Welcome to the first day of the 2017 No Plastic April Challenge!
Let’s start with the basics!
Take reusable bags with you when you go shopping. I personally prefer organic canvas bags, mainly because their production isn’t overly hard on the environment and as the bag starts to fall apart, it’s easy to repair or if it's too far gone, you can take it to a composting center. If you have a car, keep your bags in there. If not, they make small collapsible little bags that you can throw in your backpack or purse in case you go on an unplanned shopping trip. You can also have your bags ready by the door, next to your shoes and coat, to remind yourself to take them with you.
When you’re at the grocery store, no need to put 2 peppers in one bag, 1 onion in another, 1 bunch of cilantro in one bag and a bunch of parsley in another. Put everything in your cart at once. It doesn’t mater if the items in your cart touch :). You will wash the food before you eat or cook it. I personally don't like wet salad touching or leaking on a bag of flour I might have in the same cart, so I'll separate them by putting the wet items on the bottom and the dry items on the top part of the shopping cart if I have a double layer cart (or you can separate them front and back- back is usually lower so wet food goes in the back). If you’re buying nuts or beans from the bulk bins, you can use produce bags, or some people prefer to travel with their glass ball jars (they will weight them for you at the store). I personally do not like carrying around more weight than I need to so I take old pillow cases or button down shirts and turn them into little bags. You can take a photo of the bulk item number with your phone and read it at check out.
At home keep one metal trash can with a lid, where you throw gross, sticky stuff (if you can’t compost), and another trash can for your dry and non-sticky trash. When your trash can is full, take it out and dump it in the larger trash can outside of your apartment or house - The can that gets picked up by the sanitation department. The sticky can might need a lining, but if you are able to wash/rinse that bin and dump the dirty water out in the yard or down the toilet, then you won't need a liner. This of course depends on where you live and what you have access to. We have “dog poop/emergency” trash bags made out of potatoes, that are compostable, and use them only for dog poop collection or for some sort of a yucky emergency. If you absolutely MUST have trash bags, here are some compostable bag options;
Unless you’re traveling long distances where clean water is not accessible from a water fountain, there’s no real good reason to not have a stainless steel or glass water bottle (even a mason jar will do). If you’re buying an insulated bottle read this article to make sure you’re purchasing safer brands.
Coffee cups (with plastic lids)
Take your stainless steel coffee mug to the coffee shop (and the office) next time you go. You can also see if at least during the month of April if your colleagues would like to take on the challenge for the whole office (bringing their own mugs).
Take-out and Packed Lunches
You can either not get take out (and cook at home, but who are we kidding it's a nice break to get take out), or bring your own containers. Some restaurants are used to having people come with their own containers, others don’t like doing it. Call a head to find out if they’d be okay with putting food into your personal containers. If that's too big a stretch you can also begin by not taking the plastic bag the food comes in and tell them no plastic utensils. You can also write to them or talk to the manager on a day when you have time, and ask them to make the change for their packaging to compostable. I personally stopped getting take out from one specific restaurant because they refuse to stop using styrofoam.
Single use utensils are a big problem. Even if they are compostable, they take a lot of energy and resources to produce and truck around. You can carry around silverware with you or try bamboo utensils. Here are some more options on Amazon that come with little traveling cases. They're easy to throw in your bag, and weigh close to nothing (the bamboo utensils).
Just. Don’t. Use. Them. Start getting used to saying "I'll have a ...... with NO straw please" when you order a drink. Sometimes even water comes with a straw. Learn to say No Straw Please WHEN you place your order. If you absolutely must have a drink with a straw in it, The Last Plastic Straw has a long list of companies that sell plastic alternatives. Again the best options would be things you can re-use (like stainless steel of glass) as opposed to using once and throwing it out or composting (like paper). You can purchase little brushes with your straw so you can wash and reuse.
If you'd like to watch a heart breaking video of where our single use plastics end up, click here.
Tissues and Napkins
Tissues aren’t plastic but travel pack tissues come in plastic. Use a handkerchief. You can buy some or make them from old shirts (or go fabric shopping). Use cotton napkins instead of paper. Etsy has a number of organic dinner napkins and handkerchiefs you can purchase.
Paper towels are also not plastic but I am yet to find a brand that sells their paper towels WITHOUT plastic. Like trash bags, we have a set of "emergency" paper towels for dog vomit or the rare yucky accident. For everything else we use towels. You can purchase kitchen/dish towels and cleaning towels in bulk and share them with friends. Buy a few different colors so you don't use your bathroom clean up towels in the kitchen, etc. Buying in bulk also means cheaper. You probably won't need 100 towels so split the order and cost with friends. These are the towels we use at home - They are not organic. If you find organic cotton kitchen towels in bulk, please let us know in the comments section.
These are some of the most BASIC and easy ways you can start with to reduce your plastic use immediately. As the month progresses, there will be more information on how to take plastics out of our lives on a deeper level from saran wrap to the plastic our toilet paper comes with.
Photo by Carolyn C. - straws collected on a beach in Bali after a storm.