Chuck it

During this trip to Maui I have been getting up most mornings and going for a run. I can’t say this is a regular thing I do in Vancouver, considering the weather is usually cold and wet and nothing to lose sleep over. However, this refreshing morning routine in Maui has shown me something truly terrifying. As I’m running along this beautiful, sunny, wind-swept path, it feels like every single tourist walking in the opposite direction is carrying a Starbucks cup and/or bag, or some other brand of disposable cup filled with their must-have morning drink.

Although, they may be getting a jolt of must-needed caffeine, I’m getting a jolt of depression knowing that each one of those cups and bags are going to end up in the landfill. It must be thousands a day. This doesn’t even count the later afternoon walks I have when I see adults walk by with their sugary-alcoholic beverages that look like heaven in plastic cups. Not to be reused. It is time for people to take responsibility and start treating vacation places (as well as your homes) with respect and not as a temporary garbage-dump.

Although, I told you I’m not a green-living site, I have to write this or I’ll explode from frustration. Here is a list of things that you need to discontinue using now!!

  1. ONE-TIME USE ANYTHING

Disposable one-time use items are the first thing you need to stop throwing away. This can include such a large number of items I couldn’t begin to list them all. However, I think the most common ones that you can easily do something about include:

Coffee cups – I feel that there are two options for consuming your steaming, delicious wake-me-up drinks: 1. Sit down in the café and drink out of the café’s mugs, or 2. Bring in your own refillable coffee mug/thermos. I want everyone to know that no one brings their own mug in for the pathetic 10 cents worth of savings you get (coffee shops, that’s directed at you), they are bringing it in to prevent the disposal of one more paper cup. Students are an exception to this rule. I see them more than anyone bring in their own mugs and it’s almost always because they want to prevent garbage AND because they need the extra 10 cents – usually savings for their next meal. And traveling is not an excuse!!! Bring a mug from home in your bag. Fill it with socks or clean underwear. I don’t care. The quarter of a pound it contributes to your check-in is nothing compared to how much landfill waste you’ll save when you’re away for two weeks and will drink out of it every morning. You can even take it and a teabag on the plane with you and ask have a steeping tea onboard your flight.

Straws and Napkins – I know that Martha Stewart, Bed Bath and Beyond, Pier 1 and numerous other home and garden companies bombard us with great summer patio sets with fun, colorful plants, glasses, and refreshing-looking drinks to cool us down. In almost every idyllic picture there are throw away items like bright, stripy straws or boldly patterned napkins to complete ‘the look’. Even if you sit down at a restaurant or bar, unnecessary paper napkins and plastic straws are provided when you order a drink. For your information, straws are probably one of the most useless things on the planet. Although you may feel like they are necessary, it seems to me that just tipping the glass back a bit also works to get a drink in your mouth. I do admit this may expend more energy, but who couldn’t use burning an extra half a calorie? And as for the napkins – when at home, either with the family or guests, use cloth napkins. They can be just as bold, just as impactful, without having to throw them away at the end of dinner. If you throw them in with other linen, then you’re not necessarily using more water to wash them either. So the moral of the story is as follows:

  • When out, specifically request no straw or napkin (or toothpick for that matter!) with your drink or food.
  • If you absolutely need straws buy reusable and washable ones. They come in a variety of different materials such as stainless steel, glass, and acryllic like those found here. (simplystraws, greenmunch, thekitchn)
  • Buy cloth napkins instead of paper ones
  1. PLASTIC BAGS!!!

For those of you who go grocery shopping and bring your own reusable bags, you know how angering and depressing it is when the person ahead of you gets their groceries double-bagged. Would you like an extra small bag for your pork chop? Yes, please. How about for your gallon of whole milk? Yes, three bags please, we wouldn’t want it to bust through the bags when you could easily carry it by the handle provided on the side. Extra fluffy five-ply toilet paper? Definitely, who doesn’t want their 24 pack of non-recycled toilet paper bagged when it doesn’t fit into a bag in the first place? Ok, my rant is over for now. Welcome, everyone, to the day when you can go almost anywhere and buy a reusable grocery bag for 75 cents (try Whole Foods if you don’t know where else to go), or better yet, get one for free at many conferences or trade shows. There are even great sites with funny and unique designs if you want something to call your own (Etsy – Tote Bags, coolmompicks, cafepress – funny bags). There are no longer any excuses for why you should be walking out of a grocery store with plastic bags. Or paper. If you want an eye-opening documentary about how a lot of this plastic ends up in the ocean, degrading down to micro-plastics which cause pollution and degradation of aquatic life, it’s called Plastic Paradise. And if you want reference to a website that lists all of the reasons why you should not continue using plastic or paper bags, please see here. I truly hope once you educate yourself about why reusable is the way to go, you’ll never turn back.

As a last note, this also includes produce bags, or bags that can be used for bulk-bin items. I still reuse the small clear plastic bags from my past for buy bulk items instead of throwing them out after one use. (reuseit – produce bags, thekitchn – reusable produce bags, ecobags – produce bags).

  1. CELEBRATION FAVORITES

It seems like every party needs balloons, right? WRONG! These babies are totally unnecessary and if filled with helium, may accidentally float away only to redistribute themselves somewhere else, with a good chance of degrading the environment. Therefore, not only do they cause environmental degradation in their construction, but they cause it when thrown away on purpose, or by accident too (not to mention the current shortage of helium). Try to use reusable streamers, votives, or mini-lights to add a little festivity to a party.

Wrapping paper is also a crazy and unnecessary packaging. I know it might be exciting for some of you to go to the store to pick out the best and most appropriate wrapping paper. I, on the other hand, find it probably the most annoying part of giving gifts (aside from picking out cards). The worst time of year for wrapping is Christmas! I love Christmas, but I hate throwing away garbage-bags full of wrapping paper after everything has been opened. An alternative? Cloth gift bags! I was originally going to sew a few of my own this year to provide to my family for Christmas, but since I looked at a bunch online for this post, I may just buy them because they are so incredibly awesome! Here are a few sites to visit if you’re interested in buying some: livingethos, reuseit – reusable gift wrap, wrapsacks and here’s a site for instructions if you’d like to make your own: so sew easy, healthychild. The list of make-your-own instructions is never-ending so feel free to search your own to find the best site for you.

  1. BOTTLED WATER

I am lucky enough to come from a place where my tap water is of amazing quality and the thought of buying bottled water never crosses my mind. However, when I walk down the Whole Foods aisle of bottled water, people are grabbing them like they know we’re expecting a major earthquake or blackout. Sometimes I wonder if they’re privy to something I’m not. The weird thing is that most of the time they’re grabbing the smaller bottles, not the larger ones. I mean, who wants a tiny bottle or water if you’re thirsty? Plus, there’s amazing water coming out of the tap!! The first and most important point I’d like to mention is that although bottled water has the appearance of being high quality, bottled water’s quality, unlike tap water, is not controlled. There are not necessarily standards by which bottled water is responsible to maintain and no governing body to ensure bottled water quality. Bottled water can say it is ‘natural spring’ water from Fiji, but actually be groundwater piped up from beneath Wisconsin in the proximity of underground fracking. It’s all in the labeling and boy do people fall for labeling.

Again, traveling is not an excuse, since if you bring your own reusable water bottle on the plane with you you have it throughout your trip as well as being able to use it on the plane. This saves throwing away all of those tiny plastic cups the stewards/stewardesses provide you with.

Remember for your next dinner party, bottled water is a ridiculous thing to waste money on (unless you live somewhere where tap water is not provided or is of questionable quality). Get a filter if you must, but try to have faith in your town’s water supply that they know what they’re doing. At least they are required to provide a certain quality of water to residents. If you are truly uneasy about your tap water, boil it before drinking it. And as an alternative to fizzy water, go and buy a SodaStream or whatever it’s called. At least you can recycle the CO2 cartridges and don’t have to power through 10 glass or plastic bottles in a night for yourself or guests.

I’m sure I’ll think of more, but if any of you have specific items that frost you, let everyone know! It may just be that others haven’t thought of it before, so include links if you’ve come across great alternatives.