70 years ago in 1950, we had 2.5 billion people living on Earth and we produced 1.5 million tons of plastic. Now, in 2016, according to data from the UN, there are over 7 billion people on Earth producing over 300 million tons of plastic waste. The sheer amount of plastic produced over the last few decades end up in the oceans washing up onto beaches, settling onto the ocean floor, or floating around in the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. Ultimately, this plastic waste affects marine plants, is ingested by animals, and works its way up the food chain and onto our dinner tables.
Fortunately, the United Nations and countries from around the world are waking up to this danger and have taken steps to combat the threat. For example, Indonesia is committed to reducing marine litter by 70% by 2025 and Canada is set to ban harmful single-use plastics by 2021. Private businesses are also taking action with many grocery stores now charging for plastic bags or taking steps to go green. Companies such as The ReFrame Group have gone a step further and gotten certified as a B Corporation entering a legal framework that reinforces their committed to taking care of their workers, community, customers, and environment.
While all this is good, to really move the needle on this issue requires small incremental actions from everyone in our daily lives. It takes conscious practice and setting the intention to do so.
In the office and at home, Trusted Union is also taking steps to reduce our reliance on single-use plastics. Here are 9 hacks my family has tested at home to help you go green, become a conscious consumer, and avoid single use plastics.
If you’re like most people, part of your regular shower routine involves using a plastic Q-tip to clean out your ears either before or after you shower. Over the course of a single year, think about how many bits of plastic you are throwing away!
Bamboo is a great alternative to plastics in certain applications for a few reasons:
- It is a sustainable self-generating resource. Bamboo is actually a fast growing grass that is highly versatile, renewable and can be harvested annually.
- Bamboo can grow in a diverse range of environments and can even be used to repair depleted soils. It also does not require any fertilizers or pesticides to grow. While it primarily grows in Asia, it can actually be grown anywhere in the world!
Another great modification you can make to your bathroom is using a bamboo toothbrush. Dental professionals recommend that you replace your toothbrush about every 3-4 months to ensure that you are getting the deepest cleaning possible. But one again, you are adding to the amount of single-use plastics that you are discarding each year.
My wife and I have been experimenting with a number of different bamboo toothbrushes including a few models from Colgate but the one we like the most are from a company called GoWoo. Unlike other bamboo or wooden toothbrushes, these ones are 100% natural and water resistant. That means they will last the full 3-4 months without you needing to take the extra step of drying the handle after each use.
Biodegradable Bin Liners
Another major source of plastic waste from individual households is bin liners or garbage bags. There are many options here but I would suggest staying away from anything made of either virgin or recycled plastic. If you really want to reduce plastic waste, you should look for 100% recyclable or biodegradable bags like the ones made by UNNI Compostable or OKKEAI.
We have tested out quite a few brands at home and these are our favourite because of the strength and durability.
Sandwich Bags & GLAD Wrap
This is another big one if you have children and you pack their school lunches. If you think about all the wrappers and plastic bags used in a typical school and then multiply that by the number of school days in a year, you can see how quickly these all add up.
One great alternative we’ve found to the traditional plastic sandwich bag are these natural bee’s wax wraps by Bee’s Wrap. These wrapping papers are completely plastic free, made from organic cotton and infused with sustainably sourced beeswax, jojoba oil, and tree resin to ensure they remain waterproof and safe for your children. If that wasn’t good enough, these wraps are also completely washable and reusable which means you’ll save money in the long run versus buying single-use plastic bags or cling film.
Bee’s Wrap is also a certified B Corporation.
Contact lenses are made with a special oxygen permeable plastic that doesn’t fully degrade. Instead, the polymers break down into smaller micro plastics which are the most dangerous kind as they are easily ingested and infiltrate the entire food chain.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a more sustainable or eco-friendly alternative for contact lenses at the moment but there are still little adjustments we can make in our lives to minimize the damage.
Depending on where you live, you might be able to place your used contact lenses back into the blister package and place it into the recycling bin. If that’s not possible, then instead of flushing the lenses down the toilet or sink, you should throw them into the garbage bin so they stay sequestered on land and don’t end up in the ocean.
Dog Poop Bags
This is another big one if you have pets. Most dogs need to poop 1-4 times a day and if you use 1 bag each time, you can quickly see how this will add up. To help reduce the amount of plastic waste produced by your household, look into using plant-based dog poop bags such as those created by Doggy Do Good.
These bags are a favourite of ours because not only are they biodegradable and compostable, they are also thicker than most other plastic dog poop bags which means they do a better job at controlling odours.
Biodegradable Dental Floss
Looking around our house, we noticed that most of the single-use plastics we are throwing away come from either our kitchen or our bathroom so this is another important one. Dental floss is an important part of any oral care routine but the downside of course is that it produces a lot of plastic waste that is small and difficult to filter out. This means it is more likely to end up in our oceans.
We tried out many alternatives but the one we found that works best is this vegan biodegradable bamboo charcoal dental floss made my Me.MotherEarth. Not only does it do a great job of cleaning in those tough to reach spaces, the peppermint oil infusion is very refreshing and leaves your mouth feeling clean and fresh.
Another great non-vegan option is to use silk floss.
Reusable Shopping Bags
This is an easy one that everyone should be doing already. When going out on a grocery run, make sure you bring your reusable shopping bag with you. Not only will this save you money on bag fees, it will help save the environment.
One difficulty people have with this is simply remembering to bring their bag. My recommended hack here is to have multiple bags stored away in your work bag, car, backpack, etc. That way even if you are buying groceries on your way back from work, you’ll always have a reusable shopping bag on you.
Another alternative for when you forget your reusable shopping bag is to pick up a few Distinctive Action’s water-soluble shopping bags. My friend Flavian runs the company and we have 300 of his bags sitting at home and in the office to use in emergencies when we don’t have our cotton reusable shopping bags with us. They make “plastic” shopping bags and garment bags that dissolve in hot water meaning they produce literally 0 waste. They are so novel that I’ve even been giving them away to friends, clients, and business partners. Drop by the office if you want one!
Traditional Double Edged Safety Razor
Another major source of plastic waste that is easy to eliminate is plastic disposable razors. Instead, we have started using traditional-style double edged safety razors such as those created by Bambaw. Not only are we saving on plastic waste and waste in general, I am getting a better shave than I ever have and saving money. Instead of buying a bunch of cheap disposable razors, I’m spending slightly more than I would on 1 pack of disposables on 1 longer-lasting razor. This is one of those rare times when making a decision that’s good for the environment is also good for your pocket book.
These are a few things we’ve been experimenting with at home and found useful. I hope these recommendations can help you on your journey to going green and reducing your reliance on single-use plastics.
Bonus Tip: Compost
This is a bonus tip because not everyone in Hong Kong will have enough room at home to do it. But this is something we are starting to do at home and we estimate that our household will have 30% less waste going to landfills annually as a result. We’re using the compost we produce to grow vegetables like tomatoes, runner beans and cucumbers on the roof. Any compost we don’t use in soil, we give to our neighbours.
There are a lot of different composting devices to help you get started, but at home, we are using the DIY method. We purchased a composting bin online, lined it with torn newspapers, some soil, and then our food scraps. Over time, we slowly add more and more soil and newspaper to cover up the food and stir at least once a day to aerate the mixture. Within a few weeks, you’ll have nutritious compost that is ready to use.
Starting your own compost bin can be a bit tricky and takes some experimentation to get right. If it’s too wet, it will start to smell; but if it’s too dry, it will start to break down. To help control odours, try to find an outdoor space to compost your food waste or use an enclosed container. Good luck!