Over the past 50 years consumerism has run riot, evolving to create a culture in which individuals lean towards items which are convenient, disposable and low-cost. Suppliers are meeting this demand with products that are intentionally designed and manufactured to have a limited lifespan after which they are discarded or replaced, giving rise to single-use items.
The convenience of these items comes at a cost however, and as far as the consumer is concerned this is a financial one. Though often overlooked, it should be evident that in purchasing a product multiple times more money will be spent in the long run. In addition, there is an environment cost: an increase in consumption leads to pollution and resource-depletion, while more waste is generated. Thus, if we were to curb these habits of convenience we could reduce our consumption and waste.
1. PAPER COFFEE CUPS
How many of us purchase a coffee on the go? If you get a coffee on the way to work each day you consume on average 240 disposable cups per year; and even if you only buy one once a week, that still totals 52. The most environmentally friendly alternative to the common coffee cup is a reusable travel mug, which has the added benefit of not necessitating a heat-proof cardboard sleeve. You might also reduce the cost of your coffee as a lot of shops offer 5c, 10c or even 25c off (i.e. the cost of the disposable cup) for bringing in a reusable mug.
2. BOXES OF TEA BAGS
On the subject of hot drinks, buying boxes of tea bags generates a lot of cardboard and plastic waste, while the staple and string must be removed before putting the single-use tea bag into the compost (if compostable at all). It is much more environmentally friendly to obtain loose tea that comes in a single paper bag or refillable tin. If you’re someone who takes tea out and about then consider a reusable (tea) travel mug complete with infuser.
3. PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES
Plastic bottles for water and other cold beverages are a big problem in the world of disposable items and plastics, with 1,500 plastic water bottles being consumed every second in the U.S. Carry a water bottle when expecting to need to rehydrate on the go, selecting a reusable bottle that doesn’t contain Bisphenol A (BPA) because it’s linked to several health problems, including breast and prostate cancer. Bobble even makes a water bottle that comes with its own filter enabling you to refill it from any tap.
4. DISPOSABLE CUTLERY
We can use a new set of disposable cutlery each day if we get lunch on the go or order a take-away; and although we’re now being offered wooden compostable versions of the plastic set, there is no need for disposable cutlery at all. Keep a fork, knife and spoon from home wherever you need it most or invest in an inexpensive reusable spork or set of cutlery. Then remember to ask the café or restaurant not to include a disposable set with your take-out!
5. PLASTIC BAGS
It is recognised that plastic bags are bad for the environment, yet it is estimated between 500 billion and one trillion are used worldwide each year, the bulk of which end up in landfill (taking up to 1,000 years to decompose). Made from petrochemicals, the continued use of plastic bags accelerates the depletion of non-renewable fossil fuels, which in turn creates greenhouse gases. Refuse plastic bags, using a durable, foldable and inexpensive re-usable bag that can be carried around in your car, pocket, or purse.
6. PRODUCE BAGS
It’s great to eliminate the use of plastic bags at the checkout but we also want to avoid plastic bag use when selecting our produce. We don’t always want to throw our grapes, mushrooms and potatoes straight into the shopping trolley, or even the same bag, so it’s useful to have something reusable which can be washed after each trip to the store.
7. DISPOSABLE SINGLE-USE RAZORS
With blades made from inexpensive steel and handles made from cheap plastic, disposable razors have always been made for single-use. Two billion of them, along with the paper and plastic packaging, are discarded in the U.S. each year; and because most of it can’t be reused or recycled the disposable razors and blade cartridges find their way into landfills. If you want to shave daily invest in a durable electric shaver, refillable razor, or straight razor. If you must use a disposable razor, choose one like Recycline from Preserve.
8. MENSTRUAL PRODUCTS
Each year in the United States, an estimated 12 billion sanitary pads and 7 billion tampons are disposed of, in addition to all of the cardboard applicators, as well as packaging. The most environmentally friendly option is the menstrual cup, which is not only reusable but also contains no dioxin or rayon, and is easy to maintain. There are several options such as the Diva Cup, whilst for those who prefer external-use products there are reusable cloth pads, such as Glad Rags.
9. DISPOSABLE CLEANING CLOTHS
Disposable cleaning cloths are one of many single-use cleaning products available. Primarily synthetic, and therefore not readily biodegradable, they are yet another product which ends up in our overflowing landfills. It is much more environmentally friendly to use another product, such as a microfiber cloth that can be washed regularly to avoid bacterial or viral build-up, which will be kept out of the waste stream for longer.
10. FOOD PACKAGING
The smaller the bag or box, the higher the cost and more packaging waste, whether landfill or recyclable. Instead of choosing single-serving items, opt for bulk options. Most stores offer “scoop-you-own” bins including beans, grains, nuts, spices and sugar as well as pre-packaged bulk packages of common goods. Store in an airtight container so as to preserve the lifespan of the food and, if possible, go to the store with the containers to eliminate all packaging.
Let’s #CrushPlastic! Click the graphic below for more information.
Image Source: epSos/Flickr