Use real stuff

stacked plates
Public Domain Unsplash

Because it's better for you and the environment.

A headline caught my eye when I was perusing news stories this morning. It said, "Use real stuff: Day 6 of the Zero Waste Challenge." My curiosity was piqued. What kind of "real stuff" did the author mean? The article, from a popular website called Going Zero Waste, was speaking specifically about dinnertime and why you should use real plates, metal cutlery, and cloth napkins at the table, as opposed to disposables.

I loved the point about dishes, as it's something I practice at home, but that headline got me thinking about how the advice, "Use real stuff," can be applied to so many aspects of our lives. Indeed, it is getting away from using real stuff that's at the root of numerous environmental problems we now face.

It's not that alternatives like paper plates and plastic cutlery aren't real. They obviously exist in a tangible form, but they were designed to be less permanent versions of an original model of some kind. And by using these impermanent versions, rather than the real thing, we perpetuate problems of waste.

Take disposable coffee cups, for example, and the environmental nightmare they've become. This is because we've stopped using the real coffee cups that the disposable ones were modelled after. Same goes for the awful K-cups designed to speed up the process of making a true cup of coffee. Thin plastic produce bags, shopping bags, and the plastic mesh bags containing prepackaged citrus and avocados could all be avoided if we brought along the real thing – cloth bags – when we went to the store.

Imagine how much better our health would be if we bought real whole foods, instead of processed snacks and refined ingredients, or if we stopped relying on restaurants to package our meals in disposable takeout containers and prioritized the use of our own kitchens. Disposable sandwich bags, plastic wrap, and water bottles would be eliminated if we used real containers, cloths, and refillable bottles instead. If kids got their water in real glasses and their food on ceramic plates, they'd learn responsibility and care, while being spared the leaching chemicals from cheap plastic.

Even our individual fashion footprints could be improved if we relied less on fast fashion, which is essentially a knock-off of higher quality designs, and more on handmade, locally- and ethically-made items. Prioritizing real, natural materials and fabrics over polluting synthetics would improve the health of our waterways.

Use real stuff. This advice could be applied to the ingredient lists on cosmetics, skin and hair care products. Buy only those products that you'd eat, while avoiding those with chemical-laden and potentially toxic formulas. Use pure oils to cleanse and moisturize, instead of synthetic blends.

Try applying this phrase to every scenario in your life, as outrageous as it may sound. Have real conversations with people; don't settle for texting each other. Go for a run in the forest instead of staying on the treadmill. Give your kids real outdoor playtime, not computer games designed to recreate reality. Use real bars of soap, not plastic liquid dispensers. Use real metal and glass straws, not plastic. Use real flowers, not fake. Put down the e-reader and read a paper book for a change. Set your table with a real tablecloth and wine glasses, and see if your food tastes any better.

I realize how idealistic this all sounds, but it's meant to be a reminder of how we've let less than desirable things creep into our lives under the guise of convenience, cheapness, and novelty. Not all the disposables I've listed are necessarily bad – many serve a purpose in certain situations – but the danger arises when they replace the real thing on a permanent basis, when we start to forget what it's like to use the original.

Use real stuff and your life may feel more authentic by extension.

Use real stuff
Because it's better for you and the environment.

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