Plastic wraps, produce bags, produce stickers, and even the bristles on the scrub brushes we buy, will never decompose. In fact, every piece of plastic made on the Earth still exists. For example, the plastic cups you use for a birthday party could have been easily swapped for paper ones. This easy swap ensures they will eventually decompose back into the earth, and lessens the plastic demand as well. This guide will better help you make swaps that avoid plastic, lessen food waste, and even improve the quality of our planet.
So, you have finally taken the leap to join in on Waste-Free February! The team here at ECHO challenges you to make simple, yet powerful changes to lessen your plastic consumption at home, and avoid unnecessary food waste! It can be overwhelming when we do a recap of how many plastic things we consume on a weekly or even daily basis.
First, breathe. Keep in mind this can be overwhelming at times, and don’t beat yourself up if your home is not plastic and waste free by the time February is over. The point of this project, is to open our eyes to the mass amounts of waste we unknowingly create every day. Take this challenge as an opportunity to alter your habits, with the “rooted” intention of lessening harm, and creating a better planet. Choose one or two tips that will make a difference in YOUR life.
Ready? Let’s get started!
o Carry a (or several) reusable canvas bags when you shop for groceries. This eliminates the need for plastic bags at the end of your shopping trip. You are usually saving anywhere from 2-10 plastic bags!
o Cut out plastic-bottled beverages. Soda, juices, sparkling water almost always come in plastic bottles with a plastic ring to hold them in place. Avoiding these, eliminates the need to dispose of them! If you’re craving something fizzy, invest in a soda maker. The soda maker will replace hundreds of disposable bottles—and the reusable CO2 cartridges are returned to the manufacturer after refilling.
o Buy fresh bread that comes in a paper bag, or no bag. At a farmer’s market, you can usually avoid bread wrapped in plastic and have them put it in either a paper bag, or a separate canvas bag you brought from home. The same goes for most local bakeries, although some people find it helpful to bring a cleaned-out popcorn tin to keep it airtight and fresh at home.
o Return plastic containers back to the market/store. Whether you shop at a farmer’s market, Publix, Walmart, Whole Foods, etc., there is always a way to return your plastic bags, cartons, and containers after using them and cleaning them out. Most facilities have bins located in front of the store upon entry!
o Avoid frozen convenience foods. Although this seems impossible to most of us, avoiding processed frozen meals can be better for our own health, as well as the planet’s. Most frozen vegetables and meals are secretly loaded with sodium, and what’s even worse…almost every brand has no alternative to the plastic packaging they use. To make things easier—skip the frozen section entirely. If you’re upset about skipping out on that ice cream carton, try freezing bananas and blending them with some milk of your choice. Ice cream—with zero waste or guilt!
o Choose plastic-free chewing gum and mints. Almost all chewing gum is made with some type of plastic. No, we’re not kidding. When you’re chewing gum, you’re chewing plastic. Luckily, plastic-free chewing gum brands do exist. Some of our favorite alternatives are: Peppersmith, Simply Gum, Green Tea Gum Co., Spry Gum, Xylichew, Peelu, and Chicza.
o Buy from the “bulk section” as often as possible. Buying items from this section at stores like Wholefoods and Earth Fare, are free of preservatives and also avoid plastic entirely—as far as packaging. Bring cloth produce bags and containers to stock up on your favorite bulk items like: nuts, flour, seeds, candy, rice, grains, and more!
o Say “NO!” to plastic produce bags. They are actually entirely unnecessary for a convenient shopping experience. Putting your produce directly into your cart won’t hurt it at all, and actually saved time at checkout when the cashier needs to find the produce stickers. If you insist on placing your produce into bags, consider ordering canvas, drawstring produce bags. There many eco-friendly options on sites like Amazon.
o Shop at your local farmers market. In our opinion, this is the best way to buy your produce. It’s local, fresh, usually package free and comes at a fraction of the price compared to most grocery stores. When vegetables and produce are pre-washed, cut, and then packaged for our “convenience,” it actually racks up the price of the item. Why pay $6 for cauliflower wrapped in plastic, when it’s in season, and at the farmer’s market, on sale for $3?
On the Go:
o Carry your own containers for take-out food. The only change you’ll have to make is letting the staff at the restaurant know you would like to use your own meal container, upon pickup. A popular example of an eco-friendly container is a stainless container from brands like: Life Without Plastic, Eco Lunchbox, and LunchBots. Another easy option is a stainless-steel container sold at most camping supply stores.
o Carry a Stainless- Steel Travel Mug or Water Bottle. Say goodbye to plastic water bottles! When out and about, ask for no straw and no lid when ordering a drink in a disposable cup—so even if you are without your usual reusable bottle, you are minimizing plastic use where you can!
o Carry reusable utensils and straws. Having to-go ware on hand is helpful even despite the fact that it saves plastic. You won’t ever have to worry about tracking down single-use utensils in the office, at school, or anywhere you are! Aside from utensils, reusable straws that are either glass, or stainless steel are positive substitutions for plastic straws. Get several! Keep most of them at home, and one or two with your set of utensils!
o Skip the cup—Order a cone! Treating yourself to an ice cream cone instead of a cup ensures zero waste after your treat, and can even keep your ice cream consumption down, so you don’t have to worry about over-indulging.
o Try a natural, beeswax-coated cloth wrap. This type of product is the most perfect substitute for plastic cling-wrap. You can purchase them or even make them yourself!
o Skip the harmful stuff-use vinegar and water. Use 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water as an all-purpose, harm free, durable cleaner. Make sure the spray bottle is glass, and try to reuse a spray nozzle from an old cleaner so you can skip the trip to buy a new one.
o Powdered dishwasher detergent. Contrary to its liquid competitor, powdered dish soap is packaged in cardboard, which decomposes and can be recycled.
o Use baking soda or bar soap to wash dishes. Buying big bottles of liquid dish soap can fill up our garbage cans and the landfill very quickly—especially if you do a lot of cooking in your house. Using these alternatives avoid plastic entirely and clean your dishes just as well. Instead of a plastic scrub brush—use a copper or wire scrubber, natural fiber brushes, or an old cloth.
o Wash Laundry with homemade soap and stain removers. Soaps like Borax and Washing Soda, come in cardboard boxes. If you have a stain, spot-treat your clothing with a combination of borax and water, mixed into a paste. Your laundry will come out with the same quality as commercial detergents.
o If you own a Swiffer, invest in a reusable pad. There is a great selection of reusable Swiffer cloths from the company, Juniperseed Mercantile. This saves money in the long run, and packaging!
o Give up hair products in plastic bottles. There is a mass selection of waste-free shampoo and conditioner hair care bars, from companies like Lush, and Naples Soap Company. These products use all natural ingredients, and eliminate the need for packaging. If you create your own hair product at home, be sure to keep it in a glass or metal tin jar for optimum freshness and to avoid plastic.
o Make or find a natural deodorant replacement. To make your own: you can use a bit of baking soda, mixed with a few drops of tea tree oil (to kill bacteria). Apply this mixture to dry underarms with a reusable cotton pad. No plastic no problem!
o Use soap instead of canned shaving cream. There are soap bars that are made specifically for shaving, however any moisture-rich soap bar will do the trick.
o Choose lotions and lip balms that come plastic free. It sounds difficult when you first think about it, however it is insanely easy to make your own lip balm or find an eco-friendly one. Coconut oil, shea butter, a few drops of essential oils, and you’ve made your own package-free lip balm. Stores like Lush, sell cruelty and package-free lip balms in various scents.
o Use a bamboo toothbrush, and plastic-free dental products. Baking soda can also act as a replacement for toothpaste-- although it does not contain fluoride. There are powdered toothpaste options online, as well as plastic-free, zero-waste dental floss; like the kind from Dental Lace brand.
o Use recycled or plastic free toilet paper. Some brands of TP come in a cardboard box with paper-wrapped rolls. Seventh Generation brand has recycled, individually wrapped rolls that can be purchased on Amazon. It comes in a cardboard box without plastic wrapping.
o Buy secondhand. Check the secondhand store options around you when looking for something you need. Odds are, you can find it for half the price, and in good condition. Examples of secondhand stores and websites are: Goodwill, Freecycle, Let-go, Craigslist, or borrow.
o Repair things when they break. Fixing an item that is broken saves you money. It also conserves appliances and lessens the demand for items, creating less waste in the long run.
Avoiding Food Waste:
o Compost your food waste. First see if your local community garden takes part in city-wide composting. If one is not in close distance to you, this is a great opportunity to start your own compost bin at home! Conserving your food scraps and adding it to your compost bin every day, creates rich soil for your plants in your garden, and makes good use of the food waste your household creates. Keep your compost pile circulating with air at least once a day. Be sure to layer each new food scraps layer with either cardboard, leaves, or mulch, so your scraps can decompose properly.
For more helpful tips, follow this guide on how to create your own compost bin at home:
o Plan Your Grocery List. Keep a good list of meals and ingredients you should always have on hand at home, that way when going to shop, you are not buying foods you don’t need or eat. Make your grocery list based on how many meals you and your family will eat that week. Will you eat out this week? How often?
o Include Quantities on your shopping list. There is nothing worse than getting to the store and forgetting just how many zucchinis you needed. Save yourself the stress and plan to know how many of each item you need when shopping.
o Find out how to properly store your fruits and vegetables. This is essential, especially when buying large amounts of seasonal produce. Many fruits give off gases as they ripen, making nearby produce spoil faster. Store your tomatoes, bananas, and apples by themselves, and other produce in bins.
o Freeze food you won’t be able to eat in time. Foods like bread, sliced fruit, soups, prepared meals, and meat keep much longer when in the freezer and can help avoid excess food waste.
o At restaurants, order only what you can finish. Ask about portion sizes and be aware of entrees that include side dishes. Leftover foods at restaurants go straight to the dumpster. These scraps fill our landfills and take space away from other uncontrollable wastes.
After considering the various steps we can take as a population to lessen our waste, it definitely feels possible—as long as we are consistent and conscious of our consumption. We like to use the term “conscious consumption,” when relating our habits to the waste we create. If we consume products that don’t negatively affect our Earth, we in turn make better conscious decisions; because we now understand how large of an impact our unconscious choices have.
This February, show the Earth how much you care! Follow ECHO’s guide on how, where, and when to avoid waste! Let positive changes, become future manifestations.
Sources: “Greener Living.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 3 May 2018, www.epa.gov/environmental-topics/greener-living.
“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 16 Nov. 2018, www.epa.gov/recycle.
Source: Life is for living