The fight against single-use plastics: how we’re creating a “minimal waste” lifestyle
Post updated May 17, 2018
Life on a sailboat tends to bring a few things into perspective. One for sure being the amount of WASTE two people (and a dog) can accumulate! The most insidious kind of waste being plastic, our goal is to find ways to reduce plastic waste on our sailboat.
Waste on land vs waste on a boat
Being the enviro-conscious peeps we are, we made an honest effort to recycle when we lived in our house. Like most people with curbside pickup, we diligently put out our weekly blue bins. We had a compost bucket on our kitchen counter for food scraps. We saved up our empties for the local school kids to take, which helped fund their annual trip to somewhere educational. And we thought we were doing pretty well, since we only put out our one garbage bin every other week (as compared to our two-bin-a-week neighbours).
But, like most people, we tended to also do what was convenient, too.
There were times I forgot to bring my cloth shopping bags, and had to use the grocery store’s plastic ones. We sometimes bought foods and household items in bulk sizes to save money… only to find out later these items were double or even tripled packaged in plastic with no sane reason as to why (seriously, who wraps toilet paper in a big bundle that contains individually wrapped rolls?!) And since half of our tupperware containers seemed to have AWOL lids, we often resorted to the old standby – ZipLoc bags – to hold our carrots and sandwiches for work.
We hate these single use plastics and wasteful products of convenience.
The frustrating part is that, even though we used disposable plastics from time to time, we realized it was largely because restaurants, stores and companies made them virtually unavoidable!
And when you have a house with a yard like the average westerner, what do you do? You throw it all away, tuck away those plastic store bags, and forget it ever happened! When you have lots of space, and your crap gets carted off every week to some distant landfill, it’s easy to squirrel all that terrible waste away and not have to think about what happens to it.
Doesn’t make it okay, but it’s what happens. We know, because we did it too.
01 – Cloth Shopping Bags and Backpacks
These are very, very common now (thankfully!). It’s now to the point where some stores will penalize the customer for use of plastic bags with pay-per-bag costs.
Others are using positive reinforcement by offering paper bags only, or using reward discounts for bringing your own bag. What we do right now is I bring a large backpack to work every day. This way, I can walk (or ride my bike) to the grocery store on my lunch and buy our food, then stuff it all in the backpack for the walk/ride home. No bags needed at all!
02 – Mesh or woven produce bags
I certainly don’t see these used much, but they’re really handy and I hope people pick up on using them. I own four (so far) of varying sizes and they work great! No need to use those thin in-store plastic bags. And these are much sturdier (won’t tear like those cheapo plastic store ones). And they allow for air flow, so I can keep my produce in the bag when I get home.
03 – Buy meat, cheese, etc. in your own containers
I’m not sure how many people buy their meat and cheese from their local butcher shop or the deli counter of their grocery store, but apparently you can do so AND bring your own container. They have the ability to zero the scale with your container on it. Super cool!
04 – Buy unwrapped or minimally-packaged items only
If you’re lucky enough to live near a rural area or city with a strong ‘street market’ culture, farmers markets make for great places to load up on all the wonderful goodies you love to buy… and without the wrappings! Otherwise, we try to choose items with the least amount of packaging that’s as close to 100% recyclable as possible.
05 – Shop thrift stores and buy secondhand when you can
My mum got me hooked on thrift shopping at a young age. I loved it for no other reason than it was a way for just the two of us to spend time together, and maybe end the day with a few rad new outfits to boot! Nostalgia aside, thrift shopping is a great way to save money, since new items are always overpriced.
People let go of items for all sorts of reasons; it’s hardly ever because the item is truly worn out and can’t ever be used again. And truly, other than hygienic products and food, there’s nothing that can’t be bought used. I love giving new life to a product that would otherwise end up in a landfill or the ocean.
06 – BYOB (bring your own bottle)
Most people seem to do this now, which is awesome. And thanks to their popularity, there are now so many more options, from stainless steel to even silicone-wrapped glass! Other than its just nice to have your own personal drinking container, you also don’t end up paying that ‘hidden’ fee for a cup wherever you go.
07 – Ditch single use plastics!
This is gonna sound weird, but I have some travel cutlery I keep in my bag for “emergency eating” situations 🙃. This includes a tiny fork, tiny spoon, and chopsticks. For drinking, I bought some wide mouth straws that can be washed and reused, and I pair them with custom mason jar lids for sealed drink containers! Camping equipment stores, or even second-hand stores, typically have lots of great reusable dishware.
09 – Buy and store in bulk
While lots of stores offer this, it’s not until you try to do ALL your shopping in the bulk bin section that you quickly find out how limiting the range of options are. To compensate, we simply adjust our eating habits to what is available (and once we’re moving around a lot, this will vary from place to place). The biggest items we consume, and so try to buy in bulk to reduce waste, are: pasta noodles, rice, produce, and sauces/condiments/oils.
11 – Cast iron & stainless steel cookware
I feel like a pioneer whenever I whip my cast iron pan out. It’s crazy heavy, and takes a little longer to get up to temperature, but once it does it cooks evenly and as well as anything. Unlike teflon or those icky perflurochemical-coated pans, it’ll last a lifetime (if I care for it). For everything else, I use my stainless steel pots. 🙂
13 – DIY disinfectants and cleaning sprays
Essential oils are actually pretty amazing – and effective – at cleaning and making your house (or boat) sterile and smell nice. The old standby of white vinegar mixed with tea tree oil and/or orange oil makes for a very effective cleaner that you can use everywhere. Even on food preparation surfaces. Baking soda is also a very good scrubber!
Disposable plastic is bad for everyone
I hope this article is helpful in showing how waste (especially plastic) can be reduced in daily life. And really, environmentalism aside, it’s just short-sighted and careless to mindlessly consume and dispose of ridiculous amounts of plastic without any critical thought as to where that plastic will end up… and for how long!
All of these single-use plastics take a century to thousands of years to degrade, if ever! And even then, they just degrade into micro-plastics that some poor creature will probably eat, get sick, and die from. Who wants that?
So no, we’re not perfect, and yes, we can do better. But the trick is demanding from the systems we buy from that they do better, too. It makes it easier in the end for all of us to make better choices. 😉
Thanks for reading. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments below. I’d love to hear from you!