The statistics are staggering: less than 10 percent of the plastic in the United States gets recycled, and by the year 2050 there’ll be more plastic in the ocean than fish. This isn’t really news to any of us, but I know that I need to do more my part to take better care of the environment and reduce plastic pollution.
This is perhaps why eco-guilt feels very real these days. Since becoming a mom a few months ago, my weekly compost drop-off and trips to the neighborhood’s refillable soap station have taken a backseat to diaper changes and much-needed naps. While inspiration for a plastic-free lifestyle abounds, putting it into practice is where I fall short. In efforts to lead by example for my son and make fewer excuses, here are six small habits I’ve committed to change to strive toward a lower-waste life.
1. Buy in Bulk
It’s no surprise that grocery shopping, from plastic produce bags to packaged goods, is one of the biggest contributors to United States’ landfills. With a recycling bin that seems to overflow every other day, shopping the bulk aisle and purchasing foods in desired quantities is one way I’ve cut down on packaging. Non-perishables such as grains, nuts and nut butters, seeds, pastas, flours, and dried fruits are just a few of the items typically available in bulk bins. Make a habit of bringing your own reusable produce bags or glass jars to ensure plastic-free shopping – just remember to take the container’s weight ahead of time.
2. Choose Loose
While supermarkets around the world are incentivizing bring-your-own bags, produce packaging is still prevalent on shelves, often in the form of Styrofoam trays and non-recyclable casing. At the cost of convenience I’ve been known to buy pre-washed bagged greens or pre-chopped containers of veggies, but bananas in plastic? Onions in a mesh bag? Often times when unloading groceries, this outer packaging goes directly in the trash.
Let’s make more of an effort to buy fruits and vegetables that haven’t been pre-packaged and choose loose. One pound of loose carrots has the same nutrients and flavor profile as the bagged carrots – plus I’m sending less plastic to the landfill. Keep a reusable tote for groceries on-hand in the places you find yourself needing it most: car trunk, work bag – I even stash one in my diaper bag. You never know when you’ll need a quick shop.
Eventually leaving the house with a tote feels like second nature, alongside your keys and phone. And if you’re ever without one, I promise the kale will make it home in one piece. Just like all produce, remember to wash it thoroughly before eating.
3. Invest in alternative storage
Plastic storage bags (from snack to gallon-sized,) aluminum foil, and plastic cling wrap – all items once prevalent in my kitchen that generated a lot of waste. While it certainly felt like a financial investment upfront, switching from plastic to reusable storage has drastically lowered my family’s ecological footprint.
Instead of plastic sandwich baggies, these silicone airtight containers come in different colors and sizes, are non-toxic, and dishwasher safe. Replace plastic wrap with breathable beeswax wrap, and if you’re not ready to give up aluminum foil altogether, switch to foil made from recycled aluminum. Sometimes the most sustainable storage options are ones you already own, like giving new life to glass condiment jars to store dry ingredients, soups, or even homemade baby food.
4. Reduce Single Use
Items we use for just a few minutes don’t go away in as much time when they get tossed out. In fact, single-use items account for more than 40 percent of plastic waste. I took a hard look at the trash that accumulates each day and while an eye-opening exercise, it helped me focus on which single-use items – from granola bar wrappers to coffee pods – my family needed to phase out.
Whether you’re embracing straw-free sipping or upgrading your paper towels for reusable cloths, start small but start somewhere. Shifting away from disposable waste is all about changing habits.
5. Order smarter
My new mom friends and I joke that we don’t know how our parents did it before Amazon. It seems a new package is delivered daily, and with it comes the plastic air pillows engulfing my home. Amazon’s Frustration-Free Packaging Portal is a great alternative – its easy-to-open design ships items in their own packaging, using less packing materials, wire ties, and plastic bindings, and omits boxes within boxes.
Thousands of products can be shipped through the program, but not everything, so another way to go is to plan in advance and stock up on multiple household items together, ensuring it all ships in the same box.
6. Take-out Better
I’d be lying if I said take-out wasn’t a regular occurrence in my home these days, and I’m not alone: 86 percent of us are ordering food delivery at least monthly. When pick-up with my own containers isn’t an option, I make my take-out order greener by requesting no plastic cutlery (often individually wrapped again in its own non-recyclable plastic), napkins, chopsticks, and excess plastic bags. Get in the habit of opting out of individualized condiment packets. Instead, keep a larger bottle of your go-to’s like ketchup or soy sauce in the refrigerator for multiple uses.