As we look to implement last week’s action to reduce single-use plastic, we talked more this week about how to accomplish that by choosing reusables to replace them. Most of our current “throw-away” lifestyle started as recently as the 1950s when the plastics and chemical industries sold the American public on the convenience of single-use disposable items (read more here). Although breakthroughs in materials also led to life-saving medical equipment and other necessary items that we would never want to go back from, we’re also trashing the planet with totally unnecessary single-use plastics.
Pack Waste-Free Lunches
Children in public schools attend 180 days per year for 13 years. That’s 2,340 lunches, so consider packing a zero waste lunch with a reusable water bottle and reusable containers. If you packed a single-use plastic bottle every day, that’s a mountain of plastic waste over those 13 years and would cost about $234.00. Estimating 3 plastic bags per lunch for a sandwich and snacks is another plastic mountain and would cost another $103.00, before you even get to the cost of the food. And that’s per child! Invest in a water bottle and reusable containers that your child can use for years and you will avoid that plastic mountain and save yourself some money too. Yes, they will need to be cleaned every day, but get some that are easy to clean along with your other dishes, and just think of the plastic you’re keeping out of the environment.
This isn’t just for your child’s lunch though! Consider replacing single-use packaging with reusables anytime you are packing up food – your lunch or dinner for work; a picnic; snacks for your child’s classroom; birthday party treats; holiday treats; etc.
Make the Switch to Rechargeable Batteries
You may think of reusables primarily in terms of water bottles, coffee cups, and shopping bags, but rechargeable batteries are a significant way to save resources, both for the planet and your wallet. Yes, they are a better choice! Rechargeables can be used hundreds or even thousands of times and have “28 times less impact on global warming, 30 times less impact on air pollution, 9 times less impact on air acidification, and 12 times less impact on water pollution!” According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, every year Americans throw out billions of batteries. Alkaline batteries are also no longer recycled in our area because they no longer contain hazardous metals so by choosing rechargeables you can bring them to the YMCA at Virginia Tech Thrift Store recycling station and keep them out of the landfill.
Use Reusables When Buying in Bulk
Sustainable, reusable choices will often save you money too, and buying in bulk in reusable containers from Eats Natural Foods or Annie Kay’s Main St. Market is certainly one of those. You can bring your own clean, reusable containers again (just remember to have them weighed at the checkout before you fill them) and use them to take home a wide variety of staple foods, from spices to beans and grains, nuts and dried fruit, pasta and flour. Need a new spice for a new recipe? You can try it out without buying a full bottle. That’s one of the perks of buying in bulk – you can buy as much or as little as you want. Many other bulk items are the same price or cheaper than packaged brands and you can use the same containers over and over and over again. Reusable AND saves you money sounds like a win-win! EATS even provides sanitized, reusable containers and accepts clean jars for reuse. (Maybe Annie Kay’s does too?)
When entertaining, using reusable dishware can make a big difference in minimizing the waste generated. When Ann Raridon’s daughter was young, she bought juice boxes only one time, for a birthday party, and swore never to do it again because they have so much disposable packaging for only about 1/2 cup of juice. They can also be messy when they get squeezed and juice comes squirting out of the tiny straw. She bought reusable cups with lids and reusable straws and was glad when the kids were old enough to use regular reusable cups. Special disposable partyware only happened once or twice too before she invested in small, sectioned reusable plastic plates and cups that have been used many, many times for birthday parties, play dates and even as side plates for grownup outdoor parties. The kids didn’t miss the themed partyware and often asked if they could take the plates home. They also now have larger reusable plates and cups that they use for outdoor parties and tailgating and they bought reusable utensils from the thrift store so they don’t have to raid the kitchen or risk their everyday utensils being thrown away. Since plastic utensils often break, people really appreciate having “real” utensils to use and no one cares that they don’t match. Yes, it all needs to be washed later, but they can go in the dishwasher and the trash generated is minimal. Try to use what you already have, borrow from a friend or buy secondhand, but even buying new can reduce a lot of waste in the long run if you choose reusables. Read this article to learn more about Sustainable Entertaining.
Switch to Reusable Bags
You may sometimes hear that disposable items are more environmentally friendly than reusables, but claims like that are usually made without considering the full life cycle analysis of the disposables or the fact that many items can be reused hundreds or even thousands of times or the fact that many disposable items are causing catastrophic effects in our oceans and waterways that are hard to measure. However, if we own 20 reusable bags but only use 5, then we’re not getting the full environmental savings of the reusables versus the disposables. That is one reason we are partnering with Share the Spare, the NRV Glean Team and the YMCA at Virginia Tech to put excess reusable bags back into circulation at the Share the Spare booth at Blacksburg Farmers Market. By reusing, we are reducing the need for new materials for new bags. You can pick up a free reusable bag at the Share the Spare booth at the market on Saturdays or drop off clean, good condition bags you want to share with someone else.
According to this article, “Reuse beats single-use on every environmental metric. The science shows that reuse clearly beats single-use in the six environmental metrics where they’ve been compared:
1. Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), or global warming potential (GWP)
2. Water consumption
3. Resource extraction
4. Waste generation
5. Litter generation
6. Plastic pollution”
Week 16 starts tomorrow! Join us as we talk about using secondhand sources for items new to you. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook to see daily updates.