I was scrolling around on FaceBook in the middle of a sleepless night, as I am wont to do, where I came across an article titled 7 Disposable Items That Are Polluting the Planet. Obviously there are far more than 7, but the intent of this piece was to point out some of the most common daily use culprits for Americans. None of these items should surprise you. Well, some of them surprise me. Why wouldn’t you avoid some of these like the plague and keep them out of the landfill? But I digress…
Since the holiday season is coming up, I thought I’d point out some of my favorite durable, reusable products that should help you and your loved ones replace these disposables either for forever, or as long as you are able to take care of them, depending how hard you are on your possessions. You don’t want to get something crappy that’s just going to end up in the landfill immediately and add to the problem, anyway. And don’t take my word for it if you don’t want to – do your research and make a good investment on these replacements. Give the gift of less trash and less continual manufacturing pollution for us all to deal with. Please check out the original post, because that’s where all the stats are, and some are pretty mind-blowing, but I’m going to break it down in the same order with my comments and recommendations linked below each one. Here we go:
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say at this point in time there aren’t many things we need that require batteries since so many devices perform multiple functions and already are outfitted with USB rechargeable batteries. Take this into consideration when buying, or deciding not to buy, an item. But ’tis the season when you might be gifted some interesting techie thingy that needs batteries. And if you have something like, say, a flashlight and wireless keyboard and a glucose monitor that are essential to life, get yourself some quality rechargeables for them that will last. And, as a bonus, here is some good information on how to recycle both your old disposable batteries and your awesome rechargeables (even your car battery!), should it come to it. Never dump your batteries in the landfill, OK? OK.
I did a lot of research on this one and while there seem to be many batteries and chargers that do the trick, the top name brands appear to consistently be Panasonic Eneloop and Energizer Recharge. The best off-name brands appear to be Amazon Basics and EBL. More than one reviewer stated they started with a pack of 4 Panasonic Eneloop AA’s with charger, and then, because they had more devices to power, got another brand’s batteries and used the Eneloop charger for everything. Bear in mind most batteries will only charge on average up to 1,000 times before they will no longer hold a charge. Some less well-liked batteries will do a heck of a lot less than that. In my research my favorite comprehensive article with real world test results is here, in case you want to check it out yourself.
Foam and Paper Cups
The original article cites coffee drinkers as the #1 culprits of disposable cup usage, but let’s add fast food junkies in there as well. Fast food is obviously very wasteful in so many ways, but let’s stick to just the cups (even though I’d really really like to add plastic water bottles to this category as well!).
While there are plenty of options out there, Klean Kanteen has my vote for favorite all-around stainless steel brand. I’ve got a regular one which someone left at my house years ago (nobody has claimed it yet) and which I still use almost daily, and I also have an insulated one that keeps hot stuff hot and cold stuff cold for long enough for me. I have a couple of different caps for each one so I can use them in many situations, even though ye olde screw cap would do just fine on either one. For the coffee lovers out there Ecoffee (bamboo, dishwasher safe, biodegradable when you feel it’s time to let it go), Keep Cup (not my favorite because parts of most of their cups are plastic, though they do use recyclable plastics, dishwasher top rack safe, lots of designs, accessories, and variations), and Joco (glass so it is heavier than the others, but love them and they have mix and match glass sizes, grip bands, and tops) have huge fan bases and come in a variety of sizes. Some people are hardcore and swear by their good ol’ mason jars with assorted caps. Whatever you go with, make sure it has no plastic or very little BPA-free plastic involved in the design. I included the Keep Cup anyway because when trolling around the reusables communities the name comes up a lot, possibly because of all the cool variations you can get?
Unless you’re cleaning up cat puke, which is where I, personally, draw the line in my household, this is a really easy thing to switch out. Again I’m going to add fast food / takeout in here as well and say we also really need to watch our paper napkin consumption! If you’re not the type to replace paper towels and paper napkins with reusables in all situations, please be aware of how many you use at a time. You probably need far less than you think! I know I’ve linked to this before, but here’s a handy video on how to use only one paper towel to dry your hands in a public restroom where that’s your only option because it’s -10 degrees out and you don’t want your hands to freeze while you’re air drying them. Yes, it can be done!
Your old clothes and socks are your #1 option for house cleaning rags. Bar towels are next – they may not be fancy or pretty but they sure are handy, and they come in multi-packs so you can use one or two a day for many needs and not have to worry about running out of them before you do the wash. Before you buy anything new, use what you’ve got. And when you do buy paper towels, paper napkins, and toilet paper, please buy recycled and even consider unbleached. Using less will take the sting out of the slightly higher prices.
Paper and Plastic Bags
This one is so easy. I keep a cloth bag in my purse at all times and a set of sturdy ones are always in my car. And most of the time you can flat-out refuse a bag completely. Last week I bought a single banana and the man at the register tried to put it in a doubled plastic bag. No, thank you!
This is where I become a hypocrite and recommend bags that are largely composed of plastics. This is because I’m going to link you to the bags I have used for years (some, yes, have needed repairs but are still going strong!) but feel free to research more eco-friendly options like bags made out of sturdy canvas, jute, and hemp natural fibers. My grocery shopping kit consists of produce bags that are strong but easy for the cashier to see through, a couple of workhorse bags which are the same size and shape as plastic grocery bags so they fit on that metal grocery bag holder thingy and are easy to repair and wash, and a flat bottomed bag for heavy items. I have a couple of flimsy cloth bags from my now defunct CSA and branded with their logo which I will use until they are dead. I also have a cloth 6-pack bottle holder from Trader Joe’s that has come in handy a lot! The bag I keep on me at all times is an Esse bag, but they’re going out of business. I like it because it packs up small and I can carry it over my shoulder. Baggu, Flip & Tumble, and Chico Bags (made of recycled materials) have good reviews and may be a decent substitute.
I’m a loose-leaf tea gal, myself, so these Keurig and similar pod machines really blow my mind. I have no idea why anyone would need one. But let’s say you work in an office in the middle of nowhere, coffee is your life’s blood, and a pod machine is your only way to get your fix?
Ekobrew has a stainless reusable pod which seems like a good option. Keurig themselves make a reusable that fits several models of their machines. Stash one of those and some fresh ground coffee of your choice in a jar at your desk and you’re good to go.
Discarding disposable razor heads creates enough waste. Throwing away the entire plastic handled razor goes well beyond that. If you’re not into using an electric, you have a couple of options that could be explored. And here’s a fun fact: you can actually sharpen common disposable razor heads such as the Mach3/5 and extend its life for 3, 6, or even 12 months, just by running it along a piece of those busted jeans you were going to chuck! See how here.
I’m not going to suggest everyone go out and get a straight razor, but that is one option. If you feel better with a modern style razor, the Gilette Mach3 Turbo has a mostly metal body and you can make the cartridges last a long time with the denim tip from above. Otherwise, somewhere between the two, a classic safety razor and a pack of blades will take you pretty far. Just like with anything else, the better you take care of your razor the longer it will last.
Clothing and Textiles
Another fairly easy one. Another one where you probably need far less than you think. Curb the impulse buys. Consider buying used and vintage or swapping with friends. Have a couple of simple and well-made items for all your special occasions and change up your look with accessories. Invest in fewer items of higher quality that can be properly cared for, repaired if needed, and used for a long time. And then, when the neck rips off your favorite sweatshirt 15 years later and you feel you just can’t rock the Flashdance look, cut it up into rags and use them in place of paper towels (see above).
By no means should you compromise on your personal style. I can only offer some advice on how to shop smarter. Some eco-conscious clothing companies that are on my radar are:
PACT – ethically produced cotton basics. Soft and comfy. Free of toxic dyes / pesticides / sweatshop labor / child labor.
Patagonia – outdoor and athletic clothing and gear. Ethically responsible. Constant innovations in recycled materials for their products.
Raven & Lily – socially conscious fair-wage clothing made by and benefitting at-risk artisan women. Many styles are natural fabrics and natural dyes.
Even Urban Outfitters (search for Urban Renewal and Urban Vintage) and ASOS (search for Green Room and Eco Edit) sometimes get in on the ethical clothing game. Though they are purveyors of a good deal of fast fashion which is a huge problem, so there is that to consider and some people would avoid shopping there on principle.
Here’s an article listing more companies I’m not familiar with but which look like they are worth checking out. They also have some shoe suggestions.