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!

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.

 

 

We Need to Talk About Recycling

You’re not recycling as much as you think you are.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, ever since the #BanTheStraw debate has been in the forefront of everyone’s mind, but I’ve always been into recycling.

I was always that “recycling nazi” in college who sifted through the trash to pull out that stray plastic cup, yelling at my roommates and putting a list of recyclables on the fridge (now my sister does it). Everywhere I’ve lived, I always separated my papers and plastics according to the rules of my township (thanks Dad). I gave up plastic bottles and bags a long time ago. And I try to bring tupperware and my own cups whenever I can (thanks Mom). I’ve even done research on plastic bag ban trends and written this how-to post on how to give up plastic as much as possible (it’s not as hard as it sounds).

But ever since reading NatGeo’s Plastic or Planet series and this Buzzfeed article on trash cans that aren’t really separated from recycling bins, I’ve started asking around, and we have a serious problem. WE AREN’T RECYCLING AS MUCH AS WE THINK WE ARE.

My sister watches her college staff dump the contents of their recycling bin into the trash can, after her and her roommates take the time to sort our their recyclables. My best friend works at a stadium where they put out recycling bins for the fans, but don’t have the “space” to bring in recycling trucks, so they just throw all the recyclables into the trash cans at the end of the night. On my most recent trip to Starbucks, I took this photo of the trash can — which is recycling? Which is trash? Does it even matter? (Not to mention that Starbucks was just applauded around the world for pledging to cut down on their plastic waste. Clearly not from this store.)

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Another issue in this whole process for homeowners is improper recycling. A lot of neighborhoods and townships participate in single-stream recycling, where everything is sent to one plant and sorted there — but this comes with problems. While mixing paper, plastic, metal, and glass may be convenient for the public, some of these “recyclables” may end up going to the landfill because they’re too small, contaminated, or damaged to be recycled. There’s also this tiny little problem about the international trash crisis we’ve created, but I’ll touch on that another time.

Despite all this, there are things you can do to help cut down your recycling.

To make sure you’re recycling properly at home, check your local township’s website — there should be guidelines there. There’s also this handy EPA guide on how to recycle everything properly — from batteries to tires. And remember — CLEAN YOUR RECYCLABLES before you send them out to the curb.

The best solution would be to use less, and reuse what you do have. To start, take a reusable cup to Starbucks, ditch the straw, bring your reusable bags to the grocery store, and try to cut down on your plastic as much as possible — the planet will thank you.

 

Please, PLEASE, cut down on your plastic use

I am BEGGING YOU. This isn’t a drill anymore — plastic is EVERYWHERE. And it’s a huge problem.

From the National Geographic June 2018 issue:

Because plastic wasn’t invented until the late 19th century, and production really only took off around 1950, we have a mere 9.2 billion tons of the stuff to deal with. Of that, more than 6.9 billion tons have become waste. And of that waste, a staggering 6.3 billion tons never made it to a recycling bin—a figure that stunned the scientists who crunched the numbers in 2017.

No one knows how much unrecycled plastic waste ends up in the ocean, Earth’s last sink. In 2015, Jenna Jambeck, a University of Georgia engineering professor, caught everyone’s attention with a rough estimate: between 5.3 million and 14 million tons each year just from coastal regions. Most of it isn’t thrown off ships, she and her colleagues say, but is dumped carelessly on land or in rivers, mostly in Asia. It’s then blown or washed into the sea. Imagine five plastic grocery bags stuffed with plastic trash, Jambeck says, sitting on every foot of coastline around the world—that would correspond to about 8.8 million tons, her middle-of-the-road estimate of what the ocean gets from us annually. It’s unclear how long it will take for that plastic to completely biodegrade into its constituent molecules. Estimates range from 450 years to never.

I want to point this specific part out to you: “It’s unclear how long it will take for that plastic to completely biodegrade into its constituent molecules. Estimates range from 450 years to never.”

We can only do so much to clean up what’s out there. So here’s what you can do to slow it down:

1. Stop using single use items

We all do it. Even me (hey, I never claimed to be perfect). But we can be better about this. One of most impactful things we can do is STOP USING STRAWS. There’s a great replacement coming to market soon for a traveling, collapsible straw, but in the meantime, just buy straws and take them with you if you have to — or just stop using them. K-Cups are just as bad, if not worse (they could wrap around the planet 10 TIMES). If you have to use them, make your own reusable ones. Buy compostable ones (though, those aren’t that great either). Cut down on your deliverable meal plan boxes, or at least choose one that doesn’t have as much single use plastic. I’ve found that Hello Fresh does the best with this (Blue Apron’s packaging is TERRIBLE for the Earth), so just be aware of what you’re contributing).

Globally, 18 percent of plastic is recycled, up from nearly zero in 1980. Plastic bottles are one of the most widely recycled products. But other items, such as drinking straws, are harder to recycle and often discarded.

I could go on for days about single use plastic bottles and bags, but I’ll spare you. So just don’t use them. Use reusable bags — keep them in your car, in your desk, in your spouses’s car… wherever it takes for you to remember to bring them in the store. Buy reusable produce bags to take with you. And FOR THE LOVE OF THE EARTH, stop buying plastic water bottles.

Meanwhile, ocean plastic is estimated to kill millions of marine animals every year. Nearly 700 species, including endangered ones, are known to have been affected by it. Some are harmed visibly—strangled by abandoned fishing nets or discarded six-pack rings. Many more are probably harmed invisibly. Marine species of all sizes, from zooplankton to whales, now eat microplastics, the bits smaller than one-fifth of an inch across.

2. RECYCLE EVERYTHING

And if you can’t when you’re out and about, take it home and do it. Make sure you actually can in your recycling bin — check out this list to see if you’re recycling correctly, or your items right to a recycling plant. Also pay attention to HOW to recycle in your town. Do your recyclables need to be washed? If so, rise them (but save water while doing it, ok?). Do your paper products need to be tied with twine? (Mine do, which is strange, but whatever, buy some twine and get it done).

3. Be more conscious about your purchases

Are you about to buy those brussels sprouts already chopped up, sitting in styrofoam, wrapped in plastic? Don’t. That tiny package will have a way bigger impact on our planet than it’s manufactuer ever intended (see that little blurb from NatGeo above), so just think twice before buying unnecessary waste.

If you can disrupt the cycle by not buying plastic at the source, hopefully we can slow down the amount being put back onto the planet.

From National Geographic:

“This isn’t a problem where we don’t know what the solution is,” says Ted Siegler, a Vermont resource economist who has spent more than 25 years working with developing nations on garbage. “We know how to pick up garbage. Anyone can do it. We know how to dispose of it. We know how to recycle.” It’s a matter of building the necessary institutions and systems, he says—ideally before the ocean turns, irretrievably and for centuries to come, into a thin soup of plastic.

There are things we can do to help this global problem. So let’s do them.