The theme of Earth Day 2018 is stopping plastic pollution. As Earth Day approaches, I see more and more people posting articles about plastic pollution, helping to raise awareness about the issues. This excites me! Awareness is the first step to solving the problem; without awareness, people do not realize that there is a problem that needs to be solved and they have no reason to take action. However, awareness without action is critical to making changes. For much of my life, I have been guilty of this because change is hard. Making changes takes effort and disrupting existing patterns. Over time, I have learned that if you are willing make something a priority and set aside a few hours to doing something about it, change will occur. Otherwise, the status quo will persist and change will remain an idea.
While I was traveling last year, I did a lot of complaining about the plastic water bottle pollution but was still buying bottled water for over a month of our trip because I did not trust that the tap water in various countries in Asia would not be polluted with agrochemicals or heavy metals. I had brought a SteriPen so I knew I could deal with bacteria and Protozoa, but not once did I do research to see if these fears of chemical and heavy metal contaminants were founded in any kind of science. Instead, I allowed myself to be ignorant and do the easy, safe thing of buying bottled water. I felt guilty every time we did, because I knew the environmental impact, but I told myself little stories like “it is only for a few months.”
When I returned, I had built up a lot of guilt over my inaction. I was telling everyone who would listen about plastic pollution in Asia without fully owning up to the part I had played in it by drinking bottled water. I vowed to start taking action this year, to stop making excuses and to diving into solving as many problems as I could find. Here are ten changes that I’ve made in order to reduce my plastic consumption this year. Some obvious ones like carrying a refillable water bottle are left off this list because at home, I’ve been carrying around a refillable water bottle for years because I personally hate the taste of bottled water and will always take tap water over bottled water when I know the water is safe to drink.
- I bought a refillable stainless steel safety razor that has no plastic on it. The blades can easily be recycled. The razor will last a lifetime and it was just over $20. Blades come in a paper box are 10 cents each when you buy in bulk on Amazon. Why oh why did I not do this sooner?!
- I got a new refillable coffee mug and started carrying it on me every single day after learning that single use coffee cups are lined with plastic. I fill it with a homemade smoothie in the mornings before leaving the house. It’s my favorite new routine.
- I pledged to start refusing straws. I rarely use them and even for a milk shake, would rather eat it with a spoon than sip it through a straw. Remembering to ask for no straw has been the bigger challenge because they come in drinks that you wouldn’t expect.
- I got a small stainless steel container and fill it with seeds, nuts, chocolate and dates for snacks. This eliminates the need to buy snacks that come in packaging (and is healthier and saves me money). Win, win, win.
- I switched to silk floss. I just ordered Dental Lace, a silk floss that comes in a refillable glass container. It works well and it is even compostable. The packaging is 100% plastic free and way prettier than any floss container ever was.
- I switched to a fully compostable bamboo toothbrush by Green Panda. Even the bristles are compostable! I tried a different brand preciously and hated it because the bristles were too hard but this one is adequately soft. They are at Whole Foods.
- I bought toothpaste in a glass jar. The lid is plastic so I am going to just reuse the jar and refill it with homemade tooth powder when we an empty jars. Here is a recipe for homemade tooth powder that I plan to try.
- I am refusing to buy any new synthetic fabrics because of the problem with microfibers shedding in our oceans every time you wash your clothes, although I still own a few synthetic that will take some time to replace. It is hard to find companies making clothing without some form or polyester, nylon or spandex blended in. Now the recycled polyester is being branded as “eco” (it is not in my opinion due to how it irreparably harms our waterways) and companies that used to be my go-to like Prana for their use of organic cotton are blending it with polyester. It is going to be hard to shop for new clothes so it will be key to really make my clothes last. To learn more about the microfiber issue, check out this video from The Story of Stuff. Patagonia also has a good blog on it and are funding research on the issue. Also, the How to Save The World Podcast just did a great episode on fast fashion (episode 14) that is a great primer for anyone interested in this issue.
- I’m ordering from Amazon less often. I add items to my shopping cart and wait to buy until I have a few items on the list. Often, I will find the product locally for a bit more and will not even place an oder because even by placing an order in bulk, there is no guarantee the items will ship together. I am waiting for them to come up with a system to deliver in reusable boxes where they will take back the boxes they ship their orders in.
- I am avoiding take out food. I used to get take out often when having friends over, but I realized that there is no great way to avoid a ton of waste. Yes, you can request no utensils when placing an order, but if you get Thai food to go, you are going to end up with curry in a plastic container, guaranteed. I’m trying to make an effort to cook more when people come (something I admittedly love to do, but have not made enough time for over the past few years) and it offers me a way to not only create less waste, but also be creative and save money.
What are the changes that you have made this year, or what are the changes that you are pledging to make starting now? If there are changes that you know you could be making, but haven’t yet done, block time in your calendar and make it a priority. Tell people around you about what you’re doing so they will hold you accountable and perhaps you’ll even inspire them in the process to make some changes of our own! We are social creatures and we learn from each other; share your failures and successes with people around you to expand your impact. Happy Earth Day!