Here’s how to cut down on waste in every room of your house

I’m back writing about cutting down our collective waste again! I’ll probably never stop because it’s easy to switch out some of the large sources of plastic in your home, and plastic ends up in the ocean where fish mistake it for food, and, I mean, plastic is EVERYWHERE.

So here’s my definitive guide on reducing, reusing, and recycling your way through your plastic and other waste needs in your home, just in time for Earth Day.

I use almost all of the products I mention here, daily! 

Kitchen

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Stasher bags

Easy swaps:

  • Switch from plastic wrap to Beeswrap or another beeswax-based wrap. Or just stop using plastic wrap altogether! If you have to use it specifically for baking, try to reuse it where you can!
  • Use silicone baking sheets in place of aluminum foil where you can. I’ve cooked everything on these, and they cook (and wash in the dishwasher!) like a dream. If you have to use aluminum foil, try to wash lightly with soap and reuse.
  • Ditch plastic storage bags and switch to silicone Stasher bags — the best replacements you can get for plastic sandwich/snack bags. For dry food, I love Nordic by Nature bags (but search for your favorites online).
  • Bring your own grocery bags and produce bags to the store with you. And try not to forget them in the car!
  • Buy recycled (or reusable) coffee filters. I know you drink coffee every day, so this is a way to cut down on your waste. Oh, and if you haven’t kicked the K-cup habit already (or gotten reusable K-Cups), you should — the amount of K-Cups that have been trashed in landfills could wrap around the planet 10 times.
  • Swap out your regular paper towels for bamboo paper towels, or switch to “un-paper” towels (here’s how to make them). You could also try European dish cloths — wash them in the dishwasher to disinfect!
  • Opt for cloth napkins over paper ones. The forests will thank you!

If you want a challenge:

  • Be more mindful of what kinds of food you’re buying at the grocery store, in terms of packaging. Maybe you love soda — ditch the plastic bottles for aluminum cans, which are easier to recycle. You may love buying pre-cut veggies, but think about how much plastic you’d save if you bought the vegetable in it’s true form and cut it yourself! Love your daily yogurt? Opt for a larger container and split it up into smaller servings at home — usually, the more convenient the item, the more packaging it has. And shop at a store with a bulk food section that lets you bring your own containers! These small changes in packaging can make a big wave.
  • Start composting! Now that you’re making more food scraps, put them to work with a counter-top composter or, if you have the space, a compost pile in your backyard

Bathroom

Easy swaps:

  • Switch to a bamboo toothbrush to create less plastic waste (they’re biodegradable — and also not plastic).
  • Make the switch to shampoo and conditioner bars. Lush has an entire line of package-free shampoo bars and solid conditioners you can use over and over again without the guilt of a giant shampoo bottle. Zero Waste Store even has a package-free dog shampoo!
  • Ditch your body wash for a bar of soap. Most soap these days comes in cardboard boxes (which can be recycled) or no packaging at all.
  • Change your toilet paper to toilet paper sourced from bamboo, or something that gets an “A” on the NRDC’s toilet paper sustainability scorecard. The forests will thank you!
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LUSH shampoo bars

If you want a challenge:

  • Women’s razors are a huge source of plastic waste, so choose one that lasts a long time (or has less plastic) or opt for a safety razor if you really want to take the plunge. They are expensive up front, but are zero-waste, since the blades can be recycled.
  • Go reusable where you can in your makeup routine. Swap wipes for washcloths. Cotton rounds for reusable cotton rounds. Hell, they’re even making reusable Q-tips now.
  • Switch to toothpaste and mouthwash tabs to clear your kitchen counter of tubes and bottles. These new toothpaste tabs from Bite come in a glass jar that can be recycled, and these mouthwash tabs from Lush come in zero-packaging.
  • Change up your deodorant. This suggestion is tough for people because they don’t love to switch up scents or routines, but you could be saving a lot of plastic. This biodegradable deodorant from Hammond Herbs comes in a push-up tube, while Myro deodorant comes in recyclable pods that you switch out into the reusable canister every month (or week — not judging how much deodorant you use!). Some stores even sell deodorant in bars and jars.

Living Room

Easy swaps:

  • If you’re constantly opening a new lint roller for actual lint or to get rid of pet hair on you and your furniture, try a washable lint roller or self-cleaning lint-roller — you’ll save time AND money (and the Earth, but that’s a given).
  • Swiffer dusters may seem convenient, but you’re making waste every time you dust! Opt for a machine-washable duster like this one from Grove Collaborative, or just make a dust rag out of your old shirts like my mom used to do. And do the same for your actual Swiffer — use an old shirt, towel, or sock to mop up that mess, and then just wash it when you’re done and reuse it again!

If you want a challenge:

Laundry

Easy swaps:

  • Swap out your dryer sheets for wool dryer balls. No more throwing away a pile of trash with your laundry every cycle, and you can customize their scent with essential oils.
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Friendsheep dryer balls (penguin style!!)

If you want a challenge:

  • Cut out bulky plastic containers of detergent and make your own. Google a recipe that suits you, or try this one from DIY Natural.
  • Line dry your clothes as a bonus (when you can, if you can!). This saves electricity ($$$) but also cuts down on carbon emissions.

Traveling

Easy swaps:

  • Carry your own straw if you need one! FinalStraw (shameless plug, I’m an ambassador!) has a collapsable, dishwasher-safe straw that you can take anywhere, even through airport security. Use my code “ABBEYD” for 10% off your order (they have them in rainbow!).

 

  • Bring your own water bottle. Do I have to explain this one again???? Ok, phew. If you’re worried about finding water on your travels, just fill up your bottle at any restaurant with a soda machine. If you’re still worried, check out FindTap — an app and map with free water stations all over the country (growing every day!).

If you want a challenge:

  • Carry reusable bamboo utensils with you, but remove the knife — it may cause problems for you in the airport security line.
  • Bring a reusable bag with you on your travels too. Chances are you’re going to need it, and refusing a few plastic bags is great!
  • Add a jar or collapsable Tupperware container to this new bag of reusable utensils you’re now carrying around! You can use it to take leftovers from restaurants (or carry snacks!).

Overall, try and limit your plastic packaging when you’re buying anything. If buying in bulk, become more aware of things like paper towels being individually wrapped, or dishwasher detergent coming in plastic wrappers. It takes all of us making a little less waste — REDUCING — to make a huge difference. Happy Earth Day!

Start moving away from plastic in your home with these three easy switches

This year, there’s been a global movement toward zero-waste! But we all don’t need to be completely zero-waste to make a difference.

Here are three habits you can switch TODAY that will have a huge impact tomorrow on your plastic use.

1. Swap out your shampoo, conditioner, and body wash

Take a look in your shower — is it full of plastic bottles? We don’t often think of our beauty routine as a place to make changes to our plastic consumption, but there are many, many ways to make change here.

Make the switch to shampoo and conditioner bars. Lush has an entire line of package-free shampoo bars and solid conditioners you can use over and over again without the guilt of a giant shampoo bottle that may or may not get recycled (even it you put it in your recycling bin).

Need another reason to buy from Lush? Their products are against animal testing, vegetarian, and handmade!

A quick search on Amazon also pulls up dozens of other plastic-free options (with minimal packaging) if you want to go that route and try out a couple kinds to see what’s right for your hair.

As for body wash — just switch to a bar of soap. Most soap these days comes in cardboard boxes (which can be recycled) or no packaging at all.

2. PLEASE stop drinking out of disposable water bottles

Most of the trash I pick up on cleanups is disposable water bottles. Most of the trash in our oceans is plastic. This is one simple thing you can do (with a simple solution!) that cuts down on pollution.

Quoting my own blog post from 2013:

Not only is plastic made out of oil, but most people do not recycle. If they do recycle, sometimes the facilities where they recycle don’t take the recycling to the recycling plant and instead throw it in the trash, leading the bottles into landfills and into the ocean. If the plastic is not biodegradable, which most bottles are not, the carcinogens in the plastic seep into the ground, polluting the ground water. If the bottles make their way into the ocean, they make a dead spot, ruining the delicate marine ecosystems. Also, it is almost impossible to remove the plastic from these areas in the ocean.

Sadly, we still have these issues today. But seriously — buy a reusable water bottle.

3. Cut out plastic wrap and plastic snack/sandwich bags

Another source of disposable plastic in your house is plastic wrap, plastic snack bags, and plastic sandwich bags.

One solution is to just store your snacks in Tupperware (hey, at least you’re using it over and over again, no matter what it is made of!), but if you can’t do that, I’d suggest switching over to a more reusable option.

If you have to use plastic wrap, switch to Beeswrap or another beeswax-based food cover. You can also use it to store veggies, sandwiches, and other food items in your fridge. Just wash it with cool water and you can use it over and over again.

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Beeswrap

For plastic storage bags, Stasher really is the best bag you can buy (believe me, I’ve tried several brands. They may be expensive to stock up on at first, but you can freeze them, cook in them, wash them in the dishwasher — and they’re completely leak proof once sealed. Once you buy a set, you will never have to go back to disposables.

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Stasher bags

For dry food, I love Nordic by Nature bags (the prints are very interesting), but a quick search on Amazon reveals tons more of these to choose from if these aren’t your style)

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Nordic by Nature bags

Making a new habit takes some time, but once you switch, you’ll be wondering why you didn’t do it in the first place! And as Stasher says — it’s time to rethink plastic.

 

I visited three national park sites during the shutdown. In hindsight, I have mixed feelings — and here’s why

Anyone who follows me here knows I’m a huge national parks fan. I’ve been to countless parks and natural areas all over the U.S. and Canada, planning vacations around them in our family motor home every summer, camping in BLM lands across the street, staying with family/friends a few hours away to visit a park for the day, flying camping gear across the country to camp in a park, or driving hours and hours round trip from my apartment when I lived in the West.

In December, I took a trip to Southern California, so of course Joshua Tree was on my list, again. I was then planning on driving to the Grand Canyon on the next part of the trip. But while I was on vacation, the government shutdown. My first thought? Anger.

I was extremely angry that I planned a vacation around the parks and there was the potential of the parks being shut down, all because of funding for something I’m not going to mention, but you can read about here.

But thankfully, they remained open, and we headed into Joshua Tree National Park on December 23, 2018, the second day of the shutdown. We were warned that the visitor center would be closed, toilet paper might not be stocked, and there would be no rangers — but the gates would be open.

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Entrance gate at Joshua Tree — just drive right in!

Driving in, no one was there to take our money, and we drove right in, along with the hundreds of other cars of tourists visiting Joshua Tree that day. We found toilet paper in the open bathrooms, and the trails, campgrounds, and parking lots were open. Since it was the first day, people weren’t being that stupid — yet.

We did see some people walking off-trail (which is a usual occurrence in Joshua Tree, as it is just a desert and people can pretty much walk anywhere if not policed) and saw one person flying a drone, but for the most part, the trash cans weren’t overflowing and the toilets were clean.

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Two long weeks later, whether people are taking advantage of “free” national parks are not, this is not the case. Joshua Tree has closed campgrounds because “pit toilets have reached capacity” (um, gross), and people are performing other hazardous acts in the park — like driving off-road, wandering into the wilderness alone, and literally STEALING JOSHUA TREES, which are extremely fragile and are under threat from climate change (and their habitat could disappear in the park altogether by 2100).

Volunteers in the area, dubbed “toilet paper angels,” are going into the park every day and emptying trash cans, restocking bathrooms, and picking up human waste on park grounds.

Because of all this destruction, and despite these volunteer efforts, the National Parks Service has now had to dip into entrance fee funds (an unprecedented and perhaps illegal move, which will take money away from the parks) to start cleaning up the parks themselves.

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I also went to the Grand Canyon a few days later, but because of a contingency plan put out by Arizona’s governor, Arizona always plans to have the Grand Canyon open (except entrance fees and the visitor center, of course), even during a shutdown — the shuttle buses were even running! You can see his contingency plan here.

Yesterday, I visited Gateway National Recreation Area in New Jersey to do a beach cleanup and saw much of the same — no access bathrooms, and people walking wherever they pleased.

As a “parks” person, I have mixed feelings about visiting these majestic, amazing places in the national parks system. A good chunk of my vacation was planned around taking my girlfriend to see Joshua Tree and the Grand Canyon — two iconic parks that I would have obviously paid to go see, shutdown or no shutdown. Being a wild keeper and steward of the Earth, I would have picked up trash if I saw any (we didn’t contribute to any trash in either park), but for people to use and abuse “our” natural places like this really upsets me.

But should I have even visited in the first place and contributed to the masses of people coming in and out of the park, even if I left no trace? Should the parks even be open in the first place to prevent this kind of destruction? Would this lead to people illegally entering the parks anyway?

And on the entrance fees… it really bothers me that we’re missing out on so much money for the parks just because of a shutdown. Everyone visiting the parks during this time should be donating their entrance fees to the National Park Conservation Association or the conservation association affiliated with the park you’re visiting — like Joshua Tree National Park Association or the Grand Canyon Conservancy. This way, you can be sure your money is going back to preserving the park for future generations.

And if you’re close to a park, join a cleanup effort! I headed out to the closest NPS site I could find and picked up 23.5 pounds of trash on the beach in just 30 minutes.

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Congratulations, Sandy Hook! 🎉 You’re the dirtiest beach I’ve ever visited 😥 I was inspired by everyone cleaning up the parks, so @rebecca_roselli and I headed out to @gatewaynps to do a beach cleanup — and we found the Great Sandy Hook Garbage Patch. We cleaned up for half an hour, filling one black garbage bag with 23.5 pounds of trash, and didn’t even make a dent. Even though we didn’t find overflowing toilets or trash cans here, all of our parks in the @nationalparkservice system need cleaning. So get out there and pick up a few bottle caps! Every few pieces makes a difference 🌿 #cleanuptheworld #wildkeepers #keepnaturewild #2minutebeachclean #beachcleanup #leaveitbetter #standforwhatwestandon #cleanupcrew #2minutelitterpick #cleanyobeach #knwpickupparty

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The shutdown isn’t going to end any time soon, so if you’re heading to a park, please be mindful of yourself and your waste. Whatever you pack in, please pack out (and pack out MORE if you happen to see SAFE trash on your way back). We only get one Earth, and one national park system, so let’s keep it clean.

*editor’s note: An earlier version of this post said there was no one at Gateway Recreation area to collect fees, but fees aren’t collected between Labor Day and Memorial Day.

 

 

Three Ways Climate Change Impacts New Jersey

As a volunteer at Reeves-Reed Arboretum this fall (my local Arboretum, of which I’m also a member!), I was asked to write a blog post about how climate change impacts the great Garden State. Read below!


Climate change, the rise of global temperatures on Earth, can be attributed to the increase of humans using fossil fuels. The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere can rise from many sources, including pollution from coal plants for electricity generation and the transportation industry in the form of car exhaust. And as the world warms from these emissions, we can see impacts all around us.

Climate change, the rise of global temperatures on Earth, can be attributed to the increase of humans using fossil fuels. The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere can rise from many sources, including pollution from coal plants for electricity generation and the transportation industry in the form of car exhaust. And as the world warms from these emissions, we can see impacts all around us

Here are the top three ways climate change impacts us here in New Jersey.

More Extreme Weather and Heavy Downpours

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An increase in greenhouse gases in our atmosphere means more available water, which means an increase in heavy precipitation events — or heavy downpours. We can see this trend prominently in the Northeast, including in New Jersey, which you may have noticed this spring and summer. With heavy rain comes flash floods, which can lead to property damage, which you may have even seen at your own home.

Billion-dollar weather and climate disasters, are increasing, too. Four out of 11 billion-dollar disasters so far this year were in the Northeast — the Northeast winter storms of January and March and the severe weather we experienced from May 1-5 and 13-15 made the list of some of the the costliest disasters in the whole country this year so far.

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Sea Level Rise

Climate change is also increasing the frequency of coastal flooding and storm surge at properties down the shore. From Climate Central: “The combination of water expansion as the ocean has warmed and the melting of land ice into the oceans has driven sea level up about seven inches since 1900, and the rise is accelerating.”

The amount of sea level rise in the future depends on our emissions, but coastal flooding is already affecting coastal communities in New Jersey, and property values are already being affected.

Shifting Seasons

You may have noticed the weather this year changed the timing of our fall foliage here in New Jersey — even here at the Arboretum! The timing of fall foliage is impacted by temperature, sunlight, and rainfall, so you can blame this year’s delay on climate change. Falls have been warming since the 1970’s, which can delay the peak fall foliage we come to know and love in the Garden State!  

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Summer is also lasting longer, which can “take a toll on health and air quality,” according to Climate Central. Longer summers can lead to shorter winters, which means pests like ticks and mosquitoes stick along longer, too. Yikes!