Everywhere I look, I see plastic.
The windows of the convenience stores on my walk to work. Brimming with mini shampoo bottles and cans of hairspray and tubes of toothpaste, the packaging backlit with florescent lighting.
The gutters of the sidewalk on my run through the park. Cluttered with grocery bags and half-empty water bottles and food-stained takeaway containers.
The remote white sand beaches of the places we’ve been lucky enough to adventure to. Where the sun’s golden rays illuminate the dewy blades of sea grass interspersed with used tooth brushes and half-pairs of sneakers and broken plastic spoons.
Each morning on the Isle of Skye, my Uncle Andy and his partner Dorothy pace up and down the mudflats of the picturesque loch in front of their cabin. They collect the forgotten utensils of this decade, washed up pieces of plastic from far off lands.
Each evening on the island of Vis in Croatia, where time has been forgotten, our friend Romano paces the limestone rocks in front of the fisherman’s cabin he restored by hand. While the iridescent turquoise water laps ashore, he picks up food wrappers and empty plastic butter tubs and shards of old buckets and discarded tubes of mascara.
The more we explore our own neighborhood, and travel to these remote places and witness just how far unnecessary human waste will travel – waste created for one-time use during a blip in geological history when humans created a substance that could be used once but lasts forever – the more I am burning with a desire to waste less.
In the recent months, we’ve been taking small steps to reduce our personal waste. Some may argue that these steps are insignificant. Just because we, a two person household, decide to stop using plastic bags doesn’t mean the bags won’t still be produced and used elsewhere. It doesn’t mean they won’t eventually end up on the shores of those beaches we love so much. But I would argue that if we each don’t start to do our own small part, then there really is no hope. So we’ve started with these small steps of our own, because I do have hope:
Seek out food with minimal or no packaging
The seemingly biggest, but actually easiest step to take is to food shop at places that offer low- to no-packaging options. I haven’t shopped for groceries in the U.S. in quite awhile, but in the U.K. and specifically in small metro-stores in London, every single food item comes wrapped in plastic (shout out to companies like Iceland that have pledged to get rid of all plastic for own-brand products by 2023!…but what’s taking so long??). Broccoli pre-cut for you, sealed in plastic bags. Onions, grouped two-at-a-time in plastic sleeves (they already have their own natural packaging that the customer is going to remove, for crying out loud!). We very quickly got fed up with how much waste each of our meals was generating, and looked into other options.
That’s how we found Farmdrop, a farm to front door grocery delivery service. Unlike a typical CSA where you’re given what is available from one specific farm, Farmdrop is an actual online grocery store that offers whatever is in season, and most importantly to us, a low-package option for delivery. That means we get all our fruits and vegetables delivered with no packaging at all. And the bonus – our food lasts longer because it’s coming directly from a farm instead of sitting in a warehouse before sitting at a grocery store before we finally get ahold of it.
When I don’t have my act together to order in advance from Farmdrop, I walk the extra mile to the larger non-metro grocery store that sells loose vegetables and fruit in bins, and to the butcher and fishmonger where I can get our meat and fish wrapped in paper, instead of sealed in plastic containers.
Cut out takeaway (takeout) food
Takeaway food is a semi-foreign concept to me anyway (I didn’t grow up in a household that ever got takeout), so cutting it out altogether wasn’t a huge shift for me personally. But the few times we have ordered takeaway here, the food always comes in far too many styrofoam containers with enough plastic utensils to feed an army. So we just decided to cook all of our meals in (which is also a step towards being healthier, and it’s far cheaper!). On the rare occasions that we don’t feel like cooking, we treat ourselves to a meal out at a restaurant instead of having it delivered.
Always carry reusable bags
This is the easiest, but likely most impactful one. If you’re shopping for a family of two, you can easily fill up four, six, or even eight plastic bags during a weekly shop – especially when they double bag (oh, the horror!). The government-enforced 5p charge for plastic bags was a good reminder to start carrying a reusable bag with me at all times, in case I need to pick up something while I’m out. Mike and I almost always have our back packs with us (I gave up on worrying about looking like a typical American tourist a long time ago) which is great for storing extra things anytime we do shop out.
Invest in a travel thermos and reusable water bottle
The UK estimates that nearly 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups and 13 billion plastic water bottles are wasted each year. That is a staggering and almost incomprehensible amount of waste. Until you start noticing discarded coffee cups and plastic bottles everywhere you look.
Mike and I have both carried around reusable water bottles with us everywhere for quite some time, but recently we started carrying travel thermoses as well. When I do treat myself to a takeaway tea or coffee now, I just ask the barista to fill up my travel thermos instead of using a disposable coffee cup. Usually, coffee shops actually offer a small discount if you bring your own cup, so ask at your local coffee shop next time!
Compost if you can
When we moved into our neighborhood about 18 months ago, we were pleasantly surprised to find that our council (essentially our city borough) runs a composting scheme for its residents. This meant we could start separating our food waste from our regular waste, cutting down on our trash output even more.
I recognize that composting can be a tricky chemical process, so if your town or city council doesn’t do it for you, this may be a harder step to take. But perhaps one or your neighbors has a garden, or you live near a small farm, and they would appreciate your fruit and vegetable waste and can compost it for you.
Cut down on packaged and plastic toiletries
A girl from our workout group, Anna, writes a zero waste blog – A Zero Waste Life – and I’ve found some of her suggestions incredibly helpful for cutting down on waste. She suggests using bars of soap, shampoo, and conditioner instead of plastic bottled body wash and hair products. Lush makes some great shampoo bar and conditioner bar options. Anna also suggests investing in things like a bamboo tooth brush and a razor with disposable blades instead of disposable razors, both of which we’ve done.
This is a topic about which Mike and I have become increasingly passionate. It’s hard not to when just about all of our experiences exploring beautiful natural environments are marred by the sight of trash, trash and more trash. Obviously, we’re not going to make the Great Pacific Garbage Patch disappear over night by taking these steps in our own house. But I’d like to think that if everyone takes more of these steps, collectively we’ll make a difference together!