Updated: Mar 22
Most people feel like their small changes can't make a big difference, so what's the point in doing the little stuff anyway? But to that one starfish who gets put back in the water, it makes all the difference in the world. That's why we are asking you to keep it simple! And that means two small changes. In your home and office, can you add two piles to your traditional recycling set-up?
1) The first is to reuse a plastic or paper bag (or one of your cloth tote bags) for collecting wraps, films, and single-use plastic bags (THAT CAN'T GO IN THE RECYCLING BIN WITH REGULAR PLASTICS)! A few examples include the plastic bags that hold your loaf of bread, your tortillas, or the bag of apples with those little holes in them. And the thin plastic film your toilet paper and paper towels are wrapped in! You can also include the plastic wrap you packed your sandwich in. And what about the carrots in that single-use plastic bag? Then, you need to drop them off at a store near you, that collects these types of single-use plastics. It's one extra step, but once you add it to your routine, it's easy-peasy (we drop ours off out front at Sprouts).
2) The second is an organic bio-based waste bag for lowering carbon emissions. Can you add a compostable bag to your recycling area? It could be made of paper or other plant-based materials, like this great compostable bag option. This is where you'll add the end of your sandwich when you don't eat the last few bites, or that third of a banana cuz the end-part is icky (or bigger stuff like half of that pizza you never ate). This also includes coffee grounds (if you're not saving them for your garden), tea bags, and expired freshly cut flowers. Note: These compostable bags do not need to be recycled since they break down on their own. Just throw the now-filled compostable bag into the green bin when it's full, and let nature do its thing.
Wondering why separating your organic waste matters? Organic waste in landfills generates methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas. According to the EPA, composting (which includes proper disposal of organic waste) reduces methane emissions. If you feel up to the challenge, you can start composting in your own yard, and businesses can get in on that action as well. But some people feel that's a bit much--so, at least getting it to the proper bin helps. Then your local waste company can deal with it instead.
When it comes to the first challenge, the most sustainable option would be to stop buying single-use plastics or to reuse the ones you already own--as you segue into a greener lifestyle by utilizing some sturdy reusable shopping bags and eco-friendly produce pouches. These reusable sandwich and chip bags are great too. If you're into meal prepping, you'll love these glass containers.
If you don't have time to wash and reuse your bags, pouches, and containers, you could switch to using single-use compostable bags from now on, like these biodegradable paper bags! Multiple sizes are available, like these paper snack bags which are also convenient (and these ones with fun foodie designs). Plus, some smaller ones as well. Here are a few that look like the single-use plastic ones you're used to--which are better for holding fresh strawberries and cucumber slices. Note: These are made of biodegradable materials (so you can even add them to your compost pile at home). Perhaps you could just go 50-50, depending on your week--mixing some reusable storage items along with mostly biodegradable single-use ones and some single-use plastic ones that are still in your drawer (while recycling the single-use plastic ones properly--in that new pile for a store drop-off location near you).
Since it takes time to change, we're asking if you can start with your own home, office, and friend group. Think of the possibilities if 7.8 billion people started out small! It could push manufacturers to focus on bio-based materials, which will break down on their own--reducing our planet's state of decline from plastic pollution.
Not convinced single-use plastics are that big of a deal? Or that ethical recycling even matters all that much? Check out some info on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Also, microplastics are now showing up in the foods and drinks we consume. By recycling conscientiously (which can feel confusing--you're not alone), we can lower our carbon footprint together. Isn't it better to reuse materials that can be used more than once, like glass, aluminum, cardboard, and certain types of recyclable plastics? And to dispose of materials properly (such as plastic films/wraps and organic waste)?
Plastics didn't even come into our lives until after WWII, resurging in the 1960s and 1970s, due to their versatile uses and cost-effective nature. Today, they are mostly used for packaging, which we participate in as consumers via single-use containers (for everything from mustard and ketchup to shampoo and conditioner and everything in between). And it doesn't mean plastics don't have their proper place in our world today. There are many wonderful uses for plastics, like medical advancements and scientific discoveries (which we should keep implementing). But let's just pause and rethink the way people lived before the plastic revolution. In general, they reused packaging materials and shopped locally, creating a sustainably sourced manufacturing chain.
Could we do our small part, while keeping plastics in their proper place? Even though not all plastics are evil, we need to consider what's happening to our planet from the explosion of plastics into our daily routines over a relatively short period of time. By reducing or eliminating our single-use plastics and by disposing of them responsibly (along with our organic waste products), we can make strides to create a healthier place to live for future generations to come.
Let's do this together! And keep recycling your regular everyday recyclables too (like cardboard, paper, food boxes, mail, beverage cans, food cans, glass bottles, glass and plastic jars, jugs, and plastic bottles with their caps)--you're making a difference! Also, share your thoughts in the comments below. We'd love to hear from you (just keep it clean, even if you disagree)!
--Dianne Bright (Author and Environmental Influencer)