In our fast-paced modern lives, almost everything seems to be designed for convenience. Why make something the slow, traditional way or pay for a quality item when you can have the newest, easiest thing by just popping out to the store or having it delivered? We live in a culture which values ease of use, speed, and convenience over anything else — a “disposable” culture. Of course, green-minded individuals have been pushing back at this trend for decades, and starting their own trends in the process. Just think about the slow food movement or the increasing popularity of “upcycling” everything from furniture to clothing.
One of the most pervasive aspects of disposable culture is single-use products. From plastic water bottles to Styrofoam coffee cups to paper napkins, these items are ubiquitous in our lives and almost impossible to avoid at times. You might not even realize how many disposable products you use on a daily basis. You might think: “I bring reusable grocery bags to do my shopping and carry my own reusable water bottle and travel mug! I can’t be part of the problem!”. However, despite efforts to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, it can be easy to fall into the trap of disposable, convenient products, especially when you aren’t at home. Some you might not even think about as you use them, so today we’re sharing a checklist of the less obvious single-use items you should work on banning from your life.
In your own home
Dryer Sheets – These are completely unnecessary to doing your wash. Is a nice scent really worth all the chemical irritants contained in a single use sheet? Instead opt for a dryer ball that you can use again and again. Or better yet, save some electricity and hang your clothes to dry, inside or outside, space and weather permitting.
Coffee Pods – These only became trendy in recent years, and yet it is estimated that 60 billion of them have gone into landfills and that number is growing every day. The city of Hamburg in Germany recently banned them for environmental reasons, and hopefully others will follow suit. You can make a better quality coffee just from freshly ground beans in your percolator or French press, and then the grounds can be spread straight onto your garden (worms love them!) or composted.
Plastic Bags and Food Wrap – Think beyond the plastic bags at the grocery store and you might realize they come into your life in many other ways. Do you use Ziploc bags for storage of food? Even if you wash and reuse them a few times, they break much quicker than a good eco-friendly plastic or glass food container. Same goes for plastic wrap and tin foil, which once soiled with food can’t even be recycled.
Tea Bags – You might not even think of these as being a wasteful single use product, but in reality, they are. A box of tea bags is usually covered in plastic wrap when you purchase it, and then come all the individual bags. And after that, most tea bags (unless the box reads to the contrary) contain plastic particles in the woven paper and can’t be added to the compost. Try buying loose leaf tea in a reusable tin and having a metal steeper. Used tea leaves can be safely composted, and are usually higher quality than the bagged stuff, anyway.
Feminine Hygiene Products – Can’t resist adding this one to the list! Plastic-based tampons and pads can only be used once and then get thrown out. They can also be a health hazard. Using the Keeper (link http://keeper.com) or washable cloth pads will not only be good for you, but good for the environment!
On the go
Take-Out Utensils – Plastic cutlery is actually not usually recyclable, unless the restaurant has opted for the biodegradable kind. You can stop using these by planning ahead — just carry a camping utensil set in your bag, or store a normal metal fork, knife, and spoon at the office if you regularly get take-out there. Once you have used them, pop back in their travel container and wash when you get home with the rest of your dishes.
Plastic Bottles – 50 billion water bottles were used last year in the United States, most of which end up landfills. If you aren’t yet in the habit of carrying a stainless steel, glass, or BPA-free plastic bottle, you should start! You can refill at the office, from a public water fountain, or ask a coffee shop to refill it while you’re on the go.
Paper/Styrofoam Coffee Cups – If you purchase a coffee every day at work, that makes 5 coffee cups a week, which adds up to 260 single-use cups in a single year if you work a standard 5 day week. Same as for water bottles, buy a reusable travel mug, which also has the benefit of being better at insulating your favorite hot beverage.
This is by no means an exhaustive list! Think of some of the other sneaky one-use items in your life and vow to avoid using them. Share more ideas for getting rid of disposable items with us. We’d appreciate hearing your ideas!
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Jennie Lyon is a green lifestyle writer and the owner of Sweet Greens, the award-winning green lifestyle blog. She posts on simple, fun ways families can go green together – starting with her own. When she isn’t blogging, you will find her paddleboarding, sailing, beach-combing, camping, or spending time with her amazing husband and 14-year old son.