I’ve been writing about living more sustainably for just over a month now. In that time, I’ve been testing out new products, switched to a vegetarian diet (though the jury’s still out on fish), and have noticed a change in my shopping habits and overall temptation to buy stuff. However, I have a long way to go before I’m anywhere near the zero-waste people I admire. Below are just five of the ways I suck at low-waste living.
1: Buying unnecessary eco-friendly products
There is a great market for sustainable products that are meant to replace single-use items, but the most eco-friendly thing to do would be to repurpose something you already own. While I like the lint-free cloths I mentioned in my post about reducing waste in the kitchen, I should have first looked to my own closet. I’ve found t-shirts laying around that could be repurposed for rags, saving me money, reducing the need to buy more stuff, and adding to the life-cycle of something I already owned. It can be tempting to replace all of our single-use items with new stuff from Etsy and Amazon, but I want to think more critically about what I already own the next time I feel an urge to go shopping for my next low-waste goodie.
2: Opting for reusable plastics instead of more eco-friendly materials
Before I started this blog, I had already picked up some multi-use products meant to cut back on single-use items. I picked up a set of CloverBlubber food/bowl covers on a trip to California, pretty much picking them up on a whim. They can be used to seal food and bowls and are meant to replace plastic wrap, however they are made out of rubber and will have to be trashed when they are no longer usable. I wish I had opted for something like Bee’s Wrap, which would meet a similar need and is compostable. Reusable products still create waste when they are produced and may still end up in the landfill. Not all low-waste products are created equal.
3: Eating out
Living in a neighborhood with extremely limited access to fresh food means that there is plenty of temptation to have lazy eating habits. That, on top of not having a car, means that when I am hungry and don’t have anything fresh on hand it is extremely tempting to go to MSM (my neighborhood deli that makes the best sandwiches EVER) or place an order on UberEATS. Apps have made it all too easy to have any food we want on our doorstep, and I know I have eaten food from a restaurant far more frequently since the launch of the app in Tacoma. Take-out results in food packaged in plastic wrap or Styrofoam, disposable cutlery, and puts a car on the road. Not only does eating out cost me a lot of money, it is definitely not good for the planet. This week I ordered my first CSA box from Terra Organics and I’m hoping that this will help me cook more during the week. I also still let a lot of food go to waste because I eat out instead of cooking when I’m tired or lazy. Food waste is a huge problem that I am ashamed to contribute too, and while now I at least have a compost bin, the most sustainable action would be using food so that it doesn’t have to go to compost.
4: Going to bars
Going out for drinks can be a huge source of waste. I was at one of my favorite dive bars recently where most of the beer they served is bottled and I generally don’t trust the cleanliness of the taps. By the end of the night, my table had generated about 15 cans of Rainier, all of which I’m sure went into the garbage at the end of the night. I also love gin and tonics, which are typically served with a plastic straw. I am trying to remember to ask bartenders not to give me a straw, but they are usually so busy and have the muscle memory to serve drinks with a straw so most of the time I still end up getting one. I definitely don’t blame my bartenders, but it is really irksome. I also get pretty bad junk food cravings when I’ve had a few drinks, ending up at the local drive-through or buying chips or soda in plastic bags and bottles. I am definitely not giving up on going to the bars, but I want to get more assertive about asking for drinks without straws and limit my post-bar taco runs.
5: Not being politically active
Spreading awareness about sustainability is good and all (I’ve had a number of friends tell me they’ve purchased items I’ve recommended here which I think is awesome) but our ability to impact the environment extends beyond bringing bags to the grocery store. Living in a port city, there are a number of environmental issues that could devastate the local ecosystem, and with local elections later this year I want to use my vote to support candidates that prioritize the environment. I was at an event called Green Drinks earlier this week and was impressed by all the activists in the room that are far more knowledgeable than I am about local issues and that are running for office, organizing protests, and donating to nonprofits with the shared vision for a healthier planet. I already support a nonprofit that I care deeply about, but as I spend less money on single-use products and eating out (as outlined in 3 and 4 above) I can use more of my budget to donate to candidates and agencies that have more influence than I do.
So there’s my dirty laundry, I’d love to hear from others about their own habits that aren’t earth-friendly (I’m sure I’m guilty of them too). The goal in a low-waste lifestyle isn’t perfection, but by being mindful of our actions we can minimize these habits to lessen our negative impact on the planet.