I’m standing at the supermarket checkout and I get that guilty, sinking feeling again. I forgot to bring reusable bags. Between organizing play dates, dealing with a small child’s playground meltdown, trying to cram in a home-cooked meal, and running my own business, surely I can cut myself a break for not remembering to bring canvas bags?
Once I started Common Good, a company that makes refillable soaps and cleaners, this stopped being my inner monologue. My line of work shows me exactly what our plastic consumption habit is doing, and I can't brush it off anymore.
You’ve seen the shocking stats. Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags annually; plastic that can take over 1,000 years to break down. It's all heading into our oceans, and the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch floats into my mind as the cashier hands me my groceries in plastic and says, “Have a nice day.” All it takes is a few small changes in our shopping habits to make a impact. Let’s start with these five.
1. BYOB: Bring your own bags.
Nowadays, I make sure I always have some reusable bags stashed away—in my car trunk, in my handbag, right next to my front door. If you store them in these places, they’ll always be handy when you go for a quick trip to the grocery store. Cotton, canvas, or hemp bags will actually break down in the landfill (unlike nylon and synthetic materials). You can also bring your own refillable glass jars to buy bulk items like dried fruit and nuts.
2. Free your food from its plastic shackles.
Ever thought about how much plastic surrounds your food products? Skip the plastic packaging and go for boxed items when it comes to things like crackers, pastas and other cupboard items. Also, avoid frozen foods, which are often wrapped in excessive packaging. The glass-encased condiments (as opposed to squeezable jars) have the added benefit of being reusable.
When you’re browsing the fruit and vegetable section, pick up loose items rather than prepackaged or pre-chopped ones so you don’t use unnecessary plastic containers and bags. And instead of spending money on plastic-packed herbs—that you only ever use half of anyway—grow your own on your windowsill.
3. Change your drinking habits.
I’m not talking about how many glasses of merlot you have before bed (I won’t judge). Coffee, smoothies, juices, and iced tea might be requirements for your morning dash to work, but all these disposable containers are contributing to the ever-growing mountain of plastic. So ditch the straws, stirrers or lids. If you prefer drinking with a straw, bring a stainless steel one instead.
You can also save some pennies when you BYO thermos or tumbler rather than buying drinks served in disposable cups, such as Styrofoam or Solo cups, which generally have a lifetime span of half an hour.
When ordering in, pick the "no utensils" option, and use your own silverware or chopsticks. And if you have leftovers, cover your food with reusable wrap such as Bee’s Wrap instead of plastic or foil.
4. Get into a renewable-beauty regime.
You can look good, feel good, and do good. Everyone loves a face scrub, but avoid microbeads (which are hiding in the ingredient list under the guise of words like polyethylene or polypropylene). These tiny plastic beads are causing big environmental problems in our Great Lakes.
When it comes to more-intimate items, you can buy bullet-style tampons rather then those with a plastic applicator. Also, change up your baby’s regime with cloth diapers, which, although messier, create much less waste than disposables, which don’t decompose and amount to a stunning 4 million tons of landfill waste per year.
5. Take your recycling to the next level.
Recycling is no longer just about separating your cardboard and plastic from the rest of your trash. For those difficult-to-recycle plastics (toothbrushes, cigarette butts, food wraps, beauty products, etc.) that are usually landfill-bound, check out TerraCycle.
Another way to reuse items is to get into the habit of refills—which is not just about another cup of joe. Buy soaps and detergents that can be refilled; Common Good has started a revolution with more than 100 refill stations around the United States.
And at the end of the day, when you’ve put your feet up and cleared your conscience of plastic debris, clear the air with soy or beeswax candles (not paraffin) or incense, which create more ambience than air fresheners in plastic holders.