Where to Start When You’re Ditching Disposable

“Single use” is the dirtiest phrase of 2020.

Usually, we associate “single use” with plastic bottles, encouraging the ground swell, grassroots movement of citizens concerned about the environment to opt for portable glass water-bottles, or recycled BPA-free plastic, instead of stopping by the gas station and grabbing a plastic water bottle.

But “single use” moves far beyond just water bottles.

Plastic bags. Disposable razors. Shampoo and conditioner bottles. Cardboard boxes. Toothbrushes. Coffee tubs. Diapers. Loofahs. 

Think about how quickly your household fills up the trash – how often you’re lugging a giant plastic bag out of the can, tying it off, and setting it on the curb to end up in a landfill.

Partially, the reason we’re generating so much trash in the 21st century is that the speed of modern, Western life causes us to cut corners. Most men don’t know how to shave with a straight razor anymore, and it takes too much time, so they buy disposable blades and make it quick. Parents in a dual-income household feel they don’t have the time to wash cloth diapers, so they buy disposable ones. A household with several children, all involved in their own extracurricular activities, can fall into disorganization very easily – so wrapping sandwiches in beeswax paper can feel like an insurmountable additional step when the Ziploc plastic bags are already in the cupboard.

But there are several key ways we can all perform the delicate clutch-shift from living at the mercy of the local convenience store to moving towards biodegradable and semi-permanent products.

Plastic water bottles have gotten most of our attention until this point…

But let’s start to broaden our reach to other sustainability measures. 

Razor Blades

At least two billion plastic razor blades find their way into landfills every year. While not “single use,” necessarily, razor blades are designed to be used and thrown out. What’s more, while you certainly can’t recycle the plastic in the handles, most of the time you can’t recycle the steel blades either because they’re contaminated with other materials.

The answer?

Stainless steel razor blades. For a few dollars more, you end up with a permanent razor and the only part that needs replacing is the blade component. 

Produce Sacks

Instead of grabbing the thin plastic bag at the beginning of the produce aisle, bring your own cotton or mesh woven bag to store your produce. 

Most of us aren’t reusing those thinner-than-paper bags anyway, and keeping your own set of two or three woven bags means you get years of use out of those items.

Sandwich Bags

Sandwich baggies have been around since the late ‘50s… and it’s about time we figured out a different way to wrap up our sandwiches, snacks, and other household goodies. On average, the American family uses 500 sandwich bags a year. FIVE HUNDRED. 

Beeswax wraps work perfectly. So do silicone and linen snack bags. For storage, it’s impossibly easy to make the switch to using a mason jar to store nuts, grains, cookies, granola, etc.

Stainless Steel Straws

The harmful effects of plastic straws have taken the newscycle by storm in the last few years. While it may seem trivial, the US uses 500 MILLION plastic straws per day

Not so trivial, after all. 

And since they don’t biodegrade, they mostly end up in landfills or the ocean. 

California, New York, WashingtonD.C., Seattle, and other places in the US have enacted bans on plastic straws. And the list of alternatives is nearly bottomless – paper straws, bamboo straws, silicone straws, stainless steel straws…

They’re all safer options. 

LED Light Bulbs

Even though they’re made of glass, light bulbs cannot be recycled by standard recycling plants because of the complicated process by which the materials in light bulbs need to be separated.

670 million fluorescent light bulbs get introduced to our environment in the US annually.

So buy CFLs (compact fluorescent lamp) light bulbs or LED light bulbs. Not only do they save on energy, they last longer and are easier to recycle. 

It’s all about extending the usage of items that cannot be permanent!

Toothbrushes

Plastic toothbrushes take nearly half a century to decompose, and we toss more than a billion of them into landfills every year.

A toothbrush is only meant to last you between 2 and 3 months. If you’re tossing a plastic toothbrush 4 times a year… Well, you can see why that’s a problem.

For a few dollars more, a bamboo biodegradable toothbrush makes much more sense. You could even consider buying a toothbrush with a removable-head feature to increase its longevity, just like with razors!

Compostable Trash Bags

The average life of a trash bag is a few days. In a landfill, it can take up to 1,000 years for a garbage bag to decompose.

You have plenty of replacement options, but the easiest to integrate into our busy lives is probably the compostable trash bag. Because they’re made of vegetable matter, like potato or corn starch, they’ll decompose in about 6 months.

The market is changing.

While it’s true that even a groundswell of citizens dedicating their every waking moment to sustainability won’t offset huge corporate waste and pollution, we do have a very special power…

We have our dollars. And where they go matters. The more we buy sustainable products, and refuse to buy single-use items, the more we’ll see tiny mom-and-pop shops offering the products we’re looking for, and big household-name companies restructuring their product lines.

Voting with your dollar is invaluable. 

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.