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Sustainable Habits for Earth Day and Every Day

April 24, 2019

The word is out—plastic is everywhere, and it is causing a serious pollution problem in our oceans and coastlines. Plastic bags, bottles, jars, trays, carryout containers, deli items, and packaging has become so prevalent in today’s to-go lifestyles that it is part of our everyday backgrounds. The Earth can no longer handle all the trash we’re throwing at it, and it’s now screaming at us through intense storms, hurricanes, flooding, tornadoes, and overall weird weather patterns.

It’s nearly impossible to avoid all plastic in our modern society, but by developing mindful changes in our daily habits, we can, with minimal effort, help reduce the trash problem, no matter how hectic one’s lifestyle can be. Here are a few tips:

  1. Bags—this one’s easy. Economically priced reusable cloth bags are available at most retail stores, and I’ve found sturdy tote bags and reusable bags at thrift stores. Sometimes the not-so-easy part is remembering to put them back in your car after shopping, so place them on the doorknob or another visible place where you’ll see them on the way out of the house. Reusable mesh or muslin produce bags are also available, or reuse the the mesh bags from oranges or potatoes. Also, a bunch of wet spinach needs a bag, but bananas or avocados do not.

Refuse to accept a bag for only one or two items, and keep an eye on cashiers or            baggers as they pack your items; some stores are plastic bag-happy and use them willy-nilly. Politely tell them you don’t need all of that plastic.

  1. Pet waste—this one is a little trickier, especially while walking your pet. If you can’t avoid plastic, instead of accepting new bags from grocery stores for this task, grab them from recycle bins at stores, or reuse plastic bags from bread, tortillas, or other consumables. When picking up after my dog in my own yard, I use an old gardening shovel to scoop the poop into a paper bag and promptly take it out to the trash. This is how my grandmother picked up after her dog during the 1970s, before plastic bags became commonplace.
  2. Deli and produce containers—these are hard to avoid because most grocers only offer produce like berries, cherry tomatoes, or microgreens in plastic clamshell containers. To-go deli items like potato salad are also in plastic containers with lids. These can go into municipal recycling containers, but a better option is to reuse them for arts and craft projects (they make great art paint palettes) or for gardening projects.
  3. Buy in bulk whenever possible, and bring you own container.
  4. When dining out or getting carryout, refuse plastic straws. If you need a straw, bring your own stainless steel or bamboo straw (keep then in your purse or car). Many restaurants have gotten on board with the Last Plastic Straw campaign and have eliminated plastic straws or switched to biodegradable paper straws. Ask your favorite restaurant to do the same.
  5. Most frozen foods come in plastic bags. Buy seasonal produce from farmers markets and freeze it yourself.
  6. Bring reusable cutlery with you to work for your lunch, or to fast food or fast-casual restaurants that only offer plastic.
  7. Condiments often come in plastic bottles. Try to purchase items like mayonnaise or peanut butter in glass jars, or make your own. Items like ketchup, mustard, salad dressing, and barbecue sauce are not too difficult or time-consuming to make. (
  8. Health and beauty products—many natural options can be used in lieu of pricey, plastic-packaged conditioners and moisturizers. Pure coconut oil is an excellent make-up remover and moisturizer, and some local artisan soap companies make shampoo in bar form. Check out Ecobeauty (c. 2009, Ten Speed Press) by the mother and daughter team Janice and Lauren Cox, for how to use items in your own kitchen to make body scrubs, bath bombs, skin toner, and more.
  9. Speak up! Talk to friends and family and incorporate plastic-reducing efforts into activities and get-togethers. Using reusable plates at a picnic or a party can generate conversation about avoiding Styrofoam or plastic plates. Write to corporations that package their products in plastic, or better yet, avoid purchasing products in plastic bottles—one thing corporations will listen to is their bottom line.

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine.







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