Times are tough for zero-waste goals. Though studies support that the transmission of COVID is extremely low on reusables, most businesses have completely halted the use of these eco-friendly options. Keep fighting for it! Vote with your dollars!
If you are interested in leading a more eco-friendly lifestyle, here are three simple swaps to start with that will have a great impact.
Bring your own shopping bag. Throw it in your backpack, purse, car, wherever you keep the necessary things you cart around with you. Make it as easy as possible to start making the new habit of grabbing that bag before you go into a store. I can help you make a few out of your old t-shirts, if you don’t want to purchase them! If the store is not allowing reusable bags, you can ask the cashier to leave your groceries unbagged in the cart to load into your own bags once back at your vehicle, or you can ask for paper grocery bags that can be recycled or upcycled.
Bring your own straw, or skip the straw if you are able. One estimate suggests 500 million straws are used every single day in the United States alone. A simple “no straw, please,” works well for me, but you might have to remind your server, it’s a habit for them, too. Supporting local restaurants has been important through this pandemic, and it’s extremely hard to do this in a zero-waste fashion. When ordering, you can request for as little packaging as possible, and no plastic straws or cutlery.
Bring your own bottle and mug. Most coffee shops will fill your cup AND often give you a discount for it! You might have a harder time pulling this off in fast food establishments, so having your own bottle of water will help you kick the convenience while staying hydrated.
GOING EVEN DEEPER
From my experience, once you make an effort to start incoprorating the three simple swaps into your lifestyle, you will quickly start noticing more ways you can lessen the footprint you leave on this planet. This becomes a more personal journey; it requires taking a hard look at your lifestyle, and often making some pretty serious decisions about what you want out of your life.
Some of the next steps I took when becoming more sustainable:
Pausing. This sounds weird, but I’m working on incorporating a pause before I discard something. I think about what it’s made of, if it’s recyclable (or better yet, is it actually recycled), if I could compost it, if I should have purchased it in the first place. I make sure that the landfill is where this object should actually end up.
Composting. I don’t live in a great place for gardening, unfortunately. I still take the time to compost anything I can in my backyard tumbling compost bin. It’s not perfect compost, but it’s better than mindlessly discarding my food waste (and paper, and leaves, etc) and gives it the opportunity to *actually* biodegrade naturally, which it would not have the ability to do buried in a massive pile of trash.
Reducing. One of the biggest lessons I learned through my Master Recycler program was that “recycle” is the third in the list of “reduce, reuse, recycle” for a reason. It’s the last ditch effort to divert something from the untimely demise of ending up in the trash can. The best thing you can do is to not have these objects in the first place; the people at the beginning of the object’s life actually designed for it to end up in the landfill. Own less things. Buy less things. Treasure the things you have and know that they are enough. This won’t be perfect depending on where you live. Big Agriculture can be a hard thing to escape from, but utilizing local food sources and having face-to-face conversations with the people that produce your food about how it is packaged will be a far more fruitful conversation than trying to convince a huge company to make a change.
Reusing. As an art educator, I’ve always been good at reusing. But once I started getting more serious about creating a greener life, it hit me pretty hard that making art makes a mess. And that for most of my career, considering that mess was never really a thought. My creative activism has become my life work; to do the hard stuff to be a better person for my family, my community and all of humanity.