A couple years ago, my husband and I went to a local park with the intention of cleaning up trash. You would think this would be an uplifting experience, but it wasn’t. We spent hours picking up other people’s garbage, and when we put our five trash bags in the dumpster, we realized that the city hadn’t been by to pick up the trash. Garbage piled all the way to the top of the dumpster. Napkins, paper bags, plastic water bottles, and food packages blew across the parking lot, rendering our efforts pointless.
You never know when the plastic water bottle you just threw away will end up skipping in a gust of wind across a Walmart parking lot.
Drive around your town and notice all the trash on the side of the roads, in the water ways, caught between the brush and trees. Most of this trash wasn’t thrown outside on purpose. Most litter you see is an accident. A very preventable accident that can end up joining the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that’s now twice the size of Texas.
Here are 10 simple ways to cut your trash output for a healthier world and a healthier you.
- Never ever buy bottled water.
There is never any reason to buy bottled water. You’re buying basic tap water for ten thousand times the cost. It’ll take you ten minutes to drink the water, and then you’ll crumple up the bottle and toss it in the nearest trash can, where it will begin it’s landfill journey (or ocean drifting journey) of the next 500 years. These bottles don’t just vanish when you toss ’em. Every single water bottle you’ve ever used is still out there, and it will still be out there hundreds of years after you die.
Bottled water has toxins and traces of plastic, and is no more regulated than tap water. In fact, it IS tap water. Dasani and Aquafina get their water from “Public water sources”. Aka tap water. Might as well be from a hose out back. And they’re laughing their way to the bank.
There are so many amazing reusable water bottles out there. Go get yourself a Nalgene, a Hydro Flask, or choose among the hundreds of other companies that sell reusable water bottles. Or hell, use a mason jar.
2. Bring your own grocery bags to the store.
It is estimated that 1 billion animals die each year from ingesting plastic bags. More than 10 percent of debris on US coastlines is made up of plastic bags. Plastic bags are also the worst – they break easily, leaving the chance for shattered food jars and broken eggs.
3. Only buy non-packaged foods.
Do you really need to buy kale wrapped in two layers of plastic? Does your broccoli really need to come shrink-wrapped? All this extra plastic might provide a false-sense of food cleanliness, but you have to wash your produce anyways.
And think about the foods that come packaged: TV dinners, ho-hos, cereal, juice, soft drinks, and other processed foods that will expose your body to loads of chemicals and saturated salts and sweets.
Choose foods with minimal or no packaging. Chances are, the foods will be healthier, and they won’t leave a 1000-year landfill footprint.
4. Shop less, use less.
Some people enjoy shopping in their free time. This means that new materials are always coming into their houses, along with bags, wrapping, ribbons, receipts, and tags that end up in the trashcan upon arriving home.
Your house, wallet, and stress levels will thank you: find a hobby other than shopping. Only purchase what you need. This way, your house won’t become overwhelmingly cluttered, and you won’t crowd the landfills.
5. Bring your own take out containers to restaurants.
The vast majority of to-go containers in restaurants are styrofoam. Styrofoam is a public health and environmental nightmare. Not only is styrofoam a carcinogen, but tiny pieces break off and end up eaten by animals, sinking to the bottom of seabeds, and leaching carcinogens into the water.
Styrofoam is non-biodegradable. It takes more than A MILLION YEARS to decompose.
Before heading out for a dinner date, grab a piece of Tupperware and stash it in your purse. When you can’t finish the rest of your meal, put the leftovers in your Tupperware.
6. Make more of your own bread, yogurt, soap, etc.
Baking bread is super simple and it makes your entire house smell amazing. Whipping together your own yogurt and ice-cream will be a rewarding no-trash treat, and creating your own soap will keep the chemicals out of your personal hygiene products.
Banana peels, egg shells, coffee grounds, lettuce stems, and all natural food waste end up in landfills, where they spend years releasing CO2. Might as well save a landfill by making your own nutrient-rich soil for your garden.
8. Bring your lunch.
When I worked in a big city office, I spent every single day eating in the cafeteria. Five days a week, I threw away a paper cup, napkins, straws, plastic utensils, and a styrofoam box. Imagine how much trash this was over the course of two years, taking into account the hundreds of other employees generating the same amount of trash. Imagine how much trash we all could have saved if we all packed our lunches from home.
9. Bring a reusable coffee tumbler to the cafe.
If you’re a “gotta have a Starbucks every single morning” type, please consider bringing a tumbler or reusable mug with you every time you hit the cafe. Most cafes even sell their own tumblers right there in the shop! Think about it – if you grab a paper cup of coffee before work every morning, you can save a ton of waste by using a tumbler of your own.
10. Use less.
Do you really need three miles of toilet paper? (Don’t answer that.) Do you really need a napkin? Do you really need to serve your guests on paper plates? Do you really need to clean with a paper towel when you can use a rag? Think about all the single-use objects you use every day, and try to use them all a little less.