Jill recently took part in Green Calgary's "Every Action Counts" campaign, which highlights the BIG impact our individual, often small actions can make. Jill's video focused on using reusable cloth shopping bags in place of plastic bags, which also happens to be the focus of our "Small Change, Big Impact" Campaign in the store.
And it's true! The little things that we develop into habits do make an impact over time, both through their literal effect on the supply and waste stream and through the influence they have on the people around us (lead by example and all that).
Here are ten painless, cheap and simple actions you can take today to decrease needless waste. You don't need to think of yourself as an eco-crusader to take on these habits -- although who knows what you may be inspired to do once you start!
Ask For Your Drink Without a Straw
If you don't need the straw in your drink at the restaurant or bar, try to remember to ask when ordering to not receive one. If you're at an establishment that is taking part in the Last Straw campaign or something similar, you won't need to remember, but if not, save the place the straw and keep that straw out of the landfill (they can't be recycled). Personally, I prefer my gin and soda without the straw anyway.
Choose In-Season Produce
And the more local the better, for that matter. Thankfully, no matter the season, there are always some tasty fruits and vegetables in season. And trust me, tomatoes, carrots, asparagus, strawberries and pears all really do taste better when you hold out for their rightful season. To find out what is currently in season in North America, try eattheseasons.com.
Say "No Thank You!" To Free Promotional Items
This is perhaps the easiest of all! Whether it's a pen, magnet, business card, bouncy ball... the list goes on and on... really think about whether you need or want that promotional item. Chances are, you don't. Most of these items end up in the landfill. Reduce the demand and just say No.
Don't Wash Your Clothes Until They're Dirty
Many of us have the respectable habit of throwing our clothes in the hamper at the end of the day. In fact, it's considered the proper thing to do! And fair enough, we don't want dirty clothes all over the floor. But are those clothes really dirty? Instead of automatically tossing them in there, take stock. Some items can likely be worn at least once more before being washed (the smell test is helpful here), while others can be worn several times. Jeans can sometimes be worn for weeks without being washed! Not only will this habit cut down on water usage, it will also save you time by reducing your weekly laundry, and prolong the life of your clothes!
Make Buying New Your Final Option
Any time you need anything, stop to consider whether you need to buy it new. Could you borrow it? Rent it? Buy used? Or best yet, make do with what you already have? Perhaps you have one already but it's broken or flawed -- can you fix it? A common problem with fixing things is that often the cost or effort of fixing something is more costly than buying a new one. But we can work together to change this. By purchasing less and focusing on quality and durability, and mending or repairing items whenever possible, we can discourage companies from continuing their practice of planned obsolescence.
Go Paperless for Bills and Receipts
Most utility companies now offer a paperless option for their monthly bills, as do banks and credit cards for their statements. If you haven't already, be sure to sign up for emailed bills and statements and opt out of the paper versions. And some stores, like ours for instance, are now offering emailed receipts or even making electronic their only option and doing away with paper receipts completely. Not given the option by the cashier? Be sure to inquire. Even if a shop doesn't currently offer emailed receipts, if customers are asking, they might start.
Choose Cloth Over Paper
Whether it's tissues, paper towels, napkins or even toilet paper (!), any time you can use a cloth item instead of a paper item, it helps to both reduce demand for paper (as in, save a tree or the energy needed to recycle other paper), and decrease the amount of waste in the waste stream. If you do need to use paper, remember that much of it can go in the compost -- though if you're composting at home, you'll need to throw any paper soaked with oil in the garbage (municipal recycling services can handle the oils because they compost at much higher temperatures).
Reuse a Jar
Whether it's to take to the store to buy bulk dry goods; to carry leftover soup to the office for your lunch; or as a vase for some fresh cut flowers, jars are handy for so many things! If using a jar can save you from using plastic wrap for leftovers, for instance, it cuts down on waste! And best of all, most of us acquire jars from jam, pasta sauces and so on -- and these can be reused for all sorts of things rather than put into recycling! Maybe you want to make some of your own jam or pasta sauce and keep it in the same jar in the fridge...
Consider Trash The Last Resort
Similar to the tip above about not buying new, at the other end of the supply-waste stream, make the landfill your last resort for refuse or waste. This won't all come at once, but like anything, the more mindful you are of something, the more opportunities you will see. Before throwing something away, first ask yourself if you could repair it, reuse it, donate it, recycle it or compost it (in that order). At the end of the day, very few things actually belong in the trash. Just make sure that you are placing things appropriately -- meaning, don't donate broken goods; don't put garbage in the recycling; and so on. Know your local guidelines and the best practices, and live by them!
Give Up Chewing Gum
I have some bad news for you: chewing gum has plastic in it. While there are no statistics on the environmental impact of gum, nor where it ends up, what scientists do know is that it doesn't break down. Aside from that, there is the packaging that chewing gum comes in. If you must have your gum, choose a brand that uses natural, biodegradable chicle and minimal packaging.
For a solid primer and some inspiration on consumerism and the waste stream, check out the classic animated short, The Story of Stuff.
And consider supporting the #EveryActionCounts campaign to help Green Calgary continue their amazing outreach programs. You can donate here.
Lastly, you'll find some sustainable alternatives to the single-use items mentioned in this post, below in the Related Items.