Updated: Apr 28, 2019
(This is a modified version of the article I wrote for Sarah Buchanan's Wellness Curious blog. http://www.we-indulge.com/wellnesscurious/)
We are living in a unique epoch in which our convenience culture is in full swing and our reliance on single-use and disposable items is at an all-time high, and yet, we know we need to drastically reduce our environmental impact - or else. People are slowly waking up to the realization that we all have to become more 'green' or we, and future generations, are in big trouble. However, considering that life itself is at stake, you'd think we would all move a bit quicker and with more urgency.
'Going green' isn’t a fad or something that will be going away. It is a necessary lifestyle change that staring us right in the face and we really don't have the option of looking away. Our daily consumer habits are destroying the very environment we rely on to survive, so the time for change is yesterday.
It can be overwhelming and confusing to know what to do to begin making better, more conscious decisions, but we all have to start somewhere, and as is the case with most big goals you want to achieve, it’s best to start small and take your transformation day by day. To help you on your way, here are five things you can start doing right now with minimal effort that will leave you feeling triumphant:
SAYONARA, SINGLE USE.
The plastic bag is one of the most Earth-unfriendly conveniences, and frankly, a completely unnecessary one. A plastic bag has an average use-life of 12 minutes but will persist in the environment for over 500 years. Only 1% of plastic bags are returned for recycling, meaning almost 500 trillion plastic bags end up in our landfills, landscapes, and oceans.
Single-use plastic bags are an environmental nightmare because they are so feather-light and balloon-like that they willingly become windswept and end up in trees and tangled in fences, and all too often animals like sea turtles (an endangered species) and birds confuse them for food and suffocate or die of starvation as a result of ingesting them.
Switching from single-use plastic to reusable is the easiest and most rewarding lifestyle change I have made. 160,000 plastic bags are created each second; each person who stops using them helps to slow the churn out of this environmental detriment.
The alternative? Reusable shopping bags. You can find them in most checkout lanes, plus, they are often handed out as swag at many events and conventions. I bet you even have a few bags at home that you could use for this purpose - it doesn't have to be anything fancy! Bags made of natural materials like burlap and cotton are best, but anything is better than single use plastic. Keep your reusable bags where you keep your purse, keys, or shoes, or keep them in your car, so you’re sure to always remember them. I like to do a mental checklist when I’m getting ready to go shopping: Do I have my wallet? Check. Shopping list? Check. Reusable bags? Check.
BE EVEN GREENER: Skip the plastic produce bags, too. Your fruits and veggies are happy to snuggle together in your bag until you get them home.
VOLDEMORT PROBABLY USES SINGLE-USE PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES.
Equally as harmful, and almost as ubiquitous as plastic bags, are plastic bottles. Americans use around 50 million plastic bottles annually, and a depressingly low number of those are ever recycled
A super simple replacement for single use water bottles is the reusable water bottle. I love my YETI 16 oz. rambler – I feel naked and vulnerable if I leave my house without it in hand. By switching to reusable, you’ll not only keep tons of plastic out of our landfills and oceans, you’ll also save money! Plastic single-use water bottles may seem cheap, but the cost to your wallet and the environment add up quickly.
BE LESS VOLDEMORT-ISH: Avoid harmful plastic chemicals (BPA is a popular one that many companies have stopped using in their plastic products due to the chemicals leaching out and into your body, causing harm). Going for a stainless steel or other non-plastic material is best.
STRAWS ARE FOR SUCKERS.
Watch this short video to understand how a simple straw wreaks havoc in the ocean. We can throw out numbers all day about the amount of plastic piling up in our oceans, but I think one of the most poignant reminders of our global plastic problem are the images of innocent wildlife suffering from our culture of convenience.
Luckily, removing plastic straws from your life is easy! Next time you order a drink, be it from a restaurant, a fast-food establishment, or Starbucks, just say, “I’ll have an (insert drink here) with no straw, please.” I was so nervous to do this at first, afraid I would get weird looks but what I discovered is that no one gives a hoot! You’re setting a good example and opening the door for a conversation about the problem.
BUT, I MIGHT NEED A STRAW: If you need a straw, there are lots of companies selling reusable straws. Keep it in your purse (or vehicle or pocket) and you’ll keep hundreds of turtle-killing plastic straws from littering our landscapes. You can order them online, and even big retailers like Walmart and Target now carry them. Companies like Final Straw have collapsible straws that can fit in your pocket. I found my simple stainless-steel straw at West Elm for $2 and it will now go with me wherever I go.
BAR IS BEST.
I started buying hand-made bar soap at some point because it’s fun and smells amazing. And then I realized it was a good replacement for all of my bathroom soaps, face wash, body wash and kitchen hand soap and dish soap because they are made with all-natural ingredients and are environmentally friendly: made in small batches by local artisans, they don’t use harsh chemicals (or worse, plastic micro-beads), and they come with zero plastic packaging! Win-win-win.
You can easily start swapping out your liquid soap for bar soap over time. Next time one of your plastic soap bottles runs out, rinse it out and place it in the recycling – or save it and repurpose it! – and replace it with a bar soap. Before long, you’ll look around and a feeling of delight will come over you as you realize you have zero plastic soap bottles in your house! Look for soaps that come either in no packaging or paper or cardboard packaging which can be easily recycled or composted.
The toilet paper you know and use every day is made from trees – lots of trees. Trees are essential for the clean air that we all require to survive. The problem with using trees to wipe yourself is that trees take a long time to grow and mature to a point where they can be harvested and made into the pulp that make TP like that of Charmin, Cottonelle, and Angel Soft.
Giants like P&G are cutting down old-growth trees in places like the Boreal Forest that are home to Indigenous peoples and precious plant and animal species. These old-growth forests are also key to slowing global warming. Yet, we are cutting them down in astounding numbers daily just to wipe & flush.
A transition to a more sustainable option is incredibly easy: buy toilet paper made from fast-growing sugar cane or bamboo, or buy toilet paper made from post-consumer recycled material. This saves forests from the saw, and while it's no TP is completely innocent of environmental impact, these are more sustainable options.
Companies like Who Gives a Crap and Grove Collaborative offer alternatives, and I’ve even started finding bamboo and recycled content TP in grocery store chains like HyVee and Dillon’s. To my backside, these environmentally-friendly options feel even better than ‘quilted’ or ‘ultra soft’ TP made from our precious trees.
"Between a human and a tree is the breath. We are each other's air." - Margaret Bates
I hope that these first five steps to becoming a more Earth-friendly human seem approachable. If it doesn’t seem like enough, trust me when I say, once you start paying attention and making small changes in your life, you will notice other things that you can easily swap out for a more sustainable option or that you can do without altogether. You’ll probably end up feeling rather impressed with yourself and what you can accomplish when you start living more consciously!
One final thought: When I feel discouraged about this massive, global waste problem, I remind myself that I can either contribute to the problem or contribute to the solution. Our Earth is finite and life is fragile; we will eventually push our home to its breaking point if we don’t start changing our habits now. Large-scale change is a matter of consumers, businesses, and governments working together – it is not one group’s responsibility alone. However, it does take each of us making better decisions and demanding change. Our beautiful green Earth is worth it!