Hi all! I thought this month I’d take a few minutes to share some of the things I’ve been doing lately to reduce waste in our home. First off, here are a few stats on why reducing waste is such an important thing. You’ve no doubt heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where 1.2 trillion pieces of plastic have accumulated over an area three times the size of France, or the fact that by 2050 it’s estimated that there will be more plastic in the oceans than living creatures… “But I don’t throw my plastic into the ocean,” you insist. Which is totally valid and, also, good for you. That’s just bad form, man.
However, trash in the ocean is only part of the problem. Our landfills have limited capacity, and adding to the problem is the fact that organic matter creates methane (one of the key greenhouse gases contributing to climate change) when it decomposes inside plastic trash bags… Which means every time we throw our food waste (or dog poop or cat litter, for that matter) into the garbage, it becomes a problem. Recycling is an issue in and of itself, since it creates a considerable carbon footprint to ship our recyclable crap overseas to process, and the communities where that recycling takes place are kind of cesspools. Check out the documentary “Plastic China” to learn more about this.
My lovely partner Ben – who is awesome and very conscientious about these things – insists that I make too much of all these things, and that one individual’s role in what’s happening to the planet is slight compared to what giant corporations are doing – and, in effect, I’m being manipulated by those giant corporations, who would much prefer we all freak out about recycling than hold them accountable for the hideous things they do to the environment every day.
My counter argument is that we can do both: we can recycle, consume less, make less trash, AND hold corporations accountable, at least to the best of our abilities. Adding to that is the fact that we as consumers drive trends within those corporations; if enough of us demand less packaging, less packaging comes out of those big companies. If we as consumers demand that the companies we invest in support green policies or divest in companies supporting fossil fuel, those companies start to get the message. Consumer responsibility doesn’t mean we absolve those higher in the food chain of their role in the mess we’re in right now; it means we hold them to as high a standard as we hold ourselves.
Anyway, that’s my take on the matter. Now, back to the whole garbage conundrum. The bottom line is that Americans generate a whole lot of trash, and a lot of it is completely unnecessary. So, in the past year or so I’ve worked to make less. Obviously, I bring my own bags when I go to the grocery store. A lot of these bags I’ve made myself, out of scrap fabric I have on hand or secondhand fabric I buy at Goodwill. This is one I made out of a pillowcase I got at Goodwill, and the straps are made from a pair of Ben’s old blue jeans:
I also make bulk bags for purchasing bulk dry goods like rice, beans, or nuts. This means I’m not purchasing a container along with the food, and it’s often less expensive to do things this way (especially if buying organic foodstuffs) than to buy a pre-packaged option. These bags are made, again, out of scrap fabric, with the tie made from bamboo cord I had on hand. It takes about twenty minutes to make one; I usually set a little time aside, and make a bunch of them at once. They’re also fun conversation pieces when I go to the market, and they make great gifts.
For things like herbs, spices, flour, etc., I use glass jars. This was something that took me a while to get used to, because I have to go up front to the counter to ask for a TARE weight before filling the jar. I’m kind of shy, and I always used to feel like I was putting people out or being weird by making them take this extra step. That may have been the case before (though it probably wasn’t), but at this point enough people are aware of the zero waste movement and the need to reduce trash that they’re more than happy to take that extra six seconds out to weigh my container. Just a note, however: most mainstream grocery stores I’ve gone to have no idea what I’m talking about when I do this, and some – Whole Foods included – will not allow you to bring your own containers for things like nut butters or oils, which you can buy from a dispenser onsite. Food co-ops and natural food stores, however, are totally cool with you bringing your own containers in.
If you do this enough, you can put together a collection of jars that already have the TARE weights written on them. I do this with glass jars from products I’ve purchased, thus reusing rather than recycling them, and at this point have a slew of them on hand that I can just grab when it’s time to go to the store.
For fresh produce, my mom got me these mesh bags, which I love. I had others before that ended up getting worn out fairly quickly, but these seem to be standing up to use and abuse much better. If you don’t want to purchase mesh bags and would rather use your own, just look for a breathable, loose or mesh fabric. I made a bunch from old lace curtains I got at Goodwill, but have given them all away by now, so I have no pictures. They held up great, though, and – again – only took a little bit of time to make.
I swapped out kitchen sponges for these dishcloths that I knit myself following this YouTube tutorial.
I traded in cotton balls and cotton rounds for these re-usable, crocheted cotton rounds that take about twenty minutes to make. As with so many of these things, they also make a great gift.
So… These are just a few of the changes I’ve made in our lives to reduce the amount of trash we generate. We also compost, which is a huge boon for the environment and your wallet. Here’s an awesome article on composting, if you’re not sold. If I can’t buy something without packaging, I try to buy packaging that’s either glass, metal, or paper, since plastic is of course oil-based and we’re doing what we can to reduce reliance on fossil fuel wherever we can (not an easy task in Maine, for sure).
I’m hoping to get Ben on board for a full Zero Waste, month-long challenge to see how we do (though he doesn’t know that yet), but I’m not sure I can persuade him to go quite that far. For now, however, we do something. And if everyone would do just that much – just be aware of the impact we have with the money we spend and the items we consume and the waste that we generate – while simultaneously holding corporations to that same standard, I think change for the better would begin. What about you? What changes have you made, or what changes would you like to make, in your own life to benefit the planet?
Jen Blood is the USA Today-bestselling author of the Erin Solomon Mysteries and the Flint K-9 Search and Rescue Mysteries. Learn more about her at http://www.jenblood.com.