Learning to live without these unsustainable and/or unhealthy items is easier than you think. Tips and inspiration, here.
Going cold turkey on wasteful habits can be challenging, but this approach is a good way to ease into more eco-friendly practices: Simply consider not replacing items once they are used up or have reached the end of their lives. Here are some good places to start:
1. Microwave ovenMicrowaves are hard to recycle and frequently end up in the landfill; they are made of between 40 to 100 pounds (or more) of material, including electrical components that make for dangerous waste. If your microwave gives up the ghost, try donating it for repair or having it properly recycled … and then dedicate yourself to not purchasing another one. I’ve been happy without one for over a decade. You can use an electric teakettle for hot water, make popcorn on the stovetop, reheat leftovers in a toaster oven or a pan, use a double boiler to melt things, defrost in the fridge, the list goes on. Cooking without a microwave is a more intimate and engaging way of making food and getting away from prepared frozen meals is generally cheaper and healthier as well!
2. Ziploc bagsFor many, resealable plastic bags are one of the hardest eco-sins to give up. But with a little planning, you will find that you don’t need them. For food on the go, like kid snacks and school, you can try one of the food-grade silicone alternatives like these pouches from Kindeville. (People will complain about silicone, but I'd say there's a case to be made for swapping one silicone pouch for hundreds and hundreds of single-use zipper bags.) For leftovers and lunches, see 7 items for a plastic-free lunch box.
3. Liquid soapRIP, bar soap. As I noted earlier in The sad slippery slope of bar soap, most young American adults opt for liquid soap because they think bar soap is covered in germs; while many just find it inconvenient. I did the rough math and calculated that some 270,000,000 plastic bottles with pump parts end up in the waste cycle annually. And that was just for body wash, not accounting for hand soap. Plus, the carbon footprint in general is 25 percent more for liquid soap over bar soap. And no, there are not more germs on bar soap – people just think it's messy and gross. What's messy and gross is that the planet is becoming covered in plastic, poor thing.
4. Keurig coffee makerThe geologic layers of small plastic cups enrobing the planet from the early 21st century will surely perplex future archeologists. With more than nine billion of the vexing non-recyclable K-cups used each year, we’ll soon be up to our knees in them. And even though Keurig promises that soon the cups will be recyclable, if someone is too lazy to actually make a cup of coffee, will they have the energy to go through the not-exactly-simple steps of recycling the pods? As David Gelles notes in the New York Times, “the surest way for consumers to make K-Cups more sustainable may be to stop using them.”
There are so many better options; they don’t take that much more time, they make coffee that is more delicious; and they don’t smother the planet in plastic. See 9 low-tech ways to make coffee with minimal waste.
5. Plastic food storage containersTupperware in the 1950s was a housewife's technicolor dream. Now it's the planet's nightmare and storing food in plastic may present health problems as well. When your plastic food containers become too old to use for food, reassign them to store craft supplies, hardware cubbies, etc and then begin employing any of these handy-dandy solutions in their place: How to store leftovers without plastic.
6. Wet wipesWhether for baby or grown-ups, wet wipes are a disaster. They destroy municipal sewer systems; many contain plastic fibers and when they make their way to the ocean, become lethal "food" for unsuspecting sea creatures. They come with a bevy of other sins, earning them the title of "the biggest villain of 2015” by The Guardian. Katherine has an easy DIY method to make your own here: Why you should avoid buying wet wipes.
7. Non-stick pansScientists agree that non-stick cookware should be avoided. The list of health problems potentially linked with the chemicals that give them their non-stickiness include obesity, liver malfunction, ulcerative colitis, testicular and kidney cancers, low birth weight, and decreased immune response to vaccines. In animal studies, these chemicals have been found to cause liver toxicity, endocrine and immune problems and tumors in multiple organ systems. Ty cast iron instead; it lasts a lifetime and once you get the hang of using it, you won't want to go back. See Cast iron pots and pans, demystified.
8. Scented cleaning products and air freshenersMost air fresheners and scented cleaning products that are imbued with aspirational names like "Fresh Waters" and "Meadows and Rain" (both of which actually exist) rely on synthetic fragrance. They don't use actual meadows or rain, but chemicals derived from petroleum distillates. And many of those chemicals may cause acute effects such as respiratory irritation, headache, sneezing, and watery eyes, just for starters. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health found that more than 30 percent of the substances used in the fragrance industry are toxic. Thanks to our wonky FDA, they get to be placed under the mystery ingredient of “fragrance” since they are considered trade secrets. Look for "fragrance-free" products or those scented with natural ingredients. Use citrus, lavender, and/or essential oils around the house if you want an olfactory boost.
9. Toxic personal care productsOur skin is the body's largest organ and it absorbs things, even things that aren't good for us. And we constantly barrage our skin with toxic ingredients via personal care products – thanks to an egregiously under-regulated industry. You can check labels with this list of 20 toxic ingredients to avoid when buying body care products and cosmetics. And if you need some encouragement, read this: Teen girls’ chemical exposure plummets after switching to better beauty products
10. Disposable plates, cups, and utensilsPaper plates, plastic cups, disposable knives and forks, oh my. I always find it profound and fully of folly that plastic is one of the most enduring materials we make, yet we mostly use it for single-use items. What's wrong with that picture? If you have occasion to use disposable party/dining ware, you can do it without using single-use items. Go to a second hand store, buy a big set of dessert plates, glasses and silverware, and keep them in a milk crate somewhere. Cleaning up will be more work than shoveling things into a garbage bag, but a one-time investment will save you money and I'm sure that few guests would actually prefer eating from plastic when china and glass could be had instead. And best of all, you'll be doing the planet a favor.
This list is by no means exclusive. Add fast fashion apparel, paper towels and napkins, poorly made things that won't last long, products with triclosan, harsh cleaning agents, single-serving food packages, and so on ... the moral of the story is, ask of everything if you really need it and/or if there's a better alternative.