Low Waste Home Guide in Honor of Earth Day and Mottainai もったいない
These days, our lives are filled with so much extra... stuff. You know, the extra stuff filling our social media feeds and inboxes, the extra stuff in our food, the extra stuff taking up time in the day. There is a Japanese phrase that I heard a lot growing up from my grandmother and Mom: Mottainai もったいない. At it's core, this phrase conveys a sense of regret over all that extra stuff that becomes waste. When I filled my plate with more food than I could eat and disposed of even a single grain of rice, it was mottainai. When I didn't use my time efficiently or only used a ziplock bag a single time without reusing it a few times, it was mottainai.
Admittedly this concept doesn't infuse my daily life like it used to, because my grandmother is gone and I live a flight away from my parents. But last year Bryan read the book Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, and I got the Cliffs Notes version (aka we talked about it). The book talks about how plastic has built the modern world, but that modern society seems to now be trapped in an "unhealthy dependence" on plastic. Did you know that plastic leaches harmful chemicals, yet it's in things like chewing gum?? Or that "we have produced as much plastic in the past decade as we did in the entire twentieth century"? I did more research and found a few other scary truths: 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year, and 8 million of that gets dumped into the ocean where it leaches chemicals and stays for 400 years or more (which is the amount of time it takes to decompose). Luckily, every household has the power to reduce plastic use- 40% of the plastic we use is in the form of packaging!
Reducing our household waste, especially plastic waste is something we've been passionate about for a while now. I've been really intentional about the products I've tried out, and read through tons of reviews and articles. I thought I'd share the best tips I've discovered to save you some time, the one non-renewable resource!
- If you can, shop at a natural foods store, where you can purchase things in bulk. In San Francisco, we are lucky to have access to Rainbow Grocery Coop. Bryan and I have a shared note in the Notes app of our iPhones, where we list out the items we are running low on. I take the actual containers that I store these items in to the store and refill everything from hand soap to coconut oil. It requires a bit more preparation, but when I get home all I need to do is simply put the containers back where they belong.
- Also, try to shop at your local farmer's market- farmers often offer more Earth-friendly packaging alternatives or none at all (bring your bags and some containers!) If they are using plastic berry containers, for example, you could put them in your container and give the plastic container back to them to be reused.
- This one might seem obvious, but always bring your own reusable bags to the store. I keep a stash in my trunk, so even if I forget them in the car I can run back and grab them.
- You know those cotton bags that shoes and purses sometimes come in? I keep them and reuse them when shopping for produce or bulk items. My local natural foods store gives me a credit for each produce bag I use! I also have a set of reusable produce bags, since I don't have enough shoe and purse bags... Yet.
- Don't be afraid to bring your own airtight container to the butcher or fish counter at your local grocery store. This reduces plastic and paper waste and I'm convinced it makes food last for a bit longer. When I get home, all I have to do is pop it in the fridge.
FOOD, DINING & KITCHEN
- Bring a reusable cutlery set to casual restaurants that use plastic cutlery. If you think you might have leftovers to bring home, also bring a glass tupperware container. It will keep your food fresher for longer and help the restaurant reduce waste!
- Blue Avocado reusable zip bags. I use these to store snacks or anything I'd typically store in a small Ziplock bag.
- I use these silicone stretch bowl covers instead of plastic wrap.
- I use this tray for defrosting and marinating instead of Ziplock bags.
- Stainless steel straws, which I pack with my reusable cutlery set. Did you know Americans use over 500 million single-use plastic straws a day, and that they are one of the most common forms of trash picked up on coastlines?
- This drinking lid so you can turn your mason jar into a reusable to-go cup. My friend cuts old patterned socks to use as a sleeve for hot drinks and it actually looks really cute!
- Use a rag, microfiber cloth or dishtowel instead of paper towels. Paper towels are wasteful since they are also a single-use item.
- Ladies, I have a secret to tell you: Have you heard of a menstrual cup? I'm telling you, it has been a game changer for me in terms of lessening my monthly symptoms! Also, pads and tampons are made of synthetic materials like bleached rayon, which leaches chemicals into your system. Using a menstrual cup is actually cleaner (hygiene-wise and environmentally) and more economical. Need I say more?
- Many of us already know that there are loads of chemicals in our toiletries and beauty products. Check the Environmental Working Group's ratings of the toxicity of your commercial products here. Credo is a great skincare and makeup resource for both men and women. But do you want to hear another secret? I just read the Skin Cleanse book, which encourages readers to only put on their skin (the body's largest organ) things you would actually eat. I've been putting straight up olive oil on my face and my skin has never been better... I know this sounds super hippy, but believe me when I say my skincare regimen is super important to me and I've tried all the expensive new skincare products. Both my skin and wallet have never been happier!
- Use these reusable cotton poufs instead of one-time-use cotton balls or pads, which also have bleach in them and are packaged in plastic.
- Who Gives a Crap toilet paper. This company is awesome and hilarious! They donate 50% of proceeds to build toilets for those in need, the toilet paper is 100% recyclable (but 3-ply!) and all their packaging is recyclable and plastic-free.
OTHER WASTE-REDUCTION TIPS
- Learn how to recycle properly- every town is different. And if you aren't sure, Google it! For years, I just tossed padded envelopes in the recycling bin without knowing that you actually have to separate the paper from the plastic to recycle it. Sometimes I can't, so it goes in the trash. Also, make sure anything you are recycling is free of food or product and rinsed well- for example, that partially-still-full but weird-smelling bottle of lotion that you've finally decided to purge.
- Check your nearest Best Buy for what to do with electronic waste, including printer cartridges.
- Check out this link for more information about used oil and hazardous household wastes.
- Borrow library books instead of purchasing books. You can even download audio books FOR FREE from your public library! I have a book problem, and this has helped me immensely. If I really love a book after borrowing it from the library, I will allow myself to purchase it (which is surprisingly very rare).
Happy 🌎 Earth Day!