One day I was out and about and stopped at the market to buy some food. I picked up a boxed salad. I didn’t think anything of it then, but later, my boyfriend consulted me about it. “Why did you get that” he asked, “when you could’ve just bought the bulk kale and gone without all the waste involved with that prepackaged salad? Not to mention it’s cheaper, fresher and better for you.”
Normally, I am a conscientious shopper; I buy organic, eat tons of fresh produce and choose to shop at places like Whole Foods. But my boyfriend, who is adamantly against single-use cups and packaging, brought up a very good point. In America today, we are a society largely based on convenience and efficiency yet we are faultily lazy. We choose the “easy” ready-made boxed salad over the fresher, beautiful bunch of organic kale from a local farmer. And how easy it is in our culture to choose fast and easy over just about anything (which generally means more waste, less quality).
We’ll spend $10 for a single meal at the supermarket hot bar when we could put $10 toward funding a CSA that would feed us for a week. Our “food” travels 1,500 miles on average to get to us. Yet, in most places we can grow our own or purchase inexpensive, ultra-fresh produce from a local farmer’s market and support our community. We’ll spend $20 a week for coffee with single use, disposable cups when we can buy POUNDS of coffee with that money and make our own brew at home with next to no waste. (This does not include Keurig-type coffees; enough K-Cups were thrown away in 2014 to encircle the earth 12 times! Their creator admits that K-Cups are virtually impossible to recycle.) (Relevant Magazine) We are one of the most abundant and opportunity-rich nations in the world and yet we are one of the most wasteful, diseased and malnourished. On top of all this, we are one of the largest consumers in the world.
But why do we consume to the extent we do? A large part of it has been ingrained in us from media and advertisements. Spending has become commonplace--a hole we are always trying to fill. Ironically, constant consumption results in most Americans feeling deeply unsatisfied--making “more” an addiction. Example: a phone company comes out with a new model that has one tiny added feature and suddenly millions of people discard their perfectly good phone for the “latest and greatest”. Most of us don’t think about, know or care what happens to all our “stuff” after we discard it, though. In fact, the U.S. has so much trash that we’ve even exported some of it for other countries to deal with! Not to mention our oceans have growing “islands” of garbage, spanning miles and murdering marine life. (Search "garbage ocean" on YouTube.) We would need the resources of three planets for every person in our world to live an “American” lifestyle. And even then, our days on a plentiful planet would be numbered.
Despite these facts, our society continues to consume at an alarming, increasing rate, as if our resources on precious Earth will provide for us forever. While “green” has thankfully become a more respected mindset nowadays, I think there’s a big piece a lot of us miss amidst our efforts. We choose eco options yet our focus is still based around consumption and the idea of having “more” or “better”. Our consumption is the single largest contributor to the destruction of our environment. Because we are the largest consumers of the world, we are the most to blame for the consequences of our unsustainable actions. This includes and is not limited to global warming, water and food shortage, and the pollution of our air, land and sea. Consider these shocking statistics:
- Americans consume as much energy as two Japanese, six Mexicans, 13 Chinese, 31 Indians, 128 Bangladeshis, 307 Tanzanians or 370 Ethiopians.
- Americans use 1/3 of the world's paper, 1/4 of the oil, 23% of the coal, 27% of the aluminum and 19% of the copper.
- 99% of the stuff people in North America buy is tossed within six months of purchase.
- Americans throw out 200,000 tons of edible food daily.
- Americans drive about as many miles as the rest of the world combined.
Americans consume at a higher rate than anywhere else in the country, and thus are the #1 contributors to environmental issues caused by unsustainable consumption, forest destruction, ozone depletion, water and food shortages and soil loss. Almost all of the products we consume (aside from food) are made in factories, which not only produce harmful smoke but also 100,000+ synthetic chemicals. U.S. industries admit to emitting over 4 million pounds of annual pollution, most of which has never been proven safe for the environment. Forest destruction is caused by industrial and agricultural expansion, logging, human-caused fires, paving roads and producing paper products. Earth’s large scale destruction enables our culture’s needs for fuel, growth and consumption, yet depletes and threatens our planet’s precious, limited resources.
America--we can do better! There are many ways to lighten our footprint on the planet. Mother Earth gives us so much...the very least we can do is to give back! Read below for a list of simple steps toward less waste and more sustainability!
- PLEASE watch, learn and share this important, eye-opening video: The Story of Stuff.
- Oceans are flooded with plastics: 8 million metric tons per year! (Treehugger.com) “Nearly a third of plastic packaging escapes collection systems and winds up in the oceans. Once there, sunlight and ocean currents shred plastic debris into smaller particles called microplastics, which attract and concentrate toxic chemicals up the marine food chain and into our bodies.” (Breakfreefromplastic.org) Plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose, if it ever does. Join the international movement that’s working to end plastic pollution at www.breakfreefromplastic.org and spread the word on social media with #breakfreefromplastic.
- Refuse plastic straws. Go without straws altogether or use your own reusable straw.
- Forgo single-use, disposable cups, plates, cutlery, napkins, etc. This is one of the biggest forms of waste we produce as consumers. Bring your own forks, spoons, etc. and use glass containers or tupperware. If you MUST use disposables, then choose eco-friendly, biodegradable ones. Bringing your own mug to a coffee shop is a great way to reduce waste. And most cafes even give you a discount for bringing your own cup!
- Carry your own handkerchief with you to use instead of throwing away tissues, napkins, paper towels, etc.
- Bring your own reusable bags with you everywhere! This goes for shopping, lunches, groceries--everything! Most food stores now offer inexpensive reusable bags. You can repurpose any totes you may have around the house. Keep them with you! Chicobag and other companies offer a great bag that packs down small and can attach to your keychain or fit in your purse. If you absolutely HAVE to use a bag from the store, opt for paper bags, which break down much easier. Please also forgo plastic produce bags or bulk bags. Go without or bring your own bags to use.
- Shop in bulk. Not only does bulk greatly reduce waste--it tends to be cheaper and fresher, too! Ditch packaged, processed food and drinks altogether! Your health and the world will benefit!
- STOP BUYING BOTTLED WATER! This is a big one. And there’s really no excuse anymore. It is so simple to use a reusable water bottle, refill it, repeat! No waste, little to no expense and the environment does not have to suffer from the plastic!
- If you are a menstruating woman, use waste-less options like the Diva Cup or reusable cotton pads. If you have a baby, consider cloth options rather than disposable diapers.
- Choose natural, biodegradable face wash and scrubs. Many conventional exfoliating products contain microplastics that do not break down or get filtered out before they go straight into our oceans, threatening marine life and our health as well.
- Opt for chemical-free, biodegradable dish soap, cleaning products and laundry detergent. Air dry your laundry.
- Swap all your personal care products out for organic, natural options (like ours)! Also important: choose recycled and biodegradable packaging.
- Make your own products at home! There are so many things you don’t have to buy when you can DIY!
- Compost your food scraps.
- Shop by packaging: choose items with as little packaging as possible. This means less waste and often less money, more quality!
- Have a paperless kitchen. Use washable cloths instead of disposable paper towels. Use dishware instead of toss-away paper plates and cutlery.
- Use rechargeable batteries. Even better: use a small solar-powered charger to charge things like phones, cameras, etc.
- Invest in solar power!
- Choose eco-certified appliances.
- Drive an electric vehicle. Walk or bike to school, work, errands. Take the bus. Carpool or rideshare. Reduce your reliance on fossil fuels!
- When you have something you need to recycle but aren’t sure where to bring it, look up online where your nearest recycle center is. Your local Best Buy will recycle most electronics. And before recycling, think: can I reuse, gift, sell or repurpose this item?
- Opt for online statements, payments and subscriptions instead of paper mail. Also try your best to stop junk mail. If you read the newspaper or magazines, switch to online subscriptions.
- Purchase recycled paper. And reuse the paper before recycling again! Be the change: help reduce office waste as well!
- Refill printer ink cartridges instead of tossing and buying new ones.
- Only make purchases you truly need. Repair anything you can instead of buying new. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” For example, if your phone is not the newest model, but it’s still works perfectly--then wait to trade in!
- Buy everything used whenever possible. Goodwill, Craigslist, Freecycle, garage sales, thrift stores, etc. are all great options.
- Buy less in general. And enjoy how liberating it can be to live simpler with less stuff! Repurpose, give away or sell anything you don’t need, use or love!
- Use a razor with a replaceable blade, an electric razor or even a straight edge instead of tossing disposable razors.
- Use less water when showering, doing dishes, watering plants, etc.
- Breastfeed your baby and make your own baby food.
- Use loose leaf teas in a french press or with a reusable tea filter instead of using individual tea bags. Use coffee with a reusable coffee filter, or out of a french press, instead of disposing Keurig-type pods and single-use filters. Compost your coffee grounds and tea!
- Check out this helpful website for even MORE awesome, wise ways to save money and drastically reduce waste!
THANK YOU FOR YOUR EFFORTS! Please share these tips far and wide--together, we can and do make a difference in helping this one and only planet we call home!
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The information in this article is for educational use, and not intended to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should not be used as such.