Recently I was doing some organizing in my kitchen, and I got to The Drawer. You know the one: It’s overflowing with condiment packets, disposable chopsticks, and unused plastic utensils. In my effort to be sustainable, I didn’t want to throw these things away, but when I really thought about it, I honestly couldn’t imagine a time I’d actually need a ketchup packet, when I have a whole bottle in my fridge, not even for my kids’ lunches.
So I mustered up the courage to confront The Drawer and decided to be more proactive about not bringing these wasteful disposables into my house in the first place. While many cities around the world are moving to ban many single-use plastics and other disposables, it’s still important for us to do our part when we encounter these wasteful products. Disposables are convenient for, say, eating lunch in the car, but is it really worth it for that plastic trash to persist in our environment for centuries to come, leaching chemicals into ground water, contaminating our food chain, and harming wildlife? What a waste!
Saying no to disposables takes a little foresight and some speaking up when interacting with cashiers and wait staff. But as more of us start declining disposables, companies are bound to take notice and perhaps reevaluate their practices.
So as a challenge for us all, I encourage you to take a look at the single-use stuff you pitch and begin declining it before it’s even offered. Here are a few items to start with:
The other day I was at my local recycling center, and I saw they had a new collection bin, for plastic straws. I peeked inside and saw that the receptacle, the size of a 50-gallon garbage can, was nearly completely full of straws! I can’t even imagine how many that was, but I know one thing: Most of us don’t really need a tube of plastic through which to sip our drinks.
And while I applaud those who are collecting them so they can be recycled properly, most straws head straight for the landfill, or end up littering our streets, greenspace, and eventually our beaches and oceans. If you really do prefer sucking on a straw, there are a growing number of fantastic portable and reusable options available. So join the “say no to the straw” movement and quickly speak up before your server sticks one in your drink.
2. Disposable Coffee Cups and Sleeves
Because of their plastic or waxed lining, disposable coffee cups are not recyclable, and most curbside recyclers don’t accept the lids either, since they’re too small to go through the automated machinery. If you’ve got a daily coffeeshop habit, make it your daily habit to also bring your own mug. As a bonus, your coffee will stay hot longer in a good travel mug, and it’s a lot less likely to spill.
If you must use a disposable cup, keep a sleeve in your purse or wallet and reuse it over and over. Or bring your own fabric sleeve with you. Either way, you’ll be reducing waste, and setting a good example.
Do you really need that huge stack of napkins for one sandwich? Probably not — instead, just take what you’ll really need. Because of contamination, paper napkins and paper towels are not recyclable, even if they are unused.
At home, cloth napkins can be just as easy as paper ones; they don’t take up much space in a load of laundry, and they’re one less item to add to your grocery list. If you associate cloth napkins with fancy restaurants, change your mindset and make sure the cloth napkins you buy are inexpensive, unfussy, and easy to care for — no ironing necessary! You can even make your own by cutting up an old tablecloth, curtains, or other scrap fabric that would otherwise be thrown away.
4. Condiment Packets
I’ve noticed fast-food workers have the tendency to throw a huge handful of condiment packets in with my take-out. My local Chinese restaurant is also a culprit — does anyone actually ever use that Chinese mustard that they give you?
When you place your order, if you truly need a condiment, ask for just as many packets as you’ll use. If you’re eating at home and you have a bottle of that sauce at home, specify that you don’t need any packets. It’s much better to use condiments from a bottle, because one bottle uses much less material than the many packets needed to contain the same amount of sauce, and most likely, that glass or plastic bottle can be recycled, whereas the little foil or plastic packets cannot.
Encouraging your family, friends, and community members to start turning down some of these disposable items will help send the message to businesses that single-use plastic and paper products are wasteful and undesirable.
Let’s all make a few smart changes today, so we can enjoy a trash-free tomorrow!