Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal, and April welcomes an unofficial holiday that really makes me want to take stock and start fresh — Earth Day. During this time, I take stock of sustainable lifestyle choices that I’m proud of and also look for ways to improve.
At the beginning of the year, my household made it a priority to further reduce plastic waste. (A Google search of “Are plastics really being recycled?” turns up countless articles about how some plastics, especially #3 through #7, are not.) While it’s difficult to avoid all plastic in today’s world, in the spirit of Earth Day, I figured that now would be the ideal time to take stock of what has worked well for my family over time to reduce plastic use, how we’re succeeding, and in what areas we can improve:
Things we’ve eliminated/reduced:
Shampoo bottles: I gradually switched from commercial shampoos to homemade liquid shampoo crafted from castile soap and essential oils. But even castile soap is sold in a plastic bottle. I went a step further and found a locally made, small-batch artisan bar shampoo, packaged in nothing but a biodegradable paper wrapper. It has that luxurious lather, as well as a pleasant scent and no harmful added chemicals.
Condiment bottles: For a minimal time investment of making our own condiments, we’ve not only created tastier, healthier foods, but we’ve also reduced excess plastic bottles. Our homemade barbecue sauce, salad dressing, jams, salsa and more are stored in Mason jars or repurposed glass jars.
Plastic wrap/food storage bags: I think we’ve all fought with plastic wrap and have either ended up with a wadded useless clump, or with bandaged fingers from that wicked serrated metal edge on the box. I also can’t help but wonder how many single-use food storage bags and discarded plastic wrap is clogging the earth. We reuse grocery produce bags or wrappers that tortilla shells are packaged in as our “baggies”. We also cover a half-eaten bowls of leftovers with a saucers or plates, thus saving money and plastic waste.
Beverage bottles: We have gone years without buying bottled water, but the occasional iced tea or other plastic beverage bottle occasionally made it into the home. No more — we now brew large pots of fresh tea and pour it into a pitcher over ice, which we then pour into stainless steel travel bottles for work or on the go. We can also sweeten the beverages to our liking.
Plastic Grocery Bags: No explanation necessary; single-use plastic grocery bags are generally bad news. They have some rare uses, but like any convenience item, they’ve flooded landfills and waterways to excess. There has been one stuck in our neighbor’s tree for months, flapping in the breeze when we walk by as if giving the middle finger to Earth and all who care about it. We don’t leave home without our reusable canvas or cloth totes.
Garbage bags: My grandmother had always used paper grocery bags as trashcan liners, and we thought we could do the same. We have a compost bin, but that is fairly full and will be so until we Wisconsinites get some mild weather and I can empty the compost bin into the garden (and not all refuse can go into a compost bin). Our garbage got a bit sloppy during the paper bag experiment, and sometimes it overflowed while trying to close the bag and secure it shut with twine, like grandma used to do. So we’re back to commercial garbage bags until we decide to try again or come up with a different idea.
Some Toiletries: I’m not sure how to avoid the plastic packaging of things like dental floss or deodorant. I have yet to find spools of floss sold in cardboard packaging. I tried making my own natural deodorant — that didn’t work so well.
What plastic reducing tips do you have? If any readers have suggestions for how to turn my Earth Day failures into successes, please share!