I’ll be the last to deny the magic of Costco.
When I stepped through its automatic sliding doors a week ago, and into its supersized paradise, I was reminded of its awe-inspiring magnitude: its towers of cereal boxes cellophaned together, mountains of paper towels, and bricks of individually packaged soaps.
I was also taken aback by the pure quantity of plastic that propagated its wide aisles, the sheer amount of waste that the store implied. Now, listen, I’m not trying to knock Costco — the fact that I can buy t-shirts and sample coconut cream pie in the span of three seconds is a testament to modern-day bulk shopping at its finest. Its convenience is miraculous, but its excess is thought-provoking.
We’re no stranger to excess in this country. In fact, the average American is responsible for generating just over four pounds of trash per day, which snowballs into 1,600 pounds per person each year and equates to over 254 million tons of trash annually in the U.S. alone — nearly 60 percent of which is thrown into a landfill.
Not only is this number horrifying, it requires action.
In the spirit of Earth Week, we’re sharing some tips on how to live a waste-free life.
In the grocery store…
Seeing as Americans use over 100 billion plastic bags a year, you’ve likely experienced some sort of pushback on the ubiquitous plastic carriers you receive at the supermarket or pharmacy. After all, only 1% of the bags are recycled and they take nearly 500 years to decompose in a landfill.
That said, whether your local store charges extra for plastic bags or refuses to provide them at all, you’re better off bringing reusable bags to the grocery store — that way you can save plastic from circulation and save yourself some money while you’re at it.
In addition to swapping out your bags, utilize your supermarket’s bulk bins — buying items in bulk (and carrying them out in either paper bags or glass jars) is a great way to minimize excess packaging while shopping. Additionally, try purchasing local, organic foods from smaller markets, as that’s another great tactic for reducing the waste involved in packing and shipping food products across long distances.
To minimize waste in your home, prepare your own meals and store them in reusable glass or metal containers. This is a simple way to cut back on waste from take-out orders. Also, replace single-use utensils with quality metal forks, knives, and spoons, and use metal — or edible — straws.
If you can, brew your own coffee in the morning, or at least take a reusable mug to your favorite coffee shop. Or, if you’re more of a smoothie person, bring a reusable tumbler and a metal straw with you to your local juice bar.
Centering your meals around plant-based food is also a great way to reduce waste on a macro level — industrial animal agriculture is an enormous generator of toxins, namely gas emissions responsible for global warming. The NRDC estimates that if Americans reduced their weekly intake of beef by a quarter-pound serving, the resulting decrease in gas emissions would be equivalent to removing four to six million cars off of the road. Though it is difficult to alter dietary patterns, finding plant-based foods to replace your favorites can be an illuminating first step.
At the mall…
Not many know how detrimental the clothing industry is to the environment. To minimize waste, consider purchasing less apparel and building your wardrobe out of quality clothing that is meant to last. If you need to purchase a new outfit, support eco-friendly and slow-fashion brands. A few companies known for their good environmental standard and high quality are Alternative Apparel, Threads For Thought, Everlane, and PACT.
Shopping from consignment, vintage, or thrift stores is another great way to give a second life to a piece of clothing already in circulation. This allows you to feel like you’re buying something new even though you’re not contributing to the mainstream clothing industry or supporting the disposable mindset of consumerism. Win-win!
And, while we’re at it, let’s talk about washing those clothes — search your local market for more eco-friendly (biodegradable) soaps and detergents stored in recyclable bottles. These products are not only better for your clothes, but for the overall health and sustainability of your home.
In everyday life…
Minimizing your daily waste can be a difficult task among the pressing concerns of everyday life — but there are simple actions you can take to be more environmentally friendly.
If possible, try to cut down on your paper usage and regularly recycle your plastic, metal, and glass waste. You could even consider making your own beauty and house-cleaning products to prevent the use of additional packaging. And, if you have the time, make more frequent stops at the grocery store to reduce the amount of food you may end up throwing out later.
These simple steps will allow you to live a more waste-free life without completely restructuring your routine. If we can do it, you can do it.
The planet thanks you.
Header image by Matthew Christopher Miller of @hazardoustaste