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?
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:
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!)