I might have mentioned this before, so bear with me if that’s the case. When I was growing up, Girl Scouts was a huge chunk of my life. Much of who I am today can be directly traced back to a troop meeting, campouts, a week at camp or my one glorious summer as camp staff. When I was a junior in high school, I started my Gold Award project and finished it my senior year. I designed and implemented a recycling program for camp and taught several recycling awareness programs to various groups of kids.
It’s safe to say that recycling has been a passion of mine for a while.
I strongly encourage people to recycle what we can — but that’s not all we can do. I’ve always heard the phrase as “reduce, reuse, recycle (thanks Jack Johnson) but apparently that’s gotten an upgrade recently. St. Louis posted a graphic with the phrase as “rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle, rot”, which I’m digging as a more comprehensive phrase.
Now that I’m in a better spot in my life, I’ve started to focus on more than just recycling. I want to reduce my impact on this Earth. Instead of just recycling the waste I create, what if I produce less waste? I’m shamed every time I clean out my house by all the garbage I produce. If you don’t take any steps to reduce your impact, I strongly suggest you do so. This isn’t me shaming you for not doing what I do — this is me offering suggestions for easy ways to make a difference.
I’ve been getting a LOT of ads on social media about Earth-friendly products. Some I didn’t even know existed! One of those was shampoo and conditioner bars. It makes a ton of sense to use a compressed, dried version of a product that just needs water to activate instead of shipping big heavy plastic bottles full of a mostly water comprised product. I started out with a set from Lush, but there are many companies offering shampoo and conditioner bars that don’t cost quite so much. As a bonus, the bars don’t fall off the shower shelf and land painfully on my foot like my shampoo bottles tend to do. Slippery little bastards.
Ladies! Let’s chat about period products. Traditional disposable products like pads and tampons create a lot of waste. Plastic applicators, plastic pads, plastic everywhere! I reduced my need for these products by getting an IUD which has worked out splendidly for me. You can also get a washable and resuable cup like a Diva cup if you don’t want to use or can’t use an IUD or other form of hormonal birth control. I was talking to a friend of mine about this and she recommended I use washable flannel pads. They work great for light days or other uhh.… stuff that can cause issues 😀 Shameless promotion — check out her Etsy store! They’re super soft and work fabulously. (Plus, you’re supporting a small American business owner and a member of the FI community. See what you can start when you retire??)
My family has always shopped at thrift stores or passed down clothes. As a kid, I was teased mercilessly for it by all my classmates. They all wore clothes from the Limited or Aeropostale but as it turns out, my family was saving money and being nicer to the planet. According to the EPA Office of Solid Waste, Americans throw away more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year, and clothing and other textiles represent about 4% of the municipal solid waste. (source)
68 pounds is CRAZY! I’ve taken some steps to reduce my share of that average. I wear clothing as long as I can. If clothes develop a hole or become otherwise unusable, I set it aside for various craft projects. I have several boxes full of old t‑shirts that will be turned into a t‑shirt quilt or a rag rug. Hole‑y jeans will be cut into pieces and turned into some sort of protective covering like a picnic blanket or floor protector. There are tons of projects available on Pinterest and other crafty sites.
For clothes that are still in good condition, I share with my local Buy Nothing group. I likewise get new to me clothes from the group as well (or, at least I do when a global pandemic doesn’t shut it down). Local Buy Nothing groups are also a great place to pass on other household goods you no longer use, too!
I haven’t been inside a store to buy clothes in a very long time (excluding basics like bras, underwear, and socks; and specialty items like cycling clothes). I’ve been on a sort of unofficial clothes buying ban, and will continue that for as long as is feasible.
As for washing clothes, I used to use whatever Tide Sport detergent I could find. The big plastic containers are heavy, hard to use, and take up a lot of space. I’m a victim of marketing in this case. I saw an ad for Dropps and was intrigued enough to buy a box and give it a shot. Any CEO that’s willing to be filmed in a bathtub deserves a chance, in my opinion. I’ve been using their laundry pods for the last few months and I gotta say, I’m a fan. No more struggling with heavy plastic jugs that spill detergent all over the machine and the floor. Just toss a pod in the washer (two if you have a big or particularly soiled load of clothes) and you’re good to go. The pods come in a recyclable cardboard box, too. Less plastic!
So much food comes in plastic bags or containers when you get it from the grocery store. I’ve started offsetting this by either buying straight from the butcher counter (wrapped in paper) or by getting my meat from my local CSA or Farmer’s Market. The local producers are more environmentally friendly by wrapping most of their products in paper and I reduce the amount of transportation-related contamination since I’m keeping my supply chain local. The products are more expensive but they’re very very good (grass-fed, antibiotic free, hormone free, free range, etc).
I’ve swapped out my plastic cutting boards for bamboo cutting boards. They are incredibly hard, look fantastic and since they’re made from bamboo, they’re a far more sustainable option than using cutting boards made from old dinosaur goop (oil).
Once I make the food, I need a way to store them. I’ve been using glass containers for a few years now and I love them. Unlike my old plastic containers, I can pop these straight into the microwave and I don’t have to worry about plastic chemicals leaching into my food. I used to go through Tupperware containers pretty regularly, but I’ve had this set of glass containers for a few years now and hope to continue this for many more years.
I also just recently switched to silicone-based sandwich baggies. I went with Stasher bags, but there are tons of options now. I was attracted to them by being able to wash them and reuse them without getting gross. They also can go in the microwave! And the dishwasher! And the sous-vide! (if I had one) So far, so good!
I’ve also amassed quite the collection of reusable mugs. I use my Yeti mug every day which cuts down on waste from one use cups. A lot of shops will even give you a discount for using your own mug (again, not the case during a pandemic).
And finally, once I’m done with the food, it has to go somewhere. Several of the places I lived in around the DC area offered composting services and that really reduced my garbage. My current residence doesn’t offer composting services, but work does. You know, when I can get into the building. It always felt a bit weird to bring a bag of food waste in with my lunch so I’ve been exploring other options. There is a service that offers compost pickup in certain areas of St Louis City (specifically South City where I live) but I’ve yet to start that. For one, it costs $20 a month for two pickups. I’m also only one person and don’t create that much food waste, so I’m not sure it’s worth any of our efforts to capture so little. But, any little bit helps, right? My trash would also get a lot less smelly 🙂 As you can see, I’m still conflicted on adding a reoccurring charge to my monthly expenses. I’m fine paying higher prices for products that are more eco-friendly, but adding more to my budget still causes me to pause and think it over. I’ve also discovered some green waste bins in the alley behind my house, so I need to investigate those and see if that’s something I can use.
I’ve come a long way from needlessly throwing everything away without thinking about my impact on the world, but I have a ways to go yet. I would like to swap out more things in the kitchen to sustainable choices, like my soap (pellets in glass containers instead of liquid soap in plastic containers), alternative sponges like bamboo sponges, and better cleaning products.
There’s always progress to be made, but it’s worth taking a step back and seeing how far you’ve come! If this post sparked any ideas, or you have ideas for me that I didn’t mention, sound off in the comments below!
As always, thanks for reading!