Reduce, reuse, recycle. We're all familiar with the mantra that has been ingrained into our minds since grade school. As a general concept, it is a good way to think of waste. However, since producers of goods are not responsible for the disposal of the products they manufacture, much of our focus has been on the last step of the three. Recycling is an important piece but it is the last step to follow, after other options have been exhausted. The first step is reduce. It is the most important step, but often the hardest in our modern day society.
The limitations of Recycling
Many people do not curb their consumption of products like plastic bottles because they see recycling as a sustainable solution. However, it still takes resources, like energy (the type which likely releases CO2), water, and money, to recycle a product. In Hawaii, much of our recycling is shipped to China. Not only does that use fuel that releases CO2 on the long journey but China has drastically cut back on what it will accept in order to focus on their own waste problems. Other countries will surely follow when they reach the same point. Plus, once it leaves our shores, we only know its destination but not really what happens to it once it reaches those foreign shores. Logistically, recycling also doesn’t always work. There are many products that are technically possible to recycle but because of cost or other difficulties it is not done. For example, the rayon bristles on toothbrushes are technically recyclable but not logistically. That is why the first step, reduce, is key to waste management. It is the most important step, but often the hardest in our modern day society. Important things to consider are what the product is made of and how it is disposed. Products that reduce the use of single use items and those that have a cradle to cradle life cycle are the prefered products.
Use Reusable Mesh Produce Bags
Instead of using new plastic bags each time you buy produce, bring reusable mesh bags with you. These see through Earthwise bags weigh less than ⅓ of an ounce so you don’t have to worry about paying more at checkout due to weight. If you don’t like them, this company offers a money back guarantee. Although, I think you will like them!
Use Refillable Beverage Containers
There are many reusable water bottles out there but my favorite is the original Hydro Flask brand. Hydro Flask bottles use stainless steel instead of plastic, and there is no plastic lining. This avoids the many risks posed by BPA in plastics, which include heart disease, reproductive problems, and obesity. These bottles use food-grade stainless steel in two layers with vacuum-sealed insulation to keep liquids cold or hot all day long. Condensation is eliminated, and the bottles remain cool to the touch regardless of the heat or coldness of the contents. Hydro Flask was also named one of the healthiest companies to work for in America. There are many different styles to choose from. I prefer the regular mouth because I find the largemouth difficult to sip out of. You can mix and match for your own personal preference.
Have an On-the-go Food Kit in your car or bag
Instead of relying on restaurants to have compostable containers (that actually get composted), reduce your need for single use containers at all. These are great to pack up your leftovers or bring in when you order take out food. Some restaurants will even give you a discount for bringing in your own container for take away orders. You will have to bring it in before they make the food though! This particular container is good because it is made in the U.S. from 50% recycled plastic and BPA free. They are also NSF certified, which is an international third party certification whose mission is to protect and improve global human health.
Glass sets are great for leftovers and you can heat them up in the same container, reducing dishwashing. Just make sure to remove the plastic-free bamboo lid before heating. They are not quite as convenient as the other containers for take away restaurant food but can definitely still work for that purpose. I personally use the Nummyware set but the Greener Chef set also looks promising at a lower price point.
This compact, easy to use, portable, reusable silverware set will allow you to ditch single use plastic ware. Keep one in your bag and one in your car to always be prepared. There is no plastic used in this product. I prefer metal utensils over bamboo, mostly for functional reasons. It is recyclable at any location that accepts ferrous metals, which many do. If purchasing a bamboo utensil set, check for sustainable harvesting certifications.
Never use another plastic straw again! This straw kit is great because it comes in a variety of sizes and shapes for all your needs and preferences. It also features a handy travel bag and 2 cleaners, which I love because I carry my kit in my backpack.
Switch to a Safety Razor
In 2018, more than $1.2 billion in disposable razors were sold in the U.S. The EPA estimated, all the way back in 1990, that 2 billion razors were thrown away each year. That was a long time ago. According to U.S. census data, 159.79 million Americans used disposable razor blades in 2019. If each of those Americans used a new disposable razor every 2 weeks, that equates to a whopping 4.2 billion razors thrown away each year. Avoid all that waste by going old school and using a straight razor! And yes, women can use too; I do! It is slightly different than using a disposable but it doesn’t take much adjusting at all. Not only is it much better for the environment but you save a lot of money over time and get a closer shave so you don't have to shave as often.
Use a Bidet
Reduce your toilet paper use, which saves trees and reduces plastic packaging, by switching to a bidet. These have become more mainstream in the U.S. recently and there are many affordable and easy to install attachments. For the attachment, try keeping a towel next to the toilet that you dry off your cleaned areas with and can change regularly instead of toilet paper. Another option is installing a bidet seat that comes with a dryer! It is the ultimate in bathroom luxury and the most eco-friendly. The seat is quite a bit more but Amazon offers installment payments (for the same total price) to make this purchase a little easier on the monthly bills.
Choose more sustainable materials
Choosing sustainable materials that can avoid the landfill is a great option, when available, but it is not just the output that is important to consider. Examine the input of your product’s materials as well, including where the materials are coming from, how they are harvested, and how they are processed. This is the more difficult step and why you have me to help!
Consider bamboo for example. It is, generally, a more sustainable material than plastic because it is not petroleum based and is compostable. However, as more and more people try to go green, the demand for this material has increased, which has led to unsustainable practices. Native forests are now being clear cut in some areas to harvest bamboo instead. Some harvest sites show a substantial use of fertilizers and pesticides, despite claims that bamboo crops required neither of these treatments. Monocrop farming can lead to a loss of biodiversity. There is also unsustainable harvesting of natural stands of bamboo. To read more, check out this Dovetail Partners report. Before buying bamboo products, check out the company’s website and verify that their bamboo has a trusted sustainable forestry certification or that the company has representatives on the ground at the harvest location.
An estimated 1 billion plastic toothbrushes end up in U.S. landfills each year and do not break down. Is a toothbrush really something that needs to be made out of plastic? My pick for a sustainable toothbrush is the Humble bamboo toothbrush. I like this brand because they use MOSO bamboo, which is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as sustainably sourced wood. Humble is also socially conscious. Through their Humble Smile Foundation, children around the world are taught proper oral care and much more. When you're done with your toothbrush, just remove the bristles with pliers and add to your compost pile, avoiding the landfill!
Replace your plastic wrap with this natural alternative, handmade in Vermont with organic cotton, sustainably harvested beeswax, organic jojoba oil, and tree resin. Bee's Wrap fabric and printing are certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard, and our packaging is made from 100% recycled paper and biodegradable cellulose. Once your wrap reaches the end of its useful life, compost or use as a natural fire starter. GREEN-AMERICA CERTIFIED
Make your events greener
Many people struggle to make their events eco friendly. The best step is to ask everyone to bring their own plates, cup, and utensils! It can be difficult to actually have everyone show up with their own utensils, so if you need to provide some items for your guests, make sure they are made of more sustainable materials.
These are great for large events or a beach bbq with friends. They are made from birchwood and are sourced exclusively from Forest Stewardship Council certified forestry operations, adhering to strict forestry guidelines. Firstchoice EcoNaturals donates to nonprofit environmental organizations, so you can be satisfied that a portion of the money you are spending is going to protect the environment! Another reason this product was selected was because they offer multiple options of utensil mixtures to suit your needs. You can order a mix of spoons, forks and knives, just forks or just spoons, or a mix of forks and spoons.
These plates are made from the pre-consumer by-products left during the production of sugar from sugarcane, called bagasse, which is otherwise thrown away. They are very compostable an can quickly break down in your compost pile or garden bed.
Ditch the disposable polyester sponges
Tired of throwing away your dish sponge week after week? Try these long lasting, washable scrubbing cloths instead. It is recommended to replace your sponge every 1-3 weeks. With 126 million households in the United States, that means a potential 42-126 million sponges end up in the waste stream every week! These reusable scrubbing cloths not only reduce your amount of waste but the material they are made of is much more ecologically friendly. Microfiber pollution is a big problem for our oceans and other waterways, proving detrimental to plankton and other small organisms that make up the base of the food chain, and high numbers of fibers have been found in fish and shellfish being sold for human consumption. One study found that microfibers are responsible for 85 percent of shoreline pollution across the globe! The destructive microfibers come from synthetic materials, such as polyester, which is what most typical sponges are made of. The fibers are too small to be filtered and travel through the sewer system, ending up in waterways. Even reusable sponges, which are great for cutting down on waste, are almost exclusively microfiber. This dish scrub cloth is made of viscose from tree pulp, which the company says is sustainably harvested. Viscose isn’t perfect, considering the process involves multiple chemicals, but is still my choice due to the alternatives having much worse impacts. Also, Viscose is increasingly being manufactured using the Lyocell process, which produces little waste product, making it far more eco-friendly. Plus these are compostable!
The author of this helpful little book has managed to get her family's yearly waste down to 1 quart a year and reduced their spending by an amazing 40%! Even if that is a bit extreme for your personal goal, there are some simple steps in this book most of us will find very useful, and easier to pull off than you think.
Reuse & Recycle
Having some waste is unavoidable, since most products come in packaging and, when living on an island, there are just some things you have to order. This is where the reuse and recycle steps come into play. Click on your island to learn about recycling near you.
How to Recycle E-waste
How to Recycle Metal
Metal is a very popular material to recycle because it has the highest monetary payback, so odds are very good that there is location nearby ready to take your metal products. When it comes to recycling, there are two kinds of metal: Ferrous and Non-ferrous. Ferrous metal contains iron and is magnetic. Both metals are recyclable but some locations only accept one or the other. Check here to search your area (make sure to search by ferrous or non-ferrous metal.