4 Simple Reusable Swaps to Lead a More Sustainable Lifestyle

The average American creates 4.40 lbs of trash a day. Take a moment and think about what you threw away today, what your daily pile of trash might look like if it was sitting in front of you. Can you remember what all of it was?

Maybe there would be some empty takeout boxes or plastic food containers, the plastic fork you ate your lunch with, a paper coffee cup, a plastic straw, and some receipts. Maybe you went shopping or ordered something from Amazon and threw out plastic packaging or torn off price tags.

While the average American creates 4.40 lbs of trash a day, the most frightening element of our daily consumption and waste creation habits is that oftentimes we’re entirely unconscious of our actions. For many people, getting a plastic bag at the grocery store or an iced coffee in a plastic cup never warrants a second thought, and that’s a huge problem, because that plastic bag or cup is probably going to outlive me, you, your kids, your kids’ kids, and their kids too. Whether or not you’re tired of hearing about climate change, that fact should scare you, and you shouldn’t brush it off.

Image source: Unsplash

Increasing our consciousness of what kind of trash we produce and where it comes from is the most important step to reduce it in the first place. Once you develop an increased awareness about how you’re living your life and take notice of your daily consumption habits, you can begin to make smarter, healthier, and more environmentally friendly shifts in the products you use and the everyday choices you make.

These four simple reusable swaps are the perfect starting place for anyone looking to reduce their daily trash production and lead a more sustainable and conscious lifestyle.

1. Reusable water bottle

Image source: Unsplash

If you don’t already have a reusable water bottle, you need to get one ASAP.  Not only are they good for the planet, they’re good for you too. Traditional plastic water bottles are typically made out of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and are highly recyclable but often “downcycled” instead, leaching toxins into soil and water while taking approximately 400 years to decompose. The Guardian notes that as of 2017, one million plastic bottles are purchased around the globe each minute, a number which they predict will continue to rise.

Purchasing and using a reusable water bottle can help you personally reduce your plastic bottle use and overall environmental impact while also keeping you safely and consistently hydrated throughout the day. According to a study done in 2018, microplastics have been found in over 90% of plastic water bottles, meaning that when you’re drinking water from one, you’re drinking tiny pieces of plastic too. Switching to a reusable water bottle can help you stay hydrated with peace of mind. Plus, not having to buy water will help save you money as well.

There are a wide array of popular reusable water bottle brands such as Hydro Flask, Klean Kanteen Nalgene, Contigo, S’well, and countless others, most of which offer fun patterns or colors, making it easy to find one that is functional and aesthetically pleasing. Just make sure whichever one you buy is BPA-free.

2. Reusable travel mug or coffee cup

Image source: Unsplash

If you’re a coffee or tea drinker, it’s a good idea to also invest in a reusable travel mug or coffee cup. Similar to plastic water bottles, single-use paper coffee cups are consumed at insane volumes, at about 50 billion per year in the United States alone, while 250 billion single-use cups are manufactured per year globally. Most (and by most I actually mean 99%) of these cups cannot be recycled as they usually contain a layer of polyethylene, and instead retire to landfills for a decade or more. 

The solution to this problem is simple: make the switch to a reusable travel mug or coffee cup. Like reusable water bottles, there are countless options, including from some of the very same brands, whether you’re interested in metal double-insulated travel mugs or Ecoffee Cups, which are made from natural bamboo fiber, cornstarch, and resin, and come in four sizes and over 100 designs to boot.

Plus, when you use a reusable travel mug or coffee cup, you’ll likely receive a discount on your drink. For example, both Starbucks and Peet’s offers 10 cent discounts for bringing your own cup, while the UC Davis CoHo offers a 25 cent discount — all of which can add up fast and help you save money towards your next cup of coffee.

3. Travel cutlery set

Image Source: Bambaw

While you likely have a set of metal cutlery at home that you use whenever you eat dinner, you probably don’t bring a fork, knife, or spoon to campus with you when you eat breakfast or lunch. Chances are you grab a plastic utensil and set to eating. Now that you’ve made it to item #3 of this article and are getting used to my use of alarming statistics, it probably won’t surprise you that a lot of plastic utensils are used each day, about 100 million in the United States alone.

The good news is that there are plenty of affordable and convenient options for travel cutlery sets that you can keep in your bag so that you won’t need to use plastic utensils when you grab lunch on the go. For example, this set of a bamboo fork, spoon, knife, reusable straw (so you can reduce your plastic straw waste too!) and straw cleaner by Bambaw, a company that specializes in eco-friendly bamboo products such as toothbrushes, makeup remover pads, and more, are only $10 and roll up into a small and easy-to-carry pouch.

4. Reusable shopping bag

Image source: Unsplash

Paper or plastic? The answer should be neither. Whether you’re going to Target or Trader Joe’s, there’s no reason to ask for a single-use bag when you could be carrying your purchases home in a reusable shopping bag. After all, Americans use 100 million single-use plastic bags a year (which take 12 million barrels of crude oil to manufacture) and each one requires at least 500 years to decompose. Not to mention that about 100,000 marine animals die each year due to plastic bags, a fate common to sea turtles that mistake them for jellyfish and eat them.

Additionally, most single-use paper bags or “reusable” plastic bags offered in stores in California cost 10 cents a bag. Investing in several reusable shopping bags, such as canvas totes often sold at grocery stores, is an example of yet another reusable swap that can save you money while helping protect the environment.

Looking for more reusable swaps to make in your lifestyle? 

Consider using tupperware (preferably glass, not plastic), reusable straws (bamboo, silicone, glass — the options are endless), cloth napkins and rags to replace paper towels (easy to make out of scrap fabric), mesh produce bags to use instead of the plastic ones, jars to buy bulk foods and spices, and plenty of other upcycled or DIY products you can often easily make yourself.

There are so many ways to reduce your daily waste, whether you’re drinking from a reusable water bottle or shopping with a canvas tote bag, that can also help you both save money and live a healthier, more conscious life. These four ideas are just the beginning, and there are plenty of online resources provided through campus organizations, zero-waste vloggers on Youtube, and creative sustainable content on Pinterest. The opportunities to lead a more sustainable lifestyle are endless, simple, and affordable, so why not start?