to make bread. That day I set the goal to make all the bread in my future household.
Well, so far I am having trouble getting it to rise in a reasonable amount of time (I suspect it’s because I now live in a drier climate), so I’ve resorted to buying a loaf every now and then. One of these days I will figure out how to achieve a fluffy, soft loaf again, I’m just not there yet. However, I do make dough for our weekly pizzas, which does save on some plastic packaging.
My husband likes Honey Bunches of Oats, so I’ve been buying that (a LOT of that!), but I recently found a recipe on Pinterest to make it at home, so I will update you on how that goes. Homemade granola is easy and smells sooo good! I used this guide from Buzzfeed when I was learning how to make it. Making your own breakfast definitely helps cut back on waste, as well as encourages healthier eating and saves you money.
It may not be realistic to cut out ALL packaging from your food, but analyzing the largest sources of waste and then finding ways to eliminate them definitely helps.
Buy Secondhand and Choose Quality
I generally don’t buy a lot of stuff, but when I do, I try to find it secondhand (the exception being things like underwear and socks). ThredUp has been super useful for finding cute secondhand clothes – even better, I can buy higher quality clothes that will last longer and still spend less than I would at Target. Local thrift stores and online sites/apps (like Craigslist, LetGo, and Facebook groups) are also great places to look for secondhand items.
(BTW, if you want to sign up for ThredUp, use this referral link or the one above to get a $10 credit for your first order.)
It can be difficult to find anything that will last at a thrift store, so if I’m looking for something new, I usually check Buy Me Once for ideas. I must mention that quality doesn’t necessarily mean a premium price tag! When I got married, I originally wanted to get a set of All-Clad pots and pans. Their 10-pc stainless steel set was about $700! But the reality of budgets set in and after doing some research I found that Cuisinart also has a really good stainless steel setfor about $130. In the words of Gordon Ramsay, “Buy the best you can afford, and take good care of it.” So far I’ve been happy with my cookware set – the handles are all riveted securely, which was very important to me – but I’ll update you in about 10 years to see how well they hold up.
Don’t Use Plastic Bags, and Reuse What You Can
As much as you can, anyway. If I forget my reusable shopping bags, I opt for a paper bag, which I then use to hold my recyclables at home. I still use plastic trash bags (not ideal but neither is the trash contained in them so…), and if a plastic has come into contact with raw meat, I toss it rather than trying to wash it. The risk of food contamination is not worth it (to me). We don’t eat a lot of meat, so the packaging from that doesn’t make much of an impact on our household’s trash generation. When our family is bigger we’ll probably end up buying bulk meat from a local butcher or, if we have property, raise it ourselves (it’s a lot of work but homegrown meat tastes soooo good, and as an added bonus, I can ensure my animals are raised humanely and given healthy feed).
When we moved into our home, we ended up with a box of gallon-size Ziplocs, which we’ve used for sealing up things like blocks of cheese and packs of bacon. I’ve still managed to avoid buying any more Ziplocs by opting for reusable containers (the one area where I am ok with plastic – it would be far more wasteful to replace perfectly useful containers with more expensive steel and glass). I would love to be able to get these Stasher silicone bagsbut in the meantime I’ve been happy with my Pyrexand Rubbermaidstorage containers.
When we first moved in I also got a roll of aluminum foil and a roll of plastic cling wrap, both of which I would like to replace with beeswax cloth wraps, which are fairly easy to make at home. Once I get my craft and sewing stuff in order I’ll get right on that.
Do I Really Need That?
Going through my stuff with the KonMari method made me realize that I have far more stuff than I need – which is pretty wasteful if you ask me. A great example is my writing implements: I have a jar of pens and pencils on my desk, but I barely use them because I only ever use one pen now, the Pilot Precise V5 RT. I used to buy a couple packs of cheap pens every year, and frequently lost them (you aren’t as careful with cheap ‘disposable’ stuff). Now I buy a pack of two; one goes in my purse, the other goes on my desk. I will probably only ever go through 2-3 pens a year (at most).
Another one is makeup. This is a personal decision, and I would never shame someone for wearing makeup, but it just wasn’t something I could get interested in, especially because my hair tends to take up a fair bit of time. Speaking of which, I haven’t regularly used shampoo for years, which again reduces the amount of product I need to buy. My naturally curly hair tends to be dry, so I never wondered whether it would be a problem, but there are others who have also gone no-poo whose hair was initially greasy but then evened out without the shampoo to dry out the scalp. When it comes to personal products, just ask yourself if there’s anything you feel is unnecessary in your life, and keep what you enjoy doing (in other words, KonMari your personal care routines).
There are probably more things I do that help me reduce waste, but I can’t think of them right now. I hope you find this post encouraging and helpful in examining areas of waste in your life. Some of the zero-waste bloggers I’ve read seem like they live on a different planet, so I hoped to offer a perspective that shows what it’s like for a ‘normal’ person to cut back on waste. As you can see, I tend to pick and choose where I change and where I compromise.