I Stopped Throwing Things Away to Help Save The Planet

Consuming has consistently become more and more convenient in the United States, but along with this miracle of ease comes a much uglier problem: garbage. 

The United States Environmental Protection Agency reported in 2013 that the average American went through 4.4 pounds of waste a day, over double the global average. 

The fact of the matter is that modern humans, especially Americans, are wasteful. Purchasing one-use items out of convenience has become a habit, but there are ways to break it. 

For the last two years, I have stepped out of my comfort zone, taken leaps to change my ways and test just how much of my own material waste I could reduce. Some efforts were successful, while others flopped. Here are the easy habits and hacks I have fully integrated into my much greener lifestyle.

Reusable water bottles and fabric grocery bags

Among the most basic of substitutions is the reusable water bottle and the fabric grocery bag. Elementary school teachers used to preach about these on Earth Day, and we probably should have listened. The environmental movement Ban the Bottle said approximately 38 billion plastic water bottles go to waste in America each year. Along with this, consistently buying single-use plastic bottles of water is not cost-efficient.

“The recommended eight glasses of water a day, at U.S. tap rates equals about $.49 per year; that same amount of bottled water is about $1,400,” according to Ban the Bottle.

While plastic grocery bags are not breaking the bank, they are rapidly polluting the earth. In addition to the environmental benefits, a canvas tote is far more stylish than a crumply Kroger bag, and water bottles look great decked out in vinyl stickers.

Reusable cutlery 

The next big step I took was the adoption of reusable cutlery. From the time I got them, I have always carried my bamboo fork and spoon with me wherever I go. Since being in college, I eat out with my meal swipes almost twice a day. Two plastics forks a day for five days a week is 10 wasted forks, and so on. These numbers add up, so the smallest changes can make a difference. 

Menstrual cups

Now it is time to get weird. I use a menstrual cup, and take me seriously when I say, it is one of the greatest things to happen to me. Not familiar? The menstrual cup is an alternative to tampons and pads and does exactly what you think it does. They come in various sizes, are made of a soft, non-harmful materials and are completely reusable. Period-havers know that menstrual products are expensive. They are also not great for the environment. For me, not only was the menstrual cup an important component to my quest, but has also totally changed my perspective of my period for the better. 

Just say no

The best habit I developed was learning to say, “no thank you!” A lot of human waste is the product of pure convenience; life actually goes on quite easily without it. If a cashier asks to bag a small purchase or a waitress asks if the table wants straws, just say, “no thank you.” They are asking for a reason! 

The key to living a successfully green lifestyle is conscious consumption. Become aware of how much you are wasting and see what you can cut down on. Get familiar with the rules of recycling. Remember, small lifestyle changes are impactful.