Are you looking for a more sustainable way of living, to have less impact on the environment?
One-third of our landfill waste is filled with discarded packaging. The average person in the U.S. discards at least 4.5 pounds of landfill destined trash per day, according to the EPA.
Living an environmentally sustainable life with zero waste, owning less stuff (minimalism), and adopting a plastic-free environment is possible. Here are 15 practical tips to help you adapt and adopt sustainable practices for daily life.
Zero Waste with Minimal Effort
Zero waste is a fantastic goal to help the environment, but even if you can’t get to zero, every effort you make counts. Each time you refuse a single-serve container, cup, fork or paper towel is a win for reducing your contribution to those 4.5 pounds.
Three easy ways to reduce packaging:
- Bring your own washable produce bags when buying produce. If your regular supermarket packages everything in plastic look for alternative places. Asian grocery stores in my area have a great selection of fruit and vegetables without plastic wrapping.
- Shop in the bulk food section. This will help with food waste and packaging if you bring your own containers and bags and buy only what you will use. Nationally, Whole Foods is one store that will pre-weigh your empty containers and then subtract the tare at the counter. Look for a local bulk food store near you.
- Prioritize packaging by the recyclability or reusability of the container. Note that the one thing that destroys recycling the most is contaminants - make sure to clean off food residue before placing it in the Recycle Bin.
Containers from most recyclable to least recyclable:
- Aluminum cans are 100% recyclable. Almost 75% of all aluminum produced to date, is still in use. (source)
- Glass can be recycled endlessly and easily reused in your own home for storage.
- Paper from note paper to newspapers and magazines. Again, they must be clean of food, grease, and oil.
- Cardboard is recycled to make more cardboard. Your pizza box is recyclable, providing it doesn’t have oil or melted cheese on it.
- PET plastic bottles are the plastic containers with the triangle symbol. As the plastic is remade into other products, it becomes less recyclable. For example, plastic soda bottles may become a fleece sweater or new carpet and once discarded are less able and less likely to be recycled.
Buying less stuff and keeping less stuff is a growing movement that can help the environment long term, but it can also be a big contributor to waste and landfills.
Keep in mind the three R’s of the environment: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
Three easy ways to adopt minimalism:
- Consume consciously - Before you throw everything out in the quest for a minimal look, consider how you are discarding items. Minimalism is not just about owning less but also about consuming with intention. Try and find good homes for the items you don’t want.
- Consume less - Having less in your wardrobe doesn’t mean donating your whole wardrobe every year so that you can rebuy. Avoid low-quality, fast-fashion, and look for quality, environmentally friendly fabrics that will last. Hemp and bamboo are great alternatives to chemically and water-intensive cotton.
- Consume sustainably - If you can sell or donate items for someone else to reuse that is the best possible outcome. As you use things and they wear out, consider purchasing higher quality products so that they will last longer and can be repaired. Patagonia will repair all of their branded clothing for free - no receipt needed. Many sofa companies now offer lifetime warranties on their products too.
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One of the biggest challenges I find in living a plastic-free life is beauty and cleaning products. When it comes to packaging, beauty products can be over the top. Plastic jars with plastic wrap inside a plastic casing, and none of it recyclable!
It's safe to say if you look in your toiletry bag the majority of your products and in plastic containers. Going plastic-free with beauty products can be challenging, but can be done.
Three easy ways to adopt plastic-free beauty:
1. Containers count - Your first effort should be zero packaging to eliminate any landfill contribution. Look for cardboard packaging externally and glass or aluminum for the actual product. Lush has amazing package-free soaps that work well on dyed and dry hair.
2. Refillable products - Refillable products have really improved in quality over the years. I recently found a great face moisturizer that I could put in my own container at my local zero waste store, Source Zero. The store also had good quality body lotion, shampoo, conditioner and cleaning products. Find a refill store in your area.
3. Finish what you have - Before you go out and stock up on plastic-free items, the environmentally responsible thing is to use up all of the products you have!
Traditional cleaning products use a lot of plastic, but there is a way to clean your house plastic-free.
Three easy ways to adopt plastic-free cleaning:
1. Real Towels - It is time to give up paper towels - seriously! Cut up old towels, or invest in a bag or car wash towels from Costco. You can wipe up a mess just as easily, rinse off the mess and then wash the towels in hot water.
2. Laundry - Buy your laundry powder in a cardboard box and look for products that claim to be “grey water” friendly. These detergents are safe for the garden. If a detergent is not safe for your garden, it shouldn’t be going down our drains either! Replace laundry softener and dryer sheets with wool dryer balls - you can even scent them if you love a particular smell. The chemicals in softeners and dryer sheets are particularly toxic for our oceans.
3. Floor cleaners - The best change I made for my wood floors was to give up chemical-laden plastic bottles to spray across the floor and switched to a Norwex mop (and bathroom mitt, and mirror cloths). These cost a bit more but will last for many years without replacement.
Gift wrapping options available are generally not recyclable (gift bags, gift wrap, gift boxes), and so it may time to get creative. Buying paper made from recycled paper is a tiny step, but you can easily do more.
Three easy ways to adopt plastic-free gift wrap:
1. Canvas bags - Most local stores have canvas bags with some kind of message, image or branding - a cute dog, favorite city or even a sports team - these make great gift bags that can then be used for grocery shopping.
2. Cloth wrapping - My family wraps all of our Christmas gifts in themed fabric and tie with a fabric bow. We have been reusing the same fabric squares for seven years now. Clean up is a breeze and we never need that extra bag of trash the city allows us for post-Christmas cleanup. You can do the same with birthday gifts - buy a couple of yards of hemp fabric and learn the art of Japanese gift wrapping, Furoshiki.
3. Reusable- Cute wooden craft boxes or baskets at craft stores are great as reusable gift boxes. If you are giving a plate of cookies or a cake, gift an actual plate or a basket too and wrap in a tea towel.
Living your life with the least impact on the environment is easy when you take the time to put in place better habits. Action your intentions by placing metal straws and bamboo cutlery in your bag today.
Leave reusable shopping bags in your trunk, and stock your car with a few refillable water bottles - with water in them. Move from a wasteful way of living to a waste-free and sustainable way of life.
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