Everything is disposable.
And perhaps it's because I live in NYC, where I walk by mounds of trash bags and overflowing trash cans on a regular basis, but I feel really really aware of it. It reminds me of something my college prof would say, which I'm pretty sure someone more famous than him actually coined, "there is no place called 'away.'"
Most of us are raised thinking we just throw away the stuff we don't want/need anymore, and it conveniently disappears. But where does it actually go? Have you ever visited a landfill? It's just a huge pile of trash. And if you think it's cool because it all eventually decomposes, let me tell you something...
Even our banana peels will have a hard time decomposing in a landfill. Why? Because everything gets piled on top and is sealed in plastic bags, taking away the sun and air and pests that a banana peel needs to break down. So what does it do instead? Releases greenhouse gases, that's what. That banana peel would be better off in your garden where it can break down and even return it's nutrients to your geraniums.
And that's the stuff that stands a chance. Don't even get me started on plastic...
Landfills are one of our biggest sources of greenhouse gases, which is the stuff that causes climate change, which is the thing that's making it still be winter in April. Not to mention the fact that we will clearly, one day, run out of space for all this trash, and nobody wants to live near it because no joke that's how you get cancer. So let's work on this now, yeah?
Waste can sneak into our lives in so many ways, the easiest place to start building your awareness is at any point of sale.
Think about everything you buy throughout your day - can it come in less or in a more reusable package? (And can you buy fewer things?)
- Water - do I even need to mention this one? Are we really still buying plastic water bottles? Go get a stylish reusable bottle, one that's insulated and won't leak, and carry it with you everywhere to stay hydrated. Look for a BPA-free one that will last like these Swell bottles.
- Coffee - bring your own mug! I love my Aladdin mug for tea, but when I'm staying in the coffee shop I always make sure to say "for here" so I can use one of theirs.
- Groceries - First ask: do you even need a bag? If so, bring your own! Everyone and everything is giving away cool printed totes these days. I know you have some.
- Can you buy fewer single-serving things? It's both cheaper and less wasteful to buy in bulk, be it pretzel crisps (I recently discovered the family size!), coffee, or laundry detergent.
- Nuts, candy, grains, granola, etc - shop the bulk bins, and bring your containers from last time.
- Only buy what you're gonna eat - loosely plan your meals so you don't end up with ten rotten avocados at the end of the week.
- Opt for brands with less packaging. Has anyone seen bananas wrapped in plastic? WTF is that? Lots of breads and produce are coming in extra packaging these days. When possible, buy the stuff that's package-free, or in something you can at least recycle.
- Get some reusable produce bags! If I'm honest, I'm the weirdo that just throws everything in the cart as-is, but I do have a few of these bags somewhere and they are pretty handy for the smaller stuff.
- Bringing your lunch to work? Get a wrap-n-mat! I love my wrap-n-mat from a gazillion years ago. It does just what it says - you wrap your sandwich up in it's BPA-free plastic-lined fabric, and then just unfold and you have a placemat to eat on. Voila. Wipe it clean and use it again tomorrow.
- Shoes, clothing, etc - consider quality over quantity. Buy used/vintage/thrift, and/or things that will last. You'll not only be simplifying your life with a more minimalist, classic, high-quality wardrobe, but you'll send fewer things to the landfill.
But when you DO have stuff to get rid of, redistribute it intentionally...
- I recently discovered that the donation bin near my home goes to a great company called Helpsy. They donate clothing that is still usable, and recycle the textiles that aren't. Nothing is wasted. I love it.
- For housewares, find a good place to donate, like Housing Works. Somebody else will use that juicer you bought during your health kick of 2014.
- Dispose responsibly: things like batteries, lightbulbs, prescriptions, and old electronics need to be taken somewhere and shouldn't go in the regular trash. Look up your local conservation center or trash management system. Here in Brooklyn we have a safe disposal day once a year, where you can bring anything you've got to Prospect Park and they deal with it from there. (It's in early April. I'll tell ya sooner next time.)
Okay, so back to that banana peel...
- Depending on where you live, composting can feel like really going above and beyond. In NYC, you can take your compost to any farmers market to drop off, and many neighborhoods have compost pickup alongside the trash (we'll all have it soon!!). Most neighborhoods also have community gardens that have drop-off sites, just pop in and ask.
- A tip if you're hoarding compost at home and hoping to get to the drop-off point by the end of the week: keep it in the freezer so it's not utterly disgusting and leaking everywhere.
- Of course, if you have a backyard, you can start your own compost pile/bin and use that nutrient-rich compost in your own garden. And if you have the guts for it, you can try vermiculture, which means voluntarily bringing a bin full of worms into your home.
- But there are other ways to repurpose your produce waste and get MORE out of them, like freezing kale stems to put in your smoothies, or saving ANY veggie (and even meat/bones) remnants to make some stock for your next batch of stew.
- Oh, and um, obviously recycle. Take a few minutes to double-check your local recycling guidelines, because it changes place to place and usually if you throw stuff in there that they can't take, the whole lot gets sent to the trash.
Now, let's have a check-in: do I do ALL of these things 100% of the time? Hell no. Obviously real life happens, you grab a coffee without your mug, you need to buy a crappy umbrella that won't even last through the day's storm, and you're almost definitely not into having worms as roommates (I get it), so pick a few things to just keep in the back of your mind. Buy your water bottle, dig out your shopping bags, and take a cruise by the bulk bins next time you're at the store. Start where you are, don't beat yourself up, and as always, just do your best.
What do you do to reduce waste in your household? I'd love to hear any tips that I missed!! Comment below!