The average American produces 4.5 pounds of trash every single day.
Over half (55%) of this trash will be buried in landfills, and much of that will not be decomposed or broken down in our lifetime. 12.5% of trash produced will be incinerated, which produces air pollution in the process. (source)
Recently, I've become very aware of just how much American society relies on a culture of convenience. Things like single-use water bottles and plastic straws are seen as everyday necessities or rights, and are oftentimes tossed aside without a second thought after one use. And while many more people are recycling today, that simply isn't enough when you consider the fact that it takes energy to both produce and recycle those single-use products.
I'm beginning to be appalled by just how much needless waste is produced every single day. Stores I love like Trader Joe's use so much freaking packaging on everything. Events and yoga studios are always passing around plastic water bottles that end up only being used once. Single-use grocery bags are still incredibly commonplace. If you want to be horrified by the effects plastic has on the environment and all its critters, watch this video.
I began to become curious about ways that I could be more preventative and make more long-lasting changes in my lifestyle in order to nip more issues in the bud rather than continuing to purchase and use such products and deal with it "after the fact" by recycling it. What I've found is that many environmentally conscious lifestyle switches are incredibly easy once you get into the swing of things, and one switch snowball-effects into many more once you become aware of opportunities for change.
Becoming more environmentally aware with my lifestyle choices has not only been friendlier on the Earth and kinder to my wallet, but I've found that it is incredibly effective at relieving my chronic anxiety. The damage being done to our planet is something that feels as though it's constantly looming over me, and has been a source of emotions of guilt, shame, fear, and helplessness for much of my lifetime. But now, I feel much more in control, and as a result, less anxious.
This is a yogic practice for me. I've written extensively about what Ahimsa means in my life related to my recovery and my eating disorder, but it's also a reminder for me to minimize the harm I do to this world in all capacities. Moving towards a trash-free lifestyle feels like a tangible and mindful way for me to take my yoga off the mat and into the world.
My goal is to continue working towards a waste-free/trash-free lifestyle as much as possible over the next few years. Below, I want to share with you some changes that I've already made, some changes I want to make, and some tips to help you along the way.
Changes I've made:
- Giving up paper towels/one-use napkins at home (and in public as much as possible).
- Re-useable water bottle, always.
- Walking more instead of driving.
- Mason jars, re-useable containers for food storage and transport.
- Buying unpackaged produce and food as much as possible.
- Always using re-useable grocery bags.
- Politely requesting no straws or no single-use beverage containers in restaurants/cafes as much as possible.
- Buying local produce as much as possible.
- Repairing torn/damaged clothing as opposed to immediately buying new ones.
- Using multi-use menstrual products (I use this menstrual cup).
- Being mindful of the environmental impact of shipping things to my house, even if it is a convenience.
- Supporting environmentally conscious businesses.
- Using simpler beauty products (I don't wear makeup personally, but that can be a huge source of waste in your household. I use things like coconut oil as lotion, etc.)
- Buying re-useable baking sheets.
- Oil training my hair so that I can wash it far less and use less shampoo.
Changes I'm working towards:
- Composting all food waste.
- Air-drying more laundry.
- Collecting rain water to water plants.
- Thrifting more of my clothing instead of always buying brand-new.
- Investing in more re-useable products (they are fairly expensive up front, so I've been buying them here and there as my budget allows as opposed to buying them all at once. Eventually, I'd like to own Stasher Bags, re-useable Beeswax Wrap, etc.).
- Making simpler at-home cleaning products myself as opposed to single-use products like Clorox bleach wipes.
- Buying dryer balls as opposed to using single-use dryer sheets.
Tips I've found to make these changes easier:
- Because buying multi-use containers to store food in can be expensive up-front, try using the containers you already have! Things like hummus and yogurt containers, jars of coconut oil, etc., can be re-used many more times than most of us are used to.
- Think long-term. Consider how much money you spend on buying plastic water bottles, dryer sheets, paper towels, over the course of a year or two, and think about how much you could save by using products that have a much longer lifetime and are capable of multiple uses.
- Don't let perfect be the enemy of good. I've been making these changes slowly and over time. Just because you can't do EVERYTHING doesn't mean you shouldn't do ANYTHING. Simply giving up straws or switching to a re-useable water bottle can make a big difference, and once you get used to one change, other changes seem more manageable.
- Remember that plastic isn't inherently bad, it's single-use plastic that you really need to look out for. Have some plastic food storage containers in your fridge you can use for years? Not the end of the world. But using fresh plastic wrap every day to pack your lunch? That takes hundreds of years to disappear.
- Changes seem difficult at first, but can become routine and normal over a relatively short period of time. In first giving up paper towels, I keep absent-mindedly going to grab them and have to consciously remind myself not to use them. Now, it's no longer a part of my routine to reach for them.
- Keep re-useable grocery bags both in your house and in your car. This way, there's no excuses!
- Get a lightweight re-useable coffee mug (like the ones people use to hike/camp) and clip it onto your backpack so that it's always with you.
- Begin to challenge our society's belief that convenience reigns above all else. Many generations before us have lived without the immense amount of single-use products our society uses daily and have come to view as necessities or rights.
- Be kind to yourself and others. Don't be too hard on yourself if you can't change everything at once, and don't beat yourself up over mistakes you make along the way. The goal is a longterm, long-lasting lifestyle change, and that can't happen overnight. Also, while it's wonderful to encourage your friends and family to make their own changes, do it positively and without shaming them. You might be their first exposure to an environmentally conscious lifestyle, and if you leave a bad taste in their mouth, that might stick with them forever!
- The best thing you can do is lead by example.
Resources to help you on your journey:
The Small Green Home
Some fellow UC Santa Cruz students have a wonderful blog called The Small Green Home that has tons of wonderful resources and articles about ways to shift into a more environmentally conscious lifestyle. Some articles I love from them include:
Lee From America
Lee From America is a blog I love to follow for inspiration on hormonal health, self-care tips, and environmentally friendly living. A few months ago, Lee published a post about how to challenge yourself to go plastic-free for a week and why it's important. I recommend reading the post for more tips on how to make simple switches in your routine to use less/no single-use plastic.
Trash Is For Tossers
Lauren Singer is kind of the Beyonce of the trash-free lifestyle world. She's famous for being able to contain all of the trash she's produced in over five years in a single mason jar (far, far, far less than most of us). Her TEDTalk is a great introduction to her work. She has a great blog with lots of tips and tricks to making a change. Some articles I love from her blog include:
- 5 Creative Ways to Reduce Waste
- Zero Waste Swaps: Common Kitchen Items
- 10 Waste-Free Changes That Won't Cost You Money
- Zero-Waste Wardrobe: A Guide to Second-Hand Shopping
- One Month of Travel, Zero Waste
Auri Jackson is a filmmaker who makes short films about trying to go waste-free. Her short videos show the mistakes and mishaps that happen in the process of making this lifestyle change, and she keeps it real in a way that is extremely refreshing. Some of her videos I love are below:
- I Tried to Make Zero Trash for 30 Days
- I Tried to Backpack Alone and Make Zero Trash
- I Got 100 People to Stop Sucking
Sedona Christina (Christie)
Christie runs a blog and YouTube channel about living an intentional and sustainable life, called Sedona Christina. She has great resources, including blog posts, podcast episodes, and videos that can help guide your transition into a more sustainable lifestyle. Some of my favorites include:
- Ethical and Sustainable Brands List
- Zero Waste Hair Care Routine
- How to Go Zero Waste Living With Others
Let Me Help You Out...
Want to join me in this lifestyle change? I've made a PDF guide that you can use as a reference or hang up in your home to inspire you! Hopefully it will help you change your habits by reminding you of how many simple switches you can make to have a huge impact on the environment.