It may seem like an overwhelming problem, but you can make a huge difference and help reduce plastic waste. Discover small changes that take a big chunk out of our plastic problem.
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Have you ever heard the story about the $40,000 olive? Most people haven’t and in fact, I’m not sure when I first heard this interesting bit of ingenuity, but it’s definitely something that has stuck with me through the years. I often think of this story because since it applies to so many areas of my life, including how to reduce plastic waste.
The story begins with a man named Robert Crandall. He was head of American Airlines back in the 1980’s. He was legendary for his determination to cut costs even though some of his ideas were not always met with open arms. But one incredibly savvy idea, that wasn’t even a noticeable change to passengers involved removing one single olive from every dinner salad. He figured out this one small change, multiplied out over thousands and thousands of dinner salads, would add up to a savings of about $40,000 a year! That’s nothing to scoff at back in the 1980’s.
I think the reason why I love this story so much is because such a small change…a change that wasn’t even noticeable or had hardly any impact on someone, made such a big difference. I like to look at life through this lens sometimes because some problems can seem impossible to solve because they are so just so enormous. But by breaking those problems down and tackling them bit by bit over time, you can add up all those small efforts and make a huge dent in whatever problem you’re trying solve.
Honestly, this is how I’ve always felt about the ever-increasing plastic problem we have. To me, it’s always seemed like such a gigantic problem with no easy way to solve it. One day, after taking stock of my life one day and deciding what I could to help, I realized it wasn’t something I could solve by myself…or that any of us could solve overnight. But by making small changes, even if they seem insignificant, we can have a huge say in what direction we take as a society in reducing our plastic consumption.
So this Earth Day, I wanted to share with you a few easy changes you can make to reduce plastic waste. It may not seem like much, but over time, it’s going to add up to a big difference.
How to Reduce Plastic Waste (The Easy Way)
1. Invest in Reusable Shopping Bags
So if you’re like me and live in a city where they’ve banned plastic shopping bags then this might be something you’re already doing. I’m high-fiving you right now you just can’t see it! If not, let me say that this has been such a worthwhile change. It did take some time to get in the habit of remembering to bring my bags but now I’m a total pro!
I actually really enjoy using my own bags. I live about 20 mins from the grocery store and on those hot summer days, I hate driving so far with perishables. So I made my own insulated bags and now I don’t have to worry if I need to make an extra stop after the store or more importantly…buy ice cream!
Just to give you an idea of how much plastic this cut out of my life, I was using about 10 plastic shopping bags at the grocery store every week (and this didn’t even include all the other shopping I had to do). Over the course of a year, packing my groceries would add up to over 500 plastic bags. Wowsa! Now think of how many plastic bags we could prevent from going into the landfill or our oceans if you made the switch. Then your maybe your best friend. Then your neighbor. See??? It adds up pretty quick even if it’s just a few people that decide to make to switch.
Extra Brownie Points
If you decide to make the change to reusable bags, I always like think about the materials that make the bag and where they are made. This can have a huge impact on the environment and how you dispose of your bag at the end of its useful life.
When reusable bags first started becoming trendy years ago, I bought a few but they never seemed to last that long. So I made the decision to make my own bags out of cotton and line them with wool for insulation. Not only did this allow me to make the exactly the type of bag I wanted for my shopping habits, but it’s nice because I know I can compost by bags if they ever wear out.
2. Ditch the Single Use Coffee Pod
Okay, I’ll admit it…I am guilty of buying a Keurig® when they first came out. It seemed like such a good idea at the time! I don’t drink much coffee so having a regular coffee maker always seemed so overkill for the 1-2 cups of coffee I’d drink a day. But after a year of throwing away all those coffee pods, I kind of felt bad about how wasteful the whole process was in reality.
So I did some research and and discovered I a reusable coffee pod that I could refill with my own coffee. Since then, I think I’ve gone through about 3 of these reusable pods in the past 9 years. Compared to over 3,000 single-use pods that I would have used…I think that’s a pretty big difference!
3. Bring a Reusable Water Bottle
I will admit that this change does take a little more planning but once you get into the habit, it’s a great way to reduce plastic waste.
I’ve been a fan of carrying around a reusable water bottle since Nalgene bottles were all the rage. I had a love-hate relationship with mine though. I loved having water on hand but I’m not someone who really enjoys it at room temperature. So I never made it through more than half of my water before it was just gross.
Fortunately there are so many different products available these days that I was able to find the perfect reusable water bottle. My favorite go-to container is a stainless steel one from Klean Kanteen (affiliate link). It’s completely plastic free and keeps my water cold for up to 24 hours. Plus it has a handle on top for easy carrying and you know what’s even better? It fits in my cup holder in the car! Okay, I know I sound way too excited about a water bottle here but when you find something that works and is beautiful too, you can’t help but talking about it all day long.
But really, the best part of all of this is that I can’t remember the last time I actually bought a bottle of water. I usually fill up my reusable water bottle about 2-3 times a day and I take it everywhere with me. Multiply that out over the course of a year and we’re talking about saving over 700 plastic water bottles. Not a bad way at all to reduce plastic waste.
I realize that not everyone has the best tasting tap water, trust me…we don’t. We also don’t have a fridge with a water dispenser in it so drinking tap water is double yucky. We get around these issues by keeping a pitcher of water in the fridge. This allows the chlorine to evaporate (which is what causes the off taste in our water) and it keeps it nice and cold. If your tap water has bigger taste issues than mine then it might be necessary to invest in a filtered pitcher.
I’ve found that the best way to keep up with the habit of using tap water vs. bottled water is to have the necessary tools. And sometimes that does mean using plastic, but I always try to look at what I’m saving versus what I would be using. And 1 plastic pitcher that I’ve had for 5 years is way better than using thousands of water bottles. Remember, the goal isn’t to be perfect but to reduce plastic waste.
4. Keep Reusable Cutlery at Your Desk
Even though my office building has a mini kitchen, you never know if you’re going to find a fork in stock. Seriously, our poor receptionist should have added “Detective” to her resume with how much silverware she had to track down over the years. I decided to keep a set of personal cutlery at my desk so I wouldn’t have to worry about needing a fork and only finding a spoon. Trust me, I’ve used a spoon to eat a salad and it’s just weird.
The best part about keeping a set of reusable cutlery at your desk is that you can reduce plastic waste in the process. Now when you order in, just request “no plastic cutlery” or don’t even grab it if you’re picking your order up from the restaurant. I usually eat-in about once a week at the office (the other days I bring my lunch). I figure I’m reducing my plastic consumption by 2-3 plastic utensils a week. That doesn’t seem like much but that’s over 100 pieces of plastic a year! Not too bad when you think of it in those terms.
Confession–sometimes I don’t always make it down to the kitchen to wash my utensils when I’m done with them. That’s why keep a couple sets of cutlery at my desk in case one set gets dirty. I usually take them home and wash them but I like to have a backup set at my desk in case I forget to bring those back to work. So it doesn’t hurt to have an extra set or two at your desk in case you need them.
5. Be intentional
This might seem a little ambiguous but it’s by far the most important way you can reduce plastic waste. Just be thoughtful and purposeful as to why you’re using plastic, but also be realistic. I’m never going to be one of those people who fits all the trash they create in a month into a mason jar. My step-daughter is a Type 1 diabetic and the trash created by her insulin pump every week would be more than enough to fill a mason jar. But it’s life saving and there’s nothing we would do to compromise her wellbeing. Period.
I think you have to look at the non-negotiables in your life to find the places where you can and are willing to make changes to reduce your consumption of plastic. Maybe for you, that cup of coffee you get to-go every day is your non-negotiable. And that’s okay! Helping the environment should not be about shaming people into change. It’s about making conscious decision to be a positive force for environment, in whatever way you can help.
Maybe for you, it’s hanging onto your cellphone an extra year instead of upgrading every 6 months. Maybe it’s shopping for more items at the thrift store than buying something new. It could be starting to compost instead of throwing those food scraps in a plastic garbage bag. Or starting to buy things in the bulk section instead of in single use packaging. Whatever it is that you do to reduce plastic waste, just think of the $40,000 olive. One small change added up over time makes a big difference!