Monday, August 26, 2013

how to travel with less plastic waste

My husband and I took our honeymoon to Ireland and England this past month, and I was immensely disturbed by the amount of disposable plastic that was present throughout our flights.  Believe it or not, you can make it through a trip abroad without consuming much, if any, plastic--you just have to take a little time to plan ahead.

(With help from our cat Ollie!)
On the plane

1. Bring your own food.  Is this even allowed?  The answer is yes (just as long as it's not a liquid).  We packed our own reusable bags of almonds and dried fruit so we had something to snack on instead of stale pretzels wrapped in plastic.

2. Bring a reusable water bottle and mug for hot drinks.  Yes, you can bring your own water bottle, just make sure it is empty when you go through security.  You should also take it out of your luggage to go through the x-ray so that they can see that it's empty.  Once you are past security, fill up your water bottle at a water fountain, and you're good to go.  When you are on the plane, you can also ask for the flight attendant to put your tea or coffee in your own travel mug.  They have no problem doing this, and I didn't even get a weird look!

3. Reuse your quart size plastic bag.  When you are done with your trip, do not throw this away!  Keep it with your luggage for the next time you have to fly.

4. Find alternative containers for liquids.  I was determined to find an alternative to the 3.4 oz plastic bottles for my carry on.  And I did!  I initially thought baby food jars might work, but they ended up being too big.  (Side note: I was the crazy person measuring a jar of baby food at the store calculating its volume).  However, I found that Target sells small glass bottles of spices.  I bought three bottles, emptied the cinnamon into a mason jar, and used them for my liquids in my carry on.  And they even had metal lids!

Unfortunately, Target doesn't list them on their website, but they are in stores, under the Archer Farms brand.  Here's a picture:

When you are at your destination

1. Don't use those little bottles of shampoo.  I know it's tempting, but use your own shampoo and conditioner.  Those little bottles are an enormous waste of plastic (and those shampoos are never very good anyway).  Which gets me to my next point...

2. Bring bar soap and shampoo.  We've all used bar soap before, but a shampoo bar?  There are several companies that make solid shampoo bars that work just as well as their bottled alternatives.  (Chagrin Valley is my favorite--they are a small family run business out of Ohio).  This way, you only have the soap wrapper to deal with, instead of a plastic bottle that will never go away.  My husband also brought his bar of shaving soap.

But how to pack them away when you are traveling back home, or to another destination?  I just wrapped ours in washcloths and stuck them back in our suitcase.  Super easy.  My favorite thing about this is that it means less liquids you have to take through security.

3. Use reusable utensils when you are eating out. Traveling (especially out of the country) usually means more eating out than usual.  If you happen to grab a quick bite to eat, you don't need to use the throw away plastic forks they give you--bring your own! I packed my own bamboo utensils, and they took up hardly any room in our luggage.

Traveling should not be an excuse to start recklessly using disposables that you would not normally use when at home.  You do not need to shop at the travel aisle at the pharmacy with tiny, plastic bottles.

Now, one more thing I would suggest--if you will be on a long flight, eat at the airport before you get on the plane.  The meals they serve you on the plane are entirely wrapped in plastic, and I was quite hungry on the way home, I have to say.

Are there any things you have done to reduce your plastic waste while traveling?  Anything I missed?  Please share!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

what can I do now?

I think it's really important to take slow steps in this journey.  If we try to do too much at once, it can be overwhelming and hard to build habits.  Educating yourself about environmental issues and alternatives to a disposable lifestyle is already a great step in the right direction.  So what are some easy things you can do right now to reduce the amount waste you produce?

Easy steps to reduce your waste

1. Bring your own bags to the grocery store.  We all have reusable bags sitting in our homes, apartments or cars.  I even had some in college.  You just need to use them!  Put some in your car, by the front door, wherever it will be easiest for you to grab them.  They make collapsible ones you can put in your purse or pocket.  Get into a routine--put them back in your car or right by the door after you are done unloading them.  And reusable bags aren't just for grocery shopping--you should use them at the mall, department stores, pharmacy, wherever you would normally use a plastic bag.

Also, how many times have you been carrying an overstuffed plastic grocery bag only to have it break, or the seam split?  One of the great things about choosing reusable options, is that they are often more durable and more pleasant to use.  Canvas shopping bags just work better than their flimsy plastic disposable counterparts.

But what if you don't remember to bring your bags?  If I forget to bring my bags to the store, I either go back out to the car to get them or carry everything back by hand or in my purse.  Plastic bags are no longer an option.  The countless plastic bags we consume every day have a direct result on ocean life.  I used to consume just as many as anyone else, asking for double bags, getting bags when I only had one or two small items.  But then I started reading about what happened to them after we were done with them:

http://news.discovery.com/animals/endangered-species/plastic-bags-fool-turtles-into-hunting-them-130612.htm

http://oceanwildthings.com/2012/06/sperm-whale-death-by-100-plastic-bags/

2. Ask for no straw when you eat out.  This is another big one.  Straws are also a huge source of pollution in the oceans, and we don't really need them.  It is no inconvenience to the restaurant to give you a drink without a straw.  It actually saves them money.  If you like drinking out of a straw, there are glass straws that you can buy and bring with you.  I have a straw from Glass Dharma that I bring with me.  And they're much more fun to drink out of than the plastic ones!

Also good to remember, straws don't just come with your water and iced tea, they come with cocktails and milkshakes, too.  I've been tripped up by this more than once!  Here is a post by Plastic is Rubbish showing the amount of discarded straws they were able to pick up just walking the beach.

3. Bring your own water bottle and coffee/tea mug.  According to this article, by buying single bottles of water, we are paying 2,000 times more than the cost of tap water.  That is astounding.  If that is not enough to convince you, then how about this: tap water is more highly regulated than bottled water.  Don't be willing to pay that much of a markup for an inferior product just for convenience's sake.  Bring your own bottle from home.  Refill at water fountains.  We have been convinced by these companies that we need their product, and even when money is tight, we end up spending it on a completely unnecessary thing.

How about hot drink cups?  We're probably all aware that styrofoam is bad, but what about those paper cups?  Well, they're lined with plastic.  Beth Terry from My Plastic Free life wrote a great post on sneaky plastic (it's in milk and juice cartons, too!).  I've never had a problem bringing my own travel mug to a coffee shop, and some places will even give you a small discount.

4. Don't use disposable coffee pods. I was again, guilty of this, too!  These things produce so much waste, and are so much more expensive than even gourmet coffee bought in a bag.  You end up paying for packaging.  Why not buy a nice bag of coffee and use a french press or drip coffee maker?  They brew a better cup of coffee anyway.  Once again, we are paying for convenience.  Another concern I have with these systems, outside of their wastefulness, is the fact that you are heating up the coffee through plastic.  (Here is just one article that discusses the issues with heating plastics).  If you have a brand new machine, and don't want to donate it, there are reusable filters that you can use (Keurig makes one), but they still are made from plastic.

Even if you can only do one of these things, that's still something!  We must lead by example, and show others that there are better, easier options out there.  We have to remember that our disposable items go somewhere after we are done with them, and oftentimes that "somewhere" can be quite problematic.  Have you started doing any of these things yet?  Which one have you struggled with?  (Bottled water was hard at first for me!)  Is there something else you think should be on the list?

(Note on water bottles and reusable bags: if you don't have any reusable bags or yours are in bad shape, I would advise against buying those cheapo ones you see at the grocery store checkout counters.  They are also made of plastic, and don't hold up very well, especially after washing.  Instead get some nice sturdy canvas ones.  Ecobags has some nice ones.  But if you already have bags, use those!
Now for water bottles: look for bottles made out of glass or stainless steel.  Even plastics labeled BPA-free can still potentially leach not-so-harmless chemicals. I use a Lifefactory bottle, and Kleen Kanteen makes an entirely plastic free stainless bottle, which is awesome!)


Friday, August 23, 2013

the beginning

Eco-conscious living has not always been a priority for me.  

As a college student, I was focused on my cello and my classes, and didn't give much thought to the effect my everyday lifestyle was having on myself or the planet.  Convenience at any cost.  Was it fast?  Was it easy?  Then who cared how much waste it produced!

Then I graduated.  And got a job (and a cat!).  And got married.  The dorm room changed to a (small) house--a house that my husband had bought before we had even been dating.  As we both worked to find ways re-organize and re-purpose the house to make it work for the both of us (i.e.: de-batchelorify it), I scoured the internet for organizing and space-saving help.  On my quest, I found several blogs that talked about using less-toxic household cleaners.

I had never really paid much attention to what was in the things that I used to clean our house.  But it made sense.  Why did I have to hold my breath, keep the window open and the fan on just to clean the shower?  Initially, I went out and bought the "green" cleaners that were sold in the grocery store, but eventually moved to using just vinegar, water, baking soda and castile soap.

After I had taken that step, it kind of snowballed.  We stopped eating the overly-processed food we had been relying on for "convenience" and started shopping the perimeter of the grocery store and the farmers market.  (Michael Moss' book, Salt, Sugar, Fat was a huge wake-up call for me, I would highly recommend it!)

The last piece of the puzzle for me was plastic.  I stumbled onto Beth Terry's blog My Plastic Free Life, and was amazed at the devastating impact our dependence on disposable plastic has on the oceans.  In the back of my mind, I was always somewhat aware of the fact we were overburdening our landfills, but I really had no idea what we were doing to the oceans and their ecosystems.  (Turtles, birds, and other marine life end up eating our discarded plastic that washes into our waterways.  Google Pacific garbage patch).  So I committed to Plastic Free July, and found I was able to GREATLY reduce our plastic consumption.  We weren't perfect--I wasn't able to find a good dish soap alternative, among a few other things--but we found a new way of functioning, which somehow felt so much more satisfying than how we had been doing it before.

I feel like I have learned so much over the beginning of our journey, and I would love to share it with anyone who wants to know more.  And I have so much more to learn from you!  We have taken small steps, and made mistakes along the way.  But that's ok.  And you don't have to be a crunchy hippie to be concerned about these issues.  I'm not.  And my (very patient) husband definitely isn't.

Why we went green

 So, why did I decide to make these choices?

1. Healthier for us: the highly processed foods we were eating and unnecessarily strong chemicals we were cleaning with were not good for us.

2. Healthier for the planet: the disposable lifestyle that I had mindlessly participated in for years is not sustainable for our climate, our wildlife, or the planet.  I started thinking about what our future children would inherit.

3. Healthier for our wallet: not spending $$$ on a cleaner for every different surface in the house, a thousand different personal care products, and every new "convenient" packaged food has saved us money, even as we invested in purchasing more organic food and higher quality things.

4. Simplicity: less disposable items means less trash and less clutter.  It feels liberating to not have my bathroom counter cluttered with a plethora of different products.  It's easier to keep everything clean when I don't come back from the store with a bunch of plastic bags and throw away packaging.

I can't wait to share more of the things I have learned, and some more of the steps we have begun to take.  Thank you so much for listening!  What steps have you taken towards a greener lifestyle?  What have you struggled with?  I'd love to hear!