Since 1970, the world has celebrated Earth Day, and this April marked its 50th anniversary. Over the last half century, one billion individuals in 190 countries have been moved into action to make the world a better place. In fifty years, we’ve learned a good deal about consumerism, waste, and pollution, but there are still changes we can make to live greener lives. I’ve taken stock in my own single-use plastic consumption while in quarantine, and the results were alarming.
According to UN Environment, globally, we produce over 300 million tons of plastic waste a year. Their site has a ton of quick facts and illustrations that put you face-to-face with our consumption problem. Single-use plastics like disposable cups, silverware, bottles, and plastic wrap are such commodities in our fast-paced, on-the-go world that most times I forget how much I’ve thrown away by the end of the day. These products, now so integrated and engrained into everyday life, contribute an alarming amount of pollution and waste. Surprisingly, cutting single-use plastic use is a relatively simple eco-conscious switch to greener living for anyone. It only takes a deliberate look around your house, some research, and a desire to do better.
I’m on the younger spectrum of millennials. We grew up hearing the importance of taking care of the earth. I remember learning about the water cycle in the fifth grade and, in tandem, discovering some rivers and waterways around the world are extremely polluted. Smog, CO2 gasses, global warming, and the greenhouse effect were taught in middle school and high school classes long before we knew the term climate change or saw big changes come down from the EPA. My rural hometown started a small recycling co-op in 2011 that I volunteered for, but it only lasted a few years without community support.
My point is, I think my generation has grown up knowing we can do better to take care of our planet. And, I have a confession—I’ve been doing an awful job of this in my own life.
An Isolated Trash Panda
The current global health situation has shed light on how much waste I create working from home. I’ve begun to focus on what I consume, how much, and why. I don’t want to go out unless absolutely necessary, so I’ve started to conserve food, soap, and especially paper products.
We’ve all seen the toilet paper hoarding memes. Plus, I’ve heard plenty of stories from friends and family who are panicked about not having essentials as they stand in front of bare shelves at the store. All of this made me really come face-to-face with my own paper/plastic/single-use consumption. So, I decided to do my part to change my consumerism.
An Eco-Conscious Conclusion
I was low on Ziploc bags, plastic wrap, and cotton rounds and ardently decided to use up what I had left and not buy more. My goal was to swap all these disposable items for more eco-friendly, multi-use items—something I should have done a long time ago.
Next, I stared researching brands, reading reviews, and comparing prices.
Here’s what I ended up purchasing:
A dozen or so people I follow on Instagram have switched their lifestyles to zero waste. I knew from their stories it’s a bit of an initial investment to purchase non-disposable alternatives for items we toss in the trash every day. I searched for deals to stay within my budget, while still coming to terms it would be an investment. My total ended up being under $50.
1. Makeup pads
Before: I’d use 1–2 cotton rounds in the morning to get rid of any leftover eye makeup, one to apply my Celavive Perfecting Toner, and sometimes another for a chemical exfoliant. At night, I’d use 1–2 more to take off my makeup, and one more cotton round to apply toner again. That’s maybe seven each day. And, I don’t wear a full face of makeup, so I’m on the conservative side of cotton round users.
After: These babies are so soft. There are three colors—a light, minty-blue, white, and black. The black ones have a little coarser pattern (meant to help take off long-wear makeup) and they do the trick. They are all machine washable. Place them in the mesh bag (included with purchase) and toss them in the washer with a normal load of laundry. I also spot treat to get out really pigmented makeup and lipsticks just for good measure.
One downside: They seem to absorb a lot more product than a cotton round, and I feel like I’m wasting some of my toner. I may just switch to applying this product with my hands.
2. Silicone Straws
Before: I have sensitive teeth and a few years back I started stocking straws in the house. Two years ago, I bought metal straws instead of plastic, but wasn’t happy with the quality. They’d tarnish or rust after washing.
After: These silicone straws are great. I love the molded curve. They’re easy to clean. This pack comes with a little scrub cleaner, kind of like a pipe cleaner. You can easily cut them to fit different size glasses and bottles. And, there’s even a carry bag. When we can finally socialize again, I’ll stick one in my purse and pass on restaurant straws.
The light colors do stain a little if I drink a berry tea or something pigmented, but I just designate a dark-colored straw for these kinds of refreshments.
3. Storage Bags
Before: I was a little hesitant about this switch. I use baggies a lot—leftovers, frozen meat and fruit, snacks on-the-go, all those buttons that come on sweaters and jackets, junk I don’t want to lose.
After: The designs on these bags sold me. I love that it gives them a dash of personality and makes it easy to differentiate what’s inside. You could even buy packs of each design and use cactus for fruit, space for dry snacks, succulents for something else.
The bags are thinner than I expected, but the inside has a different coating than the exterior that makes cleanup easy. I haven’t had trouble with zippers or leaks yet, though I do make sure to keep them sitting upright in my fridge. And since we can’t go anywhere, I haven’t thrown one in my purse to see how it does in transit.
4. Beeswax Food Wrap
Before: I’m a firm believer in not letting leftovers go to waste. If I cooked a big casserole or just couldn’t find the lids to my container, I was using plastic wrap to cover my food. There were at least two or three dishes covered in clingwrap in my fridge any given day.
After: This product smells amazing. That sweet and spicy beeswax scent immediately made me feel calmer. I rinsed them with cool water and soap like directed, and let them lay flat to dry before using them for the first time.
I was skeptical they would seal, and didn’t know if molding would be as easy as the reviews said, but I worried for nothing. You press on the rim of the bowl and mold the paper over the side. The wax sticks and the warmth and pressure from your hands does the trick. Some reviews I read mentioned these leave a bit of a film or residue on the side of people’s dishes, but I haven’t had that trouble. They even wash up nicely.
It’s important to research the brands you’re buying when switching out these kinds of products. Buying an eco-friendly product from a non-eco-friendly company kind of defeats the whole purpose. It’s important your money goes to support ethical, conscious brands. Do a little bit of research before you add to your cart. And of course, make whatever switch works best for you.
Striving for an eco-conscious life looks different for everyone.
Making the Switch, Together
I’m lucky to work for a company like USANA Health Sciences that prides itself on making green choices and giving employees the same opportunity. From a roof full of solar panels, blue recycling bins all over the office, and charging stations for electric vehicles to waste-reducing practices in shipping and manufacturing and plenty of other initiatives, they set an example for what matters in modern business practices.
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I still have a long way to go to incorporate all the earth-friendly lifestyle choices I want into my home and everyday life, but this little shift marks a step forward. Tackling my closet and introducing more zero waste practices are the next big steps I’d like to take. Isolation really made me reflect on how much waste piles up when I’m working from home all day. Personal social responsibility will help our lives and our planet come out of this strange time lighter, healthier, and more conscious of our actions. I invite you to join me in taking inventory of the unconscious waste you produce and start small to implement more green living practices into your daily routine.