Everyday millions of tons of waste are produced by people all over the globe. In the past 70 years 91% of all waste produced was thrown away, either going to a landfill or being incinerated. As this issue of global footprints is being talked about more frequently, we often wonder:
What exactly are simple ways to reduce our use of plastics and other non-recyclable materials?
1. Reusable Bags
We all feel guilty walking out of the grocery store with five bags in hand knowing they are going straight into the trash once we’re home. To worsen this, added fees on single use bags are becoming more common in stores across the world. To save both money and your conscience, reusable bags are becoming more common and available. Options are even made for produce baggies! Normally made of cloth or a durable plastic, both can be found at the local grocery store for as little as $1. Take them to the mall and consolidate your purchases so you carry only one set of handles. One bag can be used for many purposes for years!
Americans alone throw away 500 million plastic straws a day. That’s enough to fill 125 school buses! Not only is this a lot of waste, materials that weigh as little as these are often blown away from trash cans and landfills, entering our ecosystems and frequently being eaten by animals. Luckily there are alternatives to these single use plastics in the form of both biodegradable and reusable materials. Reusable straws are made primarily in the form of stainless steel, glass, or silicone and come in a variety of colors for your personal preference. They can be rinsed off and immediately ready for use again. If you still want to avoid the hassle of carrying around a straw do not fret! Options for you come in the form of bamboo or paper and can easily be thrown away. They are biodegradable so they will not pose a threat to wildlife and will decompose in a timely manner.
3. Water Bottles
As one of the most frequently thrown away objects, plastic bottles - whether for water, soda, or juices – make up nearly the largest volume of waste in landfills. Alternatives to these can be found in metal, ceramic, or hard plastic options. Easily found at most grocery stores or coffee stands, the variability of products ensures you can find a bottle you will love! There are options for both hot and cold drinks and generally for an affordable price. Some brands even carry bottles with water filters built in, so you always know you are drinking clean water. See one of our previous posts if you would like reviews on reusable water bottles.
4. Beeswax Wraps
These are a biodegradable alternative made of fabric and beeswax that can replace many household products such as saran wrap and seal-able sandwich bags. Found online through many popular online stores such as Etsy or Amazon, they are easily accessible and priced well. If you are so inclined, you can even make your own at home! Once your wrap has been used to the point it no longer sticks or holds its shape, it can be retouched at home with beeswax cubes to continue its life!
5. Reusable Tea Bags/Coffee Filters
You would think that these single use objects that most Americans use at least once a day would be compostable since they appear to be made of fabric or paper. However, many of these items contain plastics which take decades, if not centuries to break down. Thankfully there are options to avoid these! One would be investing in a reusable tea bag or tea strainer. These can be filled with whatever brand of loose-leaf tea you desire, then emptied and washed once used. Loose-leaf tea pots or other infusion methods can also be used. Reusable coffee filters are also available on most online stores or grocery stores such as Walmart or Amazon. Approximately $5, one filter will last many years saving you dozens of dollars annually. For those who prefer using a Keurig, the brand also sells reusable K Cups.
6. Silverware and Dishes
Disposable silverware is one common hard plastic that is unable to be recycled at most recycling plants. As a result, hundreds of thousands of these are sent to landfills each year. While paper plates would be thought to be at least compostable, many aren’t due to a plastic-like polycoat painted on them during production. They then act like a plastic and take decades to begin breaking down. While it may be a hassle at events such as dinner parties, it is not that difficult of a swap to begin using the traditional ceramic dishes used at any other meal. They can be put into the dishwasher and then used the next day.
7. Menstrual Cups/ Fabric Pads
An unavoidable source of waste most women encounter in their lives would have to be menstrual hygiene products. These items are made of both cotton products and plastics which must be disposed of. These products are also increasingly becoming more expensive which is what makes reusable menstrual hygiene products ever more attractive. One plastic menstrual cup costs the same as the average woman would spend on other menstrual products. The difference lies in that this product can be easily washed and used for up to 10 years! Washable pads are also available and can be washed and re-worn. These reduce landfill waste while also being an economically friendly option.
Above all, be aware of what products can be recycled or composted and what can’t be. Aim your shopping habits towards products which are packaged in less plastics or no packaging at all. Corporations take customer feedback to heart and if their products are being bought less due to excessive packaging they will eventually cut back or switch to more earth-friendly packaging. The voices of the people matter, use yours to advocate for a healthier Earth!
Reducing your waste doesn't have to be a difficult journey. Being Earth friendly is all about taking one small step at a time. A small replacement can save hundreds if not thousands of pounds of trash over the course of a lifetime, lessening a persons global impact. Make a change, help save the Earth!
Any and all brands and specific products named in the above article are discussed purely for environmentally friendly ideas for alternatives to disposable items. They do not reflect opinions, preferences, or endorsements of WSU’s Environmental Science Club and do not have any affiliation with WSU’s Environmental Science Club, or any entity related to Washington State University.
~Written by Gillian Huylar~