Sustainable Living: How to Reduce Your Plastic Consumption
Columns / October 12, 2016
Living sustainably doesn’t have to be hard, and it certainly doesn’t have to mean giving up or going without. One of the first things I chose to commit to in my quest to live more sustainably was to purchase fewer single-use items. That meant not allowing myself to purchase my morning cup of joe without my trusty travel mug. It only took three miserable, coffee-less mornings before it became part of my routine to grab my mug before leaving the house. And that eventually evolved into making my own coffee at home.
Another great and simple place to start living more sustainably is reducing the amount of plastic you bring into your home. Plastic takes anywhere from 450 to 1000 years to biodegrade. That means that long after you’re gone, the plastic you’ve thrown out all your life will remain for centuries.
Reducing your plastic consumption is easy. Here are a few tips to cut back on using plastic products and lead a more sustainable life:
This might seem like common sense, but still so many people use plastic bags for their groceries. Why?Cloth bags are cheap and easy to find, and you can even make your own out of old t-shirts or thrifted fabric. T-shirts are especially great to repurpose into produce bags. I get that it’s easier to just put your apples into the provided plastic bags so they aren’t rolling around and the cashier can easily plop them onto the scale, but try to leave the plastic behind.
Buying in Bulk
Purchasing items in bulk can reduce the amount of plastic you use simply by making an effort to reuse your bulk bags. When you get home, transfer your bulk goodies into jars or airtight containers and store the bags for reuse. Proper food storage keeps critters away and you won’t run the risk of your bag tearing in your cupboard, leaving you with a giant mess. You can even avoid having to use plastic bulk bags at all by purchasing a few sturdy mesh bulk bags and using those instead. As long as they’re semi-transparent, clean, and you’re able to properly label it with whatever bulk code the store uses at their point of sale, there shouldn’t be any problem.
Food Storage and Plastic Wrap
Mason jars are a great way to store pantry items and leftovers. I’m not saying go and throw out all your existing Tupperware—we all have plastic storage containers, so you might as well use them. But the next time you find yourself short of lunch containers, consider picking up a few mason jars, or other glass containers, instead of plastic versions. Glass is easier to clean and a lot better for the environment. Plastic wrap, cling film, saran wrap—whatever you call it—ought to be avoided.
Replacements for plastic wrap include smaller mason jars, wax or parchment paper, and even tin foil. All of these can be used more than once with care. Oil cloth is another relatively simple alternative, as it’s just fabric treated on one side with linseed oil to make it waterproof. A Victoria-based company, Abeego, sells beeswax food wraps in a variety of sizes that last around a year each.
Shifting to a more sustainable lifestyle is about working within your means, pushing yourself a little bit at a time, and making more mindful and conscious decisions. If I happen to have left my water bottle at home one day, I’m not going to deprive myself of water because it comes in a plastic bottle, and I’m certainly not going to judge or lecture my classmates for using a paper cup instead of a reusable travel mug.