For today’s post, I’m going to share with you ten easy ways to help reduce the amount of waste in your life. You’ve probably heard a lot about the Zero Waste Movement the last few years, and it’s amazing that so many people are working to reduce their ecological footprint. If Zero Waste sounds a little intimidating, fear not! Reducing the amount of waste you create in any way makes all the difference
Without further ado, here are ten ways to reduce your waste that are easy, inexpensive and require little change to your daily lifestyle habits.
1) Use a Reusable Water Bottle and Thermos
Did you know that in one year approximately 275 million metric tonnes of plastic waste are created, and between 4.8 to 12.7 of those million tonnes enter the ocean? To put into perspective how much this actually is, one adult elephant can weigh up to 7 tonnes; the amount of plastic that ends up in our oceans every year is equivalent to the weight of one or two elephants, while the total amount of plastic waste every year is equivalent to 39 elephants!
This is crazy, especially because most of this waste is totally avoidable if we adopt smarter consumption habits. A lot of plastic waste comes in the form of water bottles; 100.7 billion plastic water bottles were sold in 2014 in the United States alone, which is equal to 315 bottles per person. How many of those do you think end up in the ocean? More than we’d like to admit. It’s also estimated that 1.5 billion bottles in Ontario alone are not recycled each year. An easy way to solve this and get the number of plastic water bottles per person down to zero? Purchase a reusable water bottle!
It doesn’t have to be fancy. If you want it to have a nice pattern, go for it. If you want to spend a bit more on a well-insulated bottle, do that! If you’re short on cash, you can purchase a bottle for only a few dollars pretty much anywhere. It’s a small investment but it will make a huge change. For every person that uses a reusable bottle, that’s 315 fewer plastic bottles that could end up in our oceans every year.
Coffee cups are another huge problem. A report found that in Vancouver 2.6 million coffee cups are thrown out every week! Using an insulated thermos can prevent these cups from ending up on our streets, forests and oceans for years to come.
2) Meal Prep
While some find the task of cooking a bit daunting, preparing meals for school and work instead of eating out every single day is so easy and way more affordable. Even making something as simple as a sandwich will save you around eight dollars every day! Not to mention the Styrofoam and plastic waste you will save by packing your food in a reusable bag or container. By doing this, you also ensure that you have time to eat every day. Life can get busy, and if you don’t have time to get out of the office or between classes to grab lunch, you will thank yourself for packing something delicious you can enjoy right where you are. You could prepare your food the night before or even on the weekend, then enjoy it for the entire week. There are so many recipes floating around on the internet there that are quick, easy and nutritious. Even if you’re short on ingredients, you could always type in what you do have on Google or Pinterest and see what sort of delicious recipes pop up! I do this all the time and it works like a charm.
3) Just Carry Reusable Cutlery
This is a continuation from the last tip and is a way to really cut down on your plastic waste. Millions of people eat out every single day, each time using plastic forks, knives and spoons. Half the time our food only needs a fork or a spoon, so when we get those pesky pre-wrapped utensils we’re throwing out unused tools, too! 80 billion pairs of chopsticks are also produced in China every year, requiring 20 million trees to make these single-use utensils. The main question: is this necessary? The answer: absolutely not!
We can stop even more plastic from polluting our planet as well as stop chopping down so many trees by bringing our own cutlery. I keep mine in a cute cloth pouch, which stays in my backpack or purse so that whenever I need to eat out I have them on me. Mine only cost two or three dollars from Walmart, but you can find them anywhere that sells reusable lunch containers or camping goods. They take up just as much space as a few pens and weigh next to nothing, yet I have saved so many plastic forks, knives and spoons from ending up in a landfill or the ocean just by investing in these little handy tools.
4) Take a Trip to the Library
I love books. A lot. Always have, always will. If you’re an avid reader like myself, you probably have gone out to the bookstore and purchased many books over the span of your life. You probably have a few trees’ worth of books sitting on a shelf in your house, untouched for years. I’m one of those people who have a hard time reading a book more than once, so once I’m done, I’m done for good and that poor tree was chopped down for only a few day’s worth of my enjoyment.
Next time you want to purchase a book, try seeing if your local library has it first. Libraries usually carry a few copies of a book or more, depending on how popular it is. You’d be surprised by how up-to-date some libraries are—I’m so lucky to live by the Pickering Public Library, which is ranked the best in the region. As soon as a book comes out, you can bet that the library will have it!
By visiting the library, you get that same enjoyment from a book but it will continue to be enjoyed by others when you are done. If I were to guess how many times each of the books in the Harry Potter series were borrowed from my library, I’d probably say at least a few hundred to a thousand for each book (no joke). That’s a thousand people who enjoyed reading this amazing story from one book, not a thousand books. Plus, it’s just nice to get out in your community and get to know some of the people there. I’ve had a library card since I think I was four, and have been seeing the same friendly faces working there for years. There’s also many community events that go on at libraries and numerous study spaces, so they are great multi-purpose spaces to enjoy in your life. Come to think of it, I need to stop by the library this week…
5) Use Reusable Bags
I don’t think I have to reiterate how bad single-use plastic is, so the reason I’m recommending reusable shopping bags is pretty straightforward. It’s super easy to fold up a cloth shopping back and put it in your purse, backpack or car so that whenever you need to make a sudden unplanned shopping trip you have a bag on you already. Not to mention, plastic bags are so flimsy that they often can’t handle heavy duty shopping like groceries. I don’t know how many times I’ve found holes in the bottom of a plastic bag because something like the corner of a cereal box got caught in it.
Although people often reuse the plastic shopping bags, the life of one of those bags is very short compared to a reusable bag, which is also able to hold much more weight and won’t tear as easily. Eventually the plastic bag will still end up in a landfill, caught in a tree root, or rushing down a river. Most stores, be it a grocery store, Walmart, a toy store, etc., now sell reusable bags, so you always have the chance to pick some up while shopping.
Especially with many chain stores now charging 5 cents for every plastic bag, there is a bigger incentive for you to spend just one dollar on a bag that will last you for years. I always have a bag or two folded up in my backpack because I’m often running to the grocery store last minute to pick up something for our household. Just like the reusable water bottles, there are many different designs and materials to choose from for these bags, so you can make it a fun investment that is both helping you produce less waste and is something you enjoy using.
6) Have Old Forms, Notes and Printed PowerPoints? Put Them to Good Use and Reuse that Paper!
I do this all the time. Not only am I saving more pieces of paper from being wasted, but I’m also saving a few dollars because I don’t have to go out and buy stacks of paper as often. When you’re using a piece of paper—whether you use only one side, or maybe just half of one side—you can put that empty, unused space on the paper to good use! In high school I would get a lot of paper handouts that I didn’t actually use, and many teachers did not print double-sided. I used those blank spaces on the paper for practicing math equations, solving chemistry problems, writing my to do lists, or brainstorming ideas for papers I had to write. One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing someone crumple up a piece of paper after scribbling only a line or two on it. Seriously, I am internally screaming “noooooo!” every time this happens.
When I have a bunch of handouts or forms that I know I won’t be using anymore, I put them aside for later. When it’s getting close to assignment, test or exam time, I put those papers to good use. If I can, I will try and erase any writing on the paper (pencils are your best friend!) so I can reuse that space again. It’s a great way of saving paper that would’ve been thrown out otherwise!
7) Get out in Nature!
In today’s society we are so disconnected from our community and the environment around us. Whether we are hanging out with friends or going on a date with our partners, most of our time is spent on our phones or other devices. If it’s not that, we’re probably out at a fast food place, shopping, driving in our gas-guzzling cars or partaking in another activity that generates unnecessary waste. There is so much to enjoy for free in the great outdoors, so I encourage you to go for a stroll in the park or sit by the waterfront next time you find yourself bored and itching to do something. Even take your pet dog for a walk! Do something to get yourself outside, away from our fast-paced, consumerist society. Not only are you having fun with an activity creates minimal waste, but you are also reconnecting with the planet and all of its beauty.
8) Use Containers Instead of Plastic Bags or Plastic Wrap for Food in the Fridge!
This is something I’ve been working hard at changing in my household. The average lifespan of a plastic bag is only 12 minutes. In other words, we go through so many plastic bags so quickly. They break so easily, whether it’s because they get punctured by something or their contents are just too heavy. Using reusable containers is not only the better environmental choice because they are more durable, but they are also much easier for you to use, too, because they take up less space by stacking them, keep themselves airtight so foods don’t get freezer burn and are very affordable. I only use reusable containers for leftovers, snacks and meals in the fridge and freezer now. When I have something that needs to be wrapped up, such a cantaloupe that’s been cut partially or an avocado half, I’ll use my handy dandy Abeego beeswax food wraps. They are made of all natural ingredients, work like a charm at sealing in the freshness, plus are reusable and will naturally decompose over a long period of time. You can buy them online, but I’ve also found them in health food stores, bulk stores, and even some stores in Toronto. If you’re familiar with Queen Street West and the area surrounding it, shoot me a message and I’ll tell you where you can find these awesome wraps in-store!
9) Use Personal Care Products with Little to no Packaging.
If you’ve read my eco-friendly tips and tricks post or my LUSH review, you’ll know that I’m big on using personal care products with minimal packaging. Shampoo and conditioner bars, toothpaste tablets that come in a recyclable, PCR (the plastic isn’t “virgin,” so to speak) bottle, coconut oil in a glass jar I’ll use for food or storage, etc. Over the past year or two, I’ve swapped over nearly every one of my personal care products to these low-impact ones. And you know what? I have found that every single one of these products are some of the best ones I’ve ever used. I think it’s because companies that make an effort to be more environmentally conscious also put a great deal of care and time into making their products. You’re guaranteed to get high quality, sustainable personal care products at a fair price.
10) Every Time you Go on a Walk, Pick Up One Piece of Litter
I know that PickWaste has really been pushing this initiative, and I think it is so awesome. Personally, I’ve started doing this too and I feel so empowered when I do it. If you’re like me and try driving only when necessary to reduce your emissions (I have to drive to work because of the distance and time, but that’s about it), you probably walk around your neighbourhood a lot. In Pickering I’ve seen upsetting amounts of litter all over the place: people’s front yards, on the streets and sidewalks, tangled in tree roots…everywhere. When I’m out on a walk now, I will pick up at least one piece of litter and dispose of it properly. It could be a chip bag wrapper, a crushed coffee cup, a piece of paper, or anything else that I see. I’ll usually try to pick up a few pieces, but only what I can manage with just my hands. It’s still something, though.
You may think that this is a bit silly. Someone reading this is probably saying, “but Jenna, picking up only one piece of garbage isn’t a big deal. There’s still so much out there.” Yes, there is so much waste out there. And yes, me picking up one piece of litter on its own does not seem like a lot. However, try looking at it a different way: what if every single person in the city of Pickering picked up just one piece of litter today? Pickering’s population is close to an estimated 100,000 people. Now, if every single one of these 100,000 people picked up just one piece of litter today, July 11th2018, that would be a lot of litter off of our streets! Even one tenth, or one hundredth of our population doing this would make a huge difference. And if people started doing this every day in other cities, too? That would make a huge difference.
These are the moments that Sam and Dillon are talking about when they say small, consistent actions lead to big changes in the world. Such a small, simple task of just picking up that juice box that tumbled onto your lawn or the sidewalk in front of your house may not seem like much to you, but picking that up may stop that juice box from infiltrating an animal’s home in the forest, or stop it’s straw from ending up in the lungs of a fish in Lake Ontario. Each one of us—every single one of us—have the power to do good. It doesn’t have to be a big thing like rescuing someone out of a burning building or running in a federal election. Something a small as picking up one piece of litter will impact someone or something down the road, whether we realize it or not.
In twenty or thirty years, when we look back on the year 2018, we want to remember it for the revolutionary work we did. Picking up waste is a revolution in its own, because we are working to make the planet a green, clean place again. Using products with less packaging, deciding to walk instead of drive to the mall, and making use of old materials instead of buying new ones are all a part of this revolution, too. I’ll keep saying it: we all have the power to be great and do good for our world.
So let’s exercise this power, starting right now. Let’s be the change that we want to see. We want to make a difference in the world, but we can’t do it without every single person’s help. I challenge you to go outside today and pick up one piece of litter. Such an easy task, yet the planet and future generations who will be living in this world will be thanking you.
So, what are you waiting for? Let’s be the change.