A couple of years ago I was visiting an island in Thailand and made my way to the most secluded beach recommended by the locals. I strapped on my snorkel, mask, and fins and enthusiastically got in to explore the reef.
As I started swimming out, my enthusiasm turned to horror as I realized that the ocean was engulfed in plastics—on the seafloor, wrapped around almost every dead coral head, and floating listlessly in the water.
As a teenager in the 80s, I had snorkeled in the Caribbean, and remember seeing technicolor corals, anemones, and fish pulsing with life and not a speck of litter in sight.
Now, I stopped everything, desperately trying to gather the plastic into my arms until they were overflowing and bring it to the trash can.
My small actions felt so insignificant against the sheer ubiquity of the litter in the water, but still, I tried.
Since then I’ve visited remote islands in Indonesia, and beaches in Costa Rica and the USA. Everywhere I go, no matter how conscious the people on the land might be, the tides are overflowing with waste: plastic bags, bottles, shoes, straws, and worst of all—micro plastics worn down into tiny grains that blend in with the sand.
After Thailand, like the ocean itself, I reached a tipping point on how much more I could tolerate plastics in my life. The ocean is literally overflowing and spitting it out.
I was ready to #ZeroWaste my home, my travels, and our yoga studio.
#ZeroWaste is about sending nothing to the landfill and needing to recycle as little as possible. It requires rethinking how you do things: refusing what you don’t need, reducing what you use, reusing what you have, repairing what you can, and recycling as a last resort rather than the norm.
Zero waste is about consuming less, making conscious choices when you’re buying, supporting companies who are trying to do the right thing with packaging and materials, and reducing your environmental impact.
It’s about choosing second-hand, borrowing, getting creative, choosing things that will last, and taking responsibility for your personal choices. And it’s not just for Earth Day, it’s for every day.
As conscious and green as I’ve been most of my adult life, it was clear looking at our recycling bin, how much we had been indoctrinated into believing that somehow recycling was a viable solution. It became clear how addicted we’d become to the products we love that are wrapped in plastic.
While we thought we were doing all that we could when it came to recycling, we hadn’t actually considered that boycotting these items would stop them from coming into our home in the first place.
“Recycle!” is the mantra we’ve grown up hearing, and something people brag about to show off how eco they can be. But by buying almost everything without packaging, you will definitely shrink your recycling bin, and have less to throw out!
The biggest culprit is single-use plastic. The average lifespan of a plastic bag or take out container is 15 minutes before it is disposed of in a trash can or recycling bin.
Recycling doesn’t make plastic disappear, it just turns it into something else. Something that will never biodegrade.
A few of my new habits include:
- Instead of buying or taking plastic water bottles, I carry a refillable water bottle everywhere I go. When I travel by plane, I fill it at the water fountains and then I say no to all the drinks on the plane served in plastic cups. When I am in hotels and don’t trust the tap, I spend a little more and buy water in glass bottles if I can find them.
- We cook almost all of our meals at home but we travel a lot, so if we buy take out, we try hard to order only from restaurants that have compostable containers.
- We keep a plethora of tote bags in our cars so that we never have to use a paper or plastic bag from the grocery store.
How can we make a difference this Earth Day and #ZeroWaste our own home and community?
As I see it, there are two ways to tackle this overwhelming problem:
- Individually start embracing a #ZeroWaste lifestyle
- Encourage our leaders on a local level to ban plastics and vote for those who care
Regarding #1, here are six plastic replacements I use for everyday items in my home:
- Plastic wrap (saran wrap)
Instead of wrapping our food in plastic, or covering bowls or dishes of food, there are now a bunch of companies that make food coverings made from beeswax (or soy) and cotton fabric that molds around anything you’re covering. Unlike plastic, it actually keeps your food fresher because it breathes. I have used it on apples and avocados and they don’t even brown!
- Zip Lock Bags
We used to have plastic zip locks in every size, but now you can get the equivalent made from silicone which is non-toxic and usually made from sand! Typically they can be put through the dishwasher and dried easily. We store all kinds of things inside them, not just food, and some of them you can even put in boiling water and cook food inside!
- Plastic Bag Drying Rack
A number of kitchen supply companies make plastic bag drying racks out of wooden pegs. I’ve had one of these since the 90’s so I could rinse out zip locks and plastic produce bags and then dry them easily for re-use. Now I use them to dry our silicone zip locks and cotton reusable coffee filters.
- Reusable Straws
Smoothies are our breakfast of choice, but with that comes a lot of berries and greens which can stain the teeth, so we prefer to drink them with a straw to minimize contact. In our drawer, we have an assortment of glass and stainless steel straws and a special brush to clean them. When we travel, we carry the steel ones with us.
- Cloth Produce Bags
When you stop buying those single-use plastic tubs for your baby spinach, salad mixes, tomatoes, herbs, and more, you start gravitating toward whole heads of lettuce or greens instead. But then you’re looking at using the plastic produce bags at the store. This is where cotton or hemp produce bags come in handy. They are also perfect for carrying home bread or bulk foods. Most stores will subtract the weight of the bag so you only get charged for the weight of the food.
- Salad Spinner
There’s no question it’s easier and more convenient to buy mesclun salad and other types of lettuce, spinach, or kale, triple washed in plastic tubs. Besides the obvious benefit of reducing plastic when you buy whole heads of greens, there is an added nutritional benefit as well. The phytonutrient content of pre-washed greens is much lower than whole heads of veggies. So although it takes some time, soaking your greens in a salad spinner for an hour while you’re doing other things, spinning them out, and then storing them in your silicone zip locks in the crisper will do wonders for their nutritional value and longevity.
Keep in mind, these six items cost way more money than their plastic friends, but that’s because they are good for more than a single use. If you’re on a budget, don’t try to get them all at once, start slowly and collect more and more of them for your home.
Here’s to hoping that our continued efforts to live a #ZeroWaste lifestyle become contagious throughout the world so that our leaders catch on and make changes from the top, that companies change their packaging habits, and we’re not just doing good on Earth Day, but every day!
Feeling inspired? Head to Discover to find a full lineup of nature-themed classes and show your love for Mother Earth. https://glo.yoga/2UK4jEX