The following article is a guest post by the lovely Emily Folk, who is much more qualified to talk about zero waste than I. Her story is inspiring, so be sure to keep reading and check out her website! 🙂
“United States landfills are full of nearly two million tons of plastic water bottles alone.”
These were the first words my environmental studies college professor said to the class. I quickly screwed the cap back onto my Dasani and tossed it deep into my bag.
Before my junior year of college, I didn’t think too much about waste. In fact, I didn’t think too much about the environment. To me, separating my paper from the plastic was enough to fulfill my civic duties in helping to keep the Earth green.
By the end of the semester, my knowledge of the planet, our resources and the incredible disaster of waste grew larger. I began to think to myself, “What can I do on an individual level that helps create less harm to the environment as a whole?” Thus began my journey toward recycling, eliminating unwanted materials from my life, and producing considerably less waste.
Why I Chose to Eliminate Plastic
Can you believe that the North Pacific Ocean contains six times more plastic debris than it does plankton? In fact, plastic bags and pieces constitute an astonishing 90 percent of all ocean waste. You could stack the plastic bottles used in the United States a week around the entire world — five times.
Unfortunately, plastic seems to be everywhere. From the plastic store bags that hold our groceries to the water bottles that quench our thirst, this non-green material isn’t going away anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean I can’t vow to reduce my use of this harmful source, either.
I quickly realized that, while convenient, plastic is not a daily necessity. Take water, for instance. When I was in elementary school, my mom called me a fish because I filled my mouth with endless cups of fresh and cold water. I replaced this unnecessary production of waste with a single reusable aluminum bottle. I no longer have to deal with the unwanted side effects of plastic on my body, either, which I consider a little-added plus.
Green Cleaning Actually Works
I’ve realized that investing in the right materials is as equally important as recycling, too. Cleaning my house has always been a top priority. Yet typical cleaning products are packaged in wasteful plastic containers and chock-full of harmful chemicals with potentially harmful side effects.
Green cleaning allows me to reduce my ecological footprint by guaranteeing the products I use meet my personal environmental standards. Cleaning was one of the areas I’ve found easiest to cut waste in since most items can be cleaned with a simple solution of vinegar, baking soda and essential oils.
Discovering That Less Is More
I used to be the type of person who would run out to Target for a box of cake mix and leave with a cart full of junk I didn’t need. As the bags full of knick-knacks, perfumes and various other sales pieces began to pile up in my room, I realized my careless shopping produced incredible amounts of waste.
Now my main goal is purchasing as few unnecessary items as possible. I keep my clothing budget very limited and only to use when my current clothes get old. To stores I bring my own bags and shop in bulk whenever possible.
Repurpose, Recycle, and Go Entirely Green
There isn’t much I won’t find a new use for, and I’m not just talking about recycling bags, either. Old spaghetti jars, broken furniture, holey socks — you name it. Why would I purchase fresh new cleaning cloths when I could just use a ripped shirt I’ll no longer be able to wear instead?
It’s so easy to see materials as mere trash. Once you toss your waste into the recycling bin or trash can, it’s entirely out of sight. But throwing away items once they can no longer perform their original purpose is doing a greater disservice to yourself and the products at hand. Many things have a lot of life left in them; we simply must be creative to find a new purpose for that item.
You might think that little steps do little to help the overall impact of global waste, but one person’s efforts can create a wave of influence that sets an example to follow. We only get one world, so why not try to leave it as spotless as we can?
Together, little by little, we can choose to consume less and produce less waste. Our world will be better for it.
Emily feels passionately about helping the environment by trying to reduce her footprint and live a more sustainable lifestyle. You can read more of her work on her site, Conservation Folks, or follow her on Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn.