Remember when paper or plastic was the question at check out? At the time, plastic shopping bags were considered to be an innovative, inexpensive, earth-friendly alternative, as we were now “saving trees.” Initially considered to be the mark of the environmental fanatic, reusable shopping bags are now available everywhere, as individuals are realizing that plastic bags have their own environmental cost. Between 500 billion and one trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year, of which, only 1 percent are recycled. (Incidentally, it costs much more to recycle and process a plastic bag than it costs to simply make a new one). The rest end up in landfills, dumped into the oceans or blown about as litter. This environmental impact has prompted cities such as San Francisco and Oakland and some countries to heavily tax or ban their use altogether.
How can the average family continue to reduce its landfill contributions after ditching the plastic grocery bags? Here are some simple, clever suggestions that are convenient enough to become part of a busy family’s “green” routine.
Eliminate juice boxes and plastic water bottles.
Each year, the average American consumes the contents of 168 plastic bottles. A family of four could easily spend in excess of one thousand dollars per year on bottled water. From a purely economical standpoint it makes sense to make the switch to reusable metal bottles, which in addition to water, can be used for juice or sport drinks.
Today, there are many companies making attractive metal water bottles. However, not all are created equal. Be willing to spend a few more dollars for a high quality bottle and you will be rewarded with years of use. Look for an aluminum bottle with a leach-free inner coating or food grade stainless steel. Reputable brands will use high quality lead-free paints or powder coated finishes. Some product lines have interchangeable lid systems that can grow with a child from the toddler sippy cup stage through elementary school and beyond.
Banish sandwich baggies.
Opt for containers made specifically for sandwiches or other leftovers. A fun up-and-coming option is the tiffin. Originating in India, it consists of 2 or 3 interlocking stainless steel modules designed to hold a variety of foods, including liquid items. Many come with a carrying bag, allowing the addition of cold packs.
Buy in bulk and repackage.
Several grocery stores offer snack items such as dried fruit, crackers and pretzels in bulk, often at a significant discount over the same items’ prepackaged versions. Repackage in your own reusable containers, eliminating all those plastic wrappers and cardboard boxes. This strategy works great for cheese and seasonal fresh fruits and veggies as well.
Cloth napkins are not just for fancy restaurants anymore.
Inexpensive cloth napkins eliminate a guaranteed source of garbage and work much more effectively than their paper counterparts, as they tend to be larger and more absorbent. Cheery kid-friendly options are becoming quite popular.
Don’t want to send the family silver to school with little Susie?
Choose bamboo instead. Bamboo is an extremely fast-growing, highly renewable resource. It grows without pesticides or fertilizers and requires no replanting. Utensils made from bamboo are highly durable and stain-resistant.
These tips, in addition to promoting greener living, have personal economic and health benefits. They work for the entire family for day-to-day lunches or special summer picnics. Do not worry if you are not 100 percent waste free. Remember, everyone has their own personal “shade of green”, and every little change makes a difference.