8 Ways to Reduce Your Plastic Footprint: Earth Day in DC
Guest Post by Catherine Plume
Today is the 44th celebration of our environment and our planet – Earth Day. Now, with climate change hitting hard, we need to make sustainable choices more than ever. Chances are that by now, you’re a vigilant recycler, ensuring that you, your family, and/or housemates put all ”allowables” in the bin. But after you’ve mastered the art of the recycling bin, what’s next? Have you ever looked at your plastic footprint?
First, it’s important to understand why plastics are so bad. In a nutshell, there are a host of chemicals in plastics, and their impact on the environment and on human health is not looking good. Plastics take a very long time to decompose, creating waste that lingers and/or is ingested by wildlife. While most plastics are recyclable, it’s often cheaper (in short-term financial terms) to produce new plastic than to make products out of second-hand plastic. And most of the secondary products are not themselves recyclable – recycling a plastic water bottle only prolongs how long it takes to reach the landfill. Bottom line: throwing your plastics into your recycle bin is not enough. So, what to do? How about reducing the amount of plastics you consume in the first place?
Buy products that have no – or less – plastic packaging. You can buy peanut butter, catsup, mustard, etc in glass jars. Pasta in a 100% paper package is just as good, if not better than pasta in a package with the little plastic window on it.
Use glass containers for storing and microwaving your leftovers. Save your glass jars and reuse them for storing leftovers. Just remember, NEVER MICROWAVE PLASTIC!
Don’t buy or drink water in plastic bottles. If the folks who work at on water quality at EPA drink DC water out of the tap, you can too! Get a stainless steel water bottle and fill it up!
Reuse those plastic vegetable bags. In DC, we’re all about bringing our own bags to the store. Take the next step and clean and reuse your vegetable bags! Buy in bulk as you can!
Make your own shampoo! This isn’t for everyone, but about 6 months ago, I gave up shampoo for water mixed with baking soda. I use white vinegar as a rinse. It took my hair a few weeks to learn how to make its own oil again, but now my hair is as soft, if not softer,than when I used commercial shampoo. Google “NO POO” and you’ll find a ton of information and testimonials. I also use baking soda as toothpaste. As an added benefit, my job requires considerable travel, and using baking soda has reduced TSA issues. I’m so glad I made this change!
Use baking soda and white vinegar as your primary cleaning products (just don’t combine them in a container!). Instead of throwing out your empty (plastic) squirt bottles, reuse them to make your own environmentally friendly cleaning products. There are tons of recipes on the web!
Use astringent to clean your face? Make your own! Basil, vinegar and lemon juice make good options – and they go soft on your pocketbook as well as the environment.
Make your own food! I’m a big consumer of plain yogurt, so my recycling bin was loaded with large plastic yogurt containers. Then, a friend gave me a yogurt recipe that involves milk, a crock pot and a bit of yogurt to get the process going. EASY! By making my own yogurt, I’ve reduced by plastic consumption by some 50 large yogurt containers per year. I store it in a crock that I found at Value Village. Now, I’m making my own hummus, tapenade, granola and raita, and I’m looking forward to expanding my repertoire. AND, I’m saving money and making better food than what I can buy in the store – all while reducing my plastic consumption.
About two years ago, while doing research for my blog (www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com), I came across Beth Terry’s My Plastic Free Life blog. Her book, Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, was entertaining and easy to read, and gave me some great ideas for reducing my plastic footprint. Check it out!
And, when you think about Earth Day, recognize that you’re not going to save the world on your own. The carbon footprint I accumulate through my work travel every year is embarrassing, and I still buy frappuccinos in plastic cups even though I (really, really) mean to bring my own. I still have plenty of plastic in my life, but at least I’m thinking about what I do buy, and the impact of what I’m buying on the environment. That’s a start right there!
Catherine Plume is the blogger for the DCRecycler.