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June 30, 2021

How do we cut down on our use of plastics?

“How do you cut down on your use of plastics?”

This question appeared in my Twitter feed a week or two ago from Elephant Journal’s Waylon Lewis, our favorite magazine editor.

I replied that I don’t buy any, to begin with, and he asked me, “Even with groceries?” and further bade me to elaborate. That’s when I drew a complete blank and gave the dumbest reply I think I’ve ever given—you know how some people kind of shrink when they need to toot their own horn? Yeah, right here, me. I could go off on a tangent on how my mother taught me to be invisible, but that’s another article—maybe.

I’m not always as quick-witted as I’d like to be either. Off the top of my head, my reply to Waylon was that I use a reusable water bottle, cook most everything from scratch, and use canning jars to store leftovers. Lame, right?

I do so much more than that!

I really didn’t think it through, and because Twitter does not have an edit button, after I hit “reply,” it was too late. So, as this sort of thing often goes, I have not been able to get it out of my head. Like ruminating over a recent discussion and what you should have said.

I have always been conscientious about litter, and conservation, and the planet. Maybe it was the scarcity of my childhood that taught me to use things up before throwing them away. Plastics and single-use items were still pretty new then. Or maybe it was the Iron Eyes Cody commercial on our TV when I was a kid.

For 50-something years, I have done what I thought I could do to help.

So, since that question has taken up residence in my brain, I have been paying attention to what I do, and it’s actually a lot.

Here are my 14 ways to live a little more sustainably:

1. Of course, the bare minimum for anyone is to use a reusable water bottle. If for some reason, I don’t have it with me, and unless I am dying of thirst, I won’t buy water in a plastic bottle. I will look for something in glass, and if I have to dump it out, I will in a pinch. I also have a problem with “waste” as a general rule too, so I will try to choke it down before dumping it.

2. As stated, I cook from scratch, which generally means I only shop in the perimeter of any grocery store for fruit and vegetables, meat from the butcher counter, and bulk sections. I make my own jams, salsas, hummus, salad dressings, and barbeque sauce. I don’t use condiments much, preferring the punch of fresh seasonings and ingredients when I can.

3. When I shop, I use canvas shopping bags that I have either sewn myself or have accumulated over the years. I purchased lightweight mesh produce bags that I can also use for bulk items. I really loathe those artificial “cloth” bags that probably cost $.05 to make but are one of the highest profit makers in the store.

4. I live in a condominium complex that won’t spring for a recycling bin, in part because many of my neighbors apparently don’t seem to know the difference between a recyclable item and trash—which I find baffling in these times. So, I save my recyclables—boxes, glass, plastic, et cetera—and will take them to a recycling center periodically. Shocking, right?

5. When I do have to buy something in a plastic container, I will wash it, like “through the dishwasher” wash it, before it goes in my recycling bin, if I can’t reuse it.

6. I rinse out wine and liquor bottles and even wash out bags that contained whatever—with soap and water. This prevents ants and other critters from digging through the bag, which I also reuse before it’s full.

7. I compost, though I have no garden. One of my clients subscribes to a local composting service and when I go to her house, I dump my food scraps in her bin. Another client is collecting coffee grounds—worms love coffee grounds—for her garden so, I bring her mine in recycled zip bags.

8. I don’t use air conditioning. While I am lucky to live in Colorado, I am also grateful we don’t have continuous scorching heat like other areas. Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy having a cool space, but the cost to the environment is just too high, and not necessary here. I open my windows on the north and south at night and use fans to circulate the air. Around 9 or 10 a.m., if a hot day is predicted, I shut all the windows and allow the fans to continue to circulate the now-trapped cooler air. I don’t let doors hang open, and use sheers on my windows to allow for light but without heating up the rooms.

9. I have a lot of plants to clean my indoor air, rather than artificial air fresheners, or even candles.

10. I donate anything useable that I don’t need or want any longer. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

11. I upcycle a lot because I like to tinker. I once built a picnic table out of a deck that fell apart.

12. I clean houses part-time for income and only use truly green products, but mostly things like vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, and soap and water.

13. I preserve, can, or freeze fresh produce in the summer months when it’s cheap and available from local farmers.

14. If I buy things online from a multi-gazillionaire company, I choose the single-day delivery option. I may have to wait a few more days, but it saves on boxes, carbon emissions from the delivery trucks, and how many times I have to arrange to be home to receive my packages, so porch pirates don’t take them. I also remember, “Please allow six to eight weeks for delivery,” from way back when. Pssh, a week is a piece of cake!

All these things and more are baked into my everyday life, which is probably why I couldn’t just think of them to be witty because I take it seriously enough to include them as necessary lifestyle choices. I have a grandchild, and I want her to grow up and experience a better planet than what we dummkopfs have let it degrade to.

They say it takes three weeks to “make” a habit. You have to consciously think about doing something differently.

Do it—it adds up.

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