Video: Trash in the Delaware Canal
Trash is an environmental crisis. Every day we use and throw out products that are designed to be convenient. That packaging lasts for hundreds of years. For instance, consider your everyday squeezable plastic hand lotion bottle. It won’t biodegrade, and you can’t recycle it.
Even products that are supposedly recyclable often aren’t. Plastic can’t be recycled if it’s contaminated with food or other substances. And the energy required to recycle plastic is sometimes more than it takes to produce new plastic.
The only real answer is to reduce the trash we’re producing in the first place. Because most products are designed to be “convenient” and “disposable,” this can be challenging. But there are easy changes you can make to reduce your trash stream right away. Inspired by people who have achieved a zero waste lifestyle, I’ve decided to make a serious effort to reduce my trash. Here are the steps I’ve taken so far:
Cling wrap and ziplock bags >> glass tupperware. A pretty easy switch.
Plastic disposable razors >> stainless steel safety razor. Honestly, this new razor looks sort of intimidating, but once I learn to use it, it will be less expensive and much less wasteful.
Paper napkins >> cloth napkins. Found some brown washable cotton napkins on clearance at Michael’s, and they have worked great.
Windex >> white vinegar. Vinegar, surprisingly, works just as well to clean glass when rubbed with a rag–the vinegar still comes in a plastic tub, but it’s somewhat more plastic-efficient than the Windex.
Dental floss in plastic >> dental floss in cardboard
Plastic toothbrush >> bamboo toothbrush. I bought the bamboo toothbrush on Amazon and haven’t tried it yet. Some would argue that buying a toothbrush on Amazon, with shipping involved, is equivalent to or worse than the plastic. However, I’m guessing that plastic toothbrushes also get shipped from somewhere far away–when you buy them at CVS, the closeness is an illusion. At least the bamboo toothbrush doesn’t last forever. It would be interesting and helpful if someone did a lifecycle assessment of both toothbrushes.
For products where there are container options, I try to choose the more recyclable option. For instance, this plastic wasabi tube isn’t recyclable, but the metal container is. No more plastic wasabi tubes.
I started shopping at a bulk food store. It’s a health food/eco-friendly store where you can bring your own container, have it weighed, and use it to stock up on bulk food. They have a selection of dry goods, snacks, and some liquids like oil and maple syrup. It’s slightly more expensive than a typical grocery store, but I think the reduction in packaging–and supporting an eco-friendly business–is worth it. However, realistically, I cannot afford some of the products, like their produce and hand soap. This is one frustration of trying to be an eco-friendly shopper: because these products aren’t mainstream (and not currently produced at large scale), they can be more expensive.
I also signed up for a TerraCycle program to mail in my toothpaste containers and remaining dental floss containers and toothbrushes.
And, because I live in an apartment without a private yard, I started attempting to compost with worms in a bin.
These are the changes that have been mostly painless to make. Getting to the next level might be harder and will take more strategizing.