The Next Three Big Environmental Habits
Quick tips for the EcoConscious Consumer
We all know to recycle, to switch from plastic disposable cups to a reusable water bottle, to use fluorescent light bulbs, and not to litter. But is there more we can do? What’s the next quick change we as consumers can do to help out the environment and reduce our waste output?
1) Refuse Straws
Straws have been a growing part of the American consumer habit for some time. According to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, over 500,000,000 straws are used each day in the United States, which is an absolutely massive amount of plastic waste generated for something almost everyone can do entirely without. They are one time pieces of plastic that exists solely to make it ever so slightly easier to drink from a glass or to make a drink just a tad fancier, then find their way to a landfill or to our oceans for hundreds of years of decomposition. This is easily one of the fastest ways to reduce waste, since all it takes is to simply asking your waiter or bartender not to put straws into your drink.
Some people of course have real reasons to want straws in their drinks, such as medical conditions that make lifting drink glasses harder. And it’s not a crime to want a cocktail that's aesthetically pleasing. But just like with most plastic consumables, there are alternatives of course. Reusable metal and bamboo straws are not terribly difficult to come by online nor are they expensive. For about $5 online you can end your dependency on plastic straws for a lifetime.
2) Buy Exclusively Second Hand or Upcycled
Fast fashion is one of the worst overall industries for the environment. Cotton takes thousands of gallons of water to grow, factories that make these clothing often have very little environmental regulations, the clothing is designed to break down quickly, and often it’s difficult to recycle them (especially blended fabrics). Not to mention the human rights abuses that can occur in their production, when companies like Zara make producing mass quantities more important than supply chain visibility. The way to escape all this is to buy second hand or upcycled.
Buying second hand still has somewhat of a stigma around it, but that stigma is very unfair and undeserved. The trend for vintage clothing has grown over recent years, but still, there’s not really a reason to not do the majority of your clothes shopping second hand. It just becomes a matter of changing your mindset from hunting for sales to hunting for second hand treasures. Remember too that clothing has gone down in quality over the past few years, so buying vintage means you're probably getting higher quality fabric.
If you do want to buy something new though, upcycled is a great option. Upcycled means that the materials the clothing was made out of comes from something used, but the product is fashioned brand new. For example, Rust and Fray makes bags out of clothing factory scraps, and the site Upcyclethat makes a wide variety of jewelry out of scrap metals and old post-consumer products.
3) Switch Toothpaste and Facial Scrubs
This last one requires a bit of explanation. Many brands of toothpaste, facial scrubs, and body scrubs are currently using microbeads as scrubbers and exfoliates. As the name would imply, microplastics are very tiny fleck-like plastic beads, which you’ve certainly seen before if you’ve seen any “glittery” toothpaste. Again, the theory behind their use is to act as a cheap exfoliate which then can be washed down the drain without clogging. “Without clogging” though means that they get past water filters and end up polluting the waterways. Just like any plastic, they take decades to dissolve, and microbeads are particularly deadly seeing as they absorb toxins.
The good news is that activist inspired by documentaries like The Story of Stuff have been campaigning hard against the use of microbeads, and lawmakers are taking notice worldwide. The Obama Administration Signed a wide reaching ban on microbeads set to take effect in July, but that ban is not a complete ban on all microbead products, and many countries still need to follow suit on this. In the meantime, check out websites like Beat the Microbead, who offer guides on which products to buy and which products to avoid. And also feel free to simply switch to an all natural solution instead, such as a Honey and Lemon Face Mask.
Every choice, no matter how small, can have a huge impact. And the more people make these changes, the bigger the impact. As always, these small types of changes are not a replacement for political activism. If you are able to make your voice heard to make the world a better place, then speak up. But these small changes to your daily routine are a quick way to let you be the changes you want to see, and are small enough that everyone can follow through. Share this piece to your friends and family, post it on your social media, and spread the ideas by word of mouth, so that everyone within your influence range knows these quick ways to drastically reduce your waste reduction.