People always ask, “What can I do to reduce plastic and waste?” We have all seen the explosion in our lives of objects encapsulated in layers of plastic. Or the deliveries that arrive at our door with so much packaging that you fill your recycling bin to the brim.
Here is the big news. There are a ton of easy ways to go zero waste. And these ideas will help you reduce your carbon footprint and, as a bonus, save you money. It is no longer a marginal thing to go green in your daily life.
Opt for a growler. The beer industry is getting a head start using these refillable containers. Bringing in your growler supports local jobs, reduces transportation impacts and is the epitome of zero waste.
Any cooldown action you can take is great. If you like camping, get a refillable propane canister. All kinds of mobile refills are popping up in our area, where you can stock up on shampoos and cleansers. And since March 1, it’s legal in Washington to bring your own container to stock up on bulk food or take-out food, provided the retailer has a contamination plan in place.
Bring your own thermos or mug when ordering coffee and bring your own reusable water bottle. We recommend stainless steel or glass bottles as they are chemically inert and will last a long time.
Avoid buying items that come with excessive packaging. Many big brands have heard the message and are offering low packs or refillable options.
Did you know that Amazon launched a frustration-free packaging program in 2008 for sellers to deliver products in 100% recyclable packaging that doesn’t need that extra “smiley” box on the outside? And when you checkout, you can choose to group your items in fewer boxes.
Speaking of 100% recyclable, everyone is confused about recycling.
Generally in Washington, paper, metal (beer and soda cans, tuna cans, and pretty much all junk) and glass recycle well in our system. Be careful with the glass though – and it’s very confusing. You should only put glass bottles, containers and jars in your recycling bin. Mirror glass, light bulbs, window glass and other glass items melt at different temperatures and are therefore unwanted contaminants. And please do not put broken ceramic plates or mugs in your recycling bin. A small piece of ceramic can ruin an entire vat of molten glass at the glass recycler. Total horror for our recycling professionals.
Beverage bottles and clear containers made of #1 plastic and milk jugs, shampoo bottles, and cleaners made of #2 plastic are the best to recycle. Other numbers (eg, 3-7) are usually hard to recycle because they’re hard to turn into new things.
Plastic bags and plastic films are a major headache for our recycling sorting centers. Do not put them in your recycling bin. Instead, find a grocery store that has a collection bin out front. Bags and packaging films that have a bit of flexibility (i.e. they flex slightly when you push them with your finger) can be recycled into high quality plastic lumber. Crumpled wraps like the ones that go around most crackers, on the other hand, should go in the trash. It doesn’t make good wood.
The items you recycle don’t have to be perfectly clean. All you have to do is shake the liquid. A few remaining drops are enough. And you just have to scrape off the big chunks of food. A little food slime on items does not harm recycling. Be careful, however, when paper and cardboard are wet. It is a problem. Avoid this!
Try not to waste food. In the United States, a shocking amount of food goes to landfill. You can help reduce this by going for smaller portions, buying only what you will prepare and eat, freezing foods for later, using all the foods in your fridge (for example, saving leftovers vegetables to make broth) and, of course, composting everything. leftover food waste.
Reduce the microfibers that come off your clothes when you clean them in your washing machine. Choose natural fibers. And wash in cold water and hang to dry as much as possible. Instead of washing your clothes for one use, try airing them out and washing them less frequently. This will make them last longer.
Last but not least: don’t buy it.
If you can fix it, borrow it. Or take an alternative approach and avoid the major resource and climate change impacts of extraction, manufacturing, transportation and disposal. Did you really need another T-shirt? If you dig around your desk, can’t you find several perfectly good T-shirts waiting for their day?
The planet and your wallet will thank you if you follow these simple steps.
Heather Trim is executive director of Zero Waste Washington, a Seattle-based nonprofit environmental consultant.