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If you’ve been watching social media, you’ll be aware that we’re on target to have more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050. That’s a stark window into just how disastrous our disposable culture has become but we only realise how much needless waste we produce once we put the brakes on our bad habits. The good news is that it’s surprisingly easy to significantly reduce this needless waste by switching from a use-it-once mentality, to a buy-it-once frame of mind. Here are a few easy entry points to get you up and going:
Let’s start with the basics – cloth shopping bags, Much sturdier than the plastic variety, these are both resource-saving and cash-saving. Ever since the plastic bag levy hit our tills in 2002 and was raised to 22 cents in 2007 Irish people have saved the environment from millions of plastic bags. If you’re not one of those toting tote bags it’s time to get on board. The key is to be prepared. Stash a few in the car boot, get yourself one of the small collapsible bags for your handbag, or stick a couple on the carrier at the back of your bike. If you always have them with you, you won’t need to re-buy every time you have to do the shopping.
If you’ve already adopted a canvas shopping bag habit try an extension of this with reusable sandwich bags. Every piece of plastic ever created, still exists. That means for every sandwich you brought into work, a plastic bag is lying around in a dump somewhere and will be for quite some time. Start making a difference and put a dent in this number by investing in a reusable sandwich bag. You can easily find them through a google search or on Etsy. If you’re using the paper variety, at least they biodegrade, but let’s not forget the environmental cost of cutting down trees to make them in the first place – and let’s not forget the financial cost either, switching to a reusable sandwich bag will save you in the long run!
Every advertisement you see for kitchen paper towels wants you to marvel at their durability and strength, even their re-usability. You know what’s more durable than even the most durable paper cloth? An actual cloth. Ditto for re-usability. Some point out the environmental cost of washing the cloths in order to re-use them, but it’s unlikely you’re going to have to put on an extra load in the washing machine just to deal with extra kitchen cloths, they’re small enough that they shouldn’t tip the balance. A handy tip is to keep two different colour or types of cloths – one set for the floor, another for the counters or tables. There are a range of choices for switching, depending on your preferences you can go full-on shabby chic and recycle old face-cloths or towels, cutting them to the appropriate size, or you can invest in some gorgeous fabric kitchen towels like the ones custom-made by Irish company the Cloth Hospital.
Having lots of tupperware knocking about the kitchen is a God-send when trying to reduce the number of throwaway plastic containers or ziploc bags you take into your home. Glass tupperware is best for storing leftovers instead of using clingfilm. Once you’ve mastered ditching cling film and plastic bags try taking Tupperware with you to the deli counter, to the butchers, and even to your local take-out so you can ditch the needless (and often un-recyclable) packaging. Don’t forget to ask them to weigh your tupperware first and zero the scales, so you don’t end up paying extra.
Straws have some of the shortest lives of all the plastic rubbish we create. How long does it take the average person to finish their drink? Not long. And yet the plastic straw will linger on for generations before it decomposes. While colourful straws might make a drink look pretty, is it really worth it on the grand scale of things? If you have sensitive teeth, or prefer using a straw for other reasons, you can invest in a metal, glass or even bamboo straws. Otherwise, just utilise the phrase “no straw, please” and you’re already helping the planet.
Reusable Make-up Cloths: There are a whole range of reusable make-up remover cloths out there, catering for different skin types and made in different styles. Some people keep it as simple as buying a handful of black facecloths – enough to get them through the week – and the dark colour means that it won’t matter if your lipstick stains remain after it is washed. If you’re still throwing a couple of cotton pads or make-up wipes into the bin everyday, it’s definitely worth checking out. As well as reducing your costs in the long term, it’s one of the little savings that will lead to a reduction in your waste charges in the long term too, so it’s a win-win.
Herbs aren’t normally considered a throwaway item, but when we buy them in small plastic packages in the supermarket, use a tiny bit, and then watch them swiftly wilt in the salad drawer, it quickly becomes a waste-making situation. You don’t need particularly green thumbs, or even an outdoor space, to be able to grow some chives or rosemary on your window sill. Check out this piece from the grow-it-yourself movement for tips and advice on what to grow.
Good tupperware will negate most need of cling film but in those rare times you want it you can stock your kitchen with some handy beeswax wrap. The heat of your hands moulds the wrap around the food, and it can be washed and reused, so there’s no need to re-buy. It’s available online several places including here or, if you’re the creative kind, you can even rustle up your own.
Hipster-dom has brought back many old-school favourites, from vinyl records, to braces and waistcoats. Why not the humble handkerchief? On the plus side, as well as saving waste, cotton handkerchiefs are much softer than tissues, and won’t leave your nose as red and raw if you’re in the throes of a bad cold. Just throw them in the wash, or pre-soak with something like baking soda or borax to remove tougher stains and they’ll be good as new and ready to reuse.
From stylish KeepCups to up-cycled mason jars, the possibilities are endless when it comes to something more sustainable to take your daily caffeine hit in. Just read our previous HeadStuff article explaining why the café style disposable cups aren’t really recyclable, despite what the public may think. Choose a reusable alternative and you’ll be saving the planet and your bank balance too as many cafés offer money-off or extra reward stamps for bringing your own mug. If they don’t? Ask them why not. After all, you’re helping them to reduce their costs and environmental footprint, it’s only fair that they should pass the savings on.
Do you know anyone who can tell the difference between all the branded bottles of mineral water based on taste alone? Me neither. Read HeadStuff’s article on why plastic water bottles are utterly unfashionable. Save yourself a ton, and take a ton of plastic out of your life, by switching to a reusable water bottle instead. Water in Ireland is usually safe to drink (check with your local council) but you can get a water filter if you fancy. You can even buy water bottles with in-built charcoal filters, or, you can just wash and reuse a glass juice bottle and not bother with buying a new water bottle. Either way, you’re doing the environment a big favour.
2017 seems to so far be quite an excellent year to assert your womanhood and what’s more womanly than periods? But disposable plastic-containing pads and tampon applicators crowd landfills unnecessarily, hurting mother Earth. Check out this excellent HeadStuff article on how to ditch the disposable items while menstruating and actually enjoy a more comfortable period experience.