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Did you know...
Each year, 2.12 billion tons of waste is dumped globally? If all of this waste was put on trucks, they would go around the world 24 times. The Global Footprint Network has measured that we are pushing the Earth 75% above what it can sustain, in terms of resource use and waste generation.
The Earth contains our food, our water, our air, and our home. Every single thing you buy has a global consequence. It's estimated that by 2030, we will need the equivalent of two planet Earth's to support our consumption of products and services. This is a scary fact, but it's our reality. Our planet needs us to take care of her now more than ever.
What is the zero-waste movement?
The zero-waste movement is a great initiative that influences people to make better, more conscious choices. This includes composting, saying no to plastics, and purchasing organic. It also includes using reusable options instead of single-use, minimizing shower times, and so much more.
What is exceptionally great about the zero-waste movement is that it doesn't need to be an "all-or-nothing" approach. You can customize it to suit you and your lifestyle. If many people take small eco-friendly actions, it will have a big impact.
An eco-friendly kitchen
There is a sustainable alternative to every item in your kitchen. Think about it: the first synthetic plastic was created a little over 100 years ago. Our ancestors shopped, cooked, and cleaned consciously and less wastefully, which means you can too.
Have a look around your kitchen. What do you see? Chemical-induced cleaning supplies in plastic bottles? Produce in the fridge wrapped in plastic bags? Dozens of condiment bottles or packaged foods, once again wrapped in plastic? Antibacterial single-use wipes? Single-use paper towels, napkins, coffee filters, Ziploc bags, or parchment paper? Do you have a compost bin?
Sure, all of the above products are convenient but is the convenience really worth putting our planet at risk or at stake?
Here are zero-waste actions to get you started
It's time to ditch plastic, single-use items, and get creative with these easy planet-saving tips.
1. Compost all organic matter, never throw it in the garbage
When disposed of in the garbage, food scraps and other organic matters (things that were once living) end up in landfills with hundreds of thousands of other materials. Oxygen is needed for compost materials to decompose but when surrounded and suffocated by other substances, they lie stagnant with no ability to decay. This produces methane, a greenhouse gas that speeds up global warming. However, composting allows for oxygen to be present, therefore, no methane is released into the atmosphere.
Composting involves taking all organic matter and adding it to the soil. Microorganisms, such as bacteria and worms, eat it then excrete it out as an odourless and safe fertilizer for plants. You can compost yourself in your yard or you can participate in your town or city's composting program.
2. Switch all your kitchen supplies to zero-waste alternatives
Plastic-free, biodegradable dish sponges or brushes
Why are yellow and green dish sponges terrible for the environment? They are made of plastic! Every time you scrub your plate, tiny particles (microplastics) come off the sponge and join the water that rushes into our waterways. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization estimates that 14 million tons of micro plastics exist in the ocean. This harms aquatic life, as they often mistake these plastic particles for food.
The green part of the sponge is made of polyester or nylon. These are non-recyclable and non-biodegradable materials, made from non-renewable fuel (such as oil and gas). Billions of these non-biodegradable sponges have accumulated in landfills contributing to our world waste problem.
Plastic-free and biodegradable sponges do just the same job as any other sponge would. However, unlike the green and yellow sponges, they fully decompose when we compost them. You can find natural plant-based sponges with natural antimicrobial ingredients like bamboo, lavender, or tea tree oil in many health food stores.
Some great plastic sponges or brush alternatives are:
Natural cellulose sponges. These are a great, biodegradable alternative made from wood fibres. It's important to make sure the sponge is made of 100% cellulose, with no fibres like polyester.
Cotton sponges with hessian or burlap. A sponge made with these materials makes it soft on one side, and scrubby on the other. Many eco-friendly sponges contain a bamboo lining, which is a natural antimicrobial. This makes it a green way to help get rid of germs. These sponges can usually be washed as needed, prolonging their life to about 6 months if used every day.
Bamboo brush with coconut fibres. These bristles are made with coconut fibres, normally wrapped around a stainless steel wire. The brush and bristles can be composted, while the wire can be recycled.
Wooden brush with sisal fibres and a replaceable head. The fibres on this brush are made from Agave Sisalana plant, which is an extremely versatile plant similar to hemp. The head of the wooden brush can be composted and replaced with a new one.
Tip: It's important to be aware of what you're purchasing because not all labels deemed "eco-friendly" are true. Look for sponges or brushes made from 100% natural materials.
Eco-friendly all-purpose cleaner
Most all-purpose cleaners are filled with harmful pollutants such as ammonia, nitrogen, and phosphorus. You should have a look at your other household cleaners like degreasers, floor cleaners, and disinfectant cleaning supplies because they're likely in there, too.
When you use an all-purpose cleaner to wipe down your countertop (and everything else) then you proceed to rinse your cloth, these chemicals are rinsed down the drain and contaminate our waterways. Ammonia, nitrogen, and phosphorus are water-soluble, meaning they dissolve in water. This makes it very difficult for it to be filtered out of drinking water. These chemicals accumulate in the oceans, causing a toxic buildup in internal tissues and blood of marine animals, with the potential to lead to death.
Green cleaning involves avoiding chemicals and pollutants. This is better for the environment, and also better for your health as you aren't breathing in fumes of toxic products.
My favourite all-purpose cleaner is a concentrate made by PURE. Simply put a drop of the concentrate in a reusable spray bottle (preferably a glass bottle to avoid micro plastics), then fill the bottle with water. This cleaner is 100% natural, vegan, and biodegradable- making it a great option for both Making your health and the environment. Another great option are all-purpose cleaning tablets by Ola Bamboo.
Tip: The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has created an app called EWG Healthy Living. This is a database that contains over 120,000 food, personal care, and cleaning products. EWG rates these products based on their ingredients, making it extremely easy to narrow down which ones to purchase, and which to avoid. You can also choose to scan products, bringing up the collected information quickly.
Biodegradable dishwasher tablets
Is your dishwasher detergent safe? Sure, dishwashing liquids and tabs keep your dishes clean, but most do an awful job at keeping the ocean and your health clean. Many of the toxic ingredients in your dishwashing liquid or tablets are made of petrochemicals and harm the environment and aquatic species.
Common and dangerous ingredients found in dishwashing detergents are:
Triclosan: strong evidence shows that this ingredient is very toxic to aquatic life, causing long-lasting health effects; in humans, decreases thyroid hormone levels, impairs cardiac and muscle function, alters endocrine function, and decreases immunity
Ethanolamine: this substance causes high chronic toxicity ti aquatic life and causes central nervous system depression as well as respiratory and skin irritation in humans
Formaldehyde: this is a well-known carcinogen and can also cause skin irritation, allergies, and damage to organs
Sodium borate: known to damage fertility and cause damage to unborn children, causes endocrine disruption, as well as respiratory and skin irritation
For your health, this is not good. Your dishes are getting cleaned with hazardous chemicals, then you and your loved ones eat your food off these toxic plates and bowls with chemical-covered utensils. The accumulation of such toxic exposure and ingestion can lead to allergies, diseases and illnesses including cancer, general systemic/organ effects, respiratory problems, skin irritation, and more. Similar concerns go for the environment. These chemicals cause acute aquatic toxicity which is killing marine life and coral reefs- their homes. It's time we let the fish live in peace!
If you have your dishwashing detergent bottle in hand, looking to see if any of these harmful ingredients are listed, don't bother. Cleaning products are not legally required to carry a list of ingredients.
Check out The Unscented Company for clean, non-toxic and affordable dishwashing detergents (liquid soap and tablets) - and so much more!
Good news: sure, there are some not-so-good products and companies out there that should be avoided but, there are also some great ones. Check out your local refill/zero-waste store. These stores care deeply about people's health and the environment. Below is a list of a few refill stores worth checking out (warning: you will want to spend all of your money there):
If you know of a refill store that isn't listed above (no matter where you live), please send them my way so I can add them to the list!
3. Use reusable produce & grocery bags instead of single-use plastic
It's about time we 100% ditch plastics.
The problem with plastic bags is that they start as fossil fuels, then end up in our oceans and harm aquatic animals. Over 100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic bags annually. Birds and sea creatures have different senses than humans and easily mistake plastic bags for food because for them, it looks, feels, smells, and sounds like food.
Plastic bags are made from non-renewable fossil fuels like gas and petroleum. Since the majority of plastic bags cannot be recycled, it's necessary to continuously manufacture them. It takes roughly 12 million barrels of oil to produce a 1-year supply of plastic bag and, at our current global rate of petroleum use, oil is estimated to run out by 2068.
Every single plastic bag you have used in your life still exists today. Plastic bags are used for an average of 12 minutes then thrown away. Since most can't be recycled, they take up space in landfills and become micro plastics over time, continuing to pollute the environment.
Reusable bags can be an easy alternative to cut out plastic ones. If you're someone who likes to place produce in bags rather than directly into your cart, reusable produce bags are available for purchase in many stores, especially health food or refill stores.
4. Switch to zero-waste coffee & tea
Disposable coffee cups are a huge issue! Every minute, 5000 coffee cups are disposed of. That's over 2.5 billion coffee cups per year. Some are recycled, some aren't. The outer layer of your single-use coffee cup may be made of paper, but the inner layer is made of polyethylene plastic.This is to keep the cup waterproof and from going soft.
For these cups to be recycled properly, the plastic lining must be removed which is an extremely difficult process that most recycling companies don't bother with. This means that one cup of coffee or tea used for a few minutes ends up sitting in landfills for centuries.
Invest in a reusable travel mug and make coffee or tea at home when you can
Making your hot beverage at home would be ideal. Some coffee shops will continue to make your beverage in their own cups then pour it into your reusable mug. This is for them to stay consistent in their drink measurements.
Use reusable or compostable pods in your single-cup coffee machine
Just like coffee cups, coffee pods aren't doing the environment any good. One in three homes have a pod-based coffee machine, and the number of coffee pods sitting in landfills could wrap around the planet more than 10 times. Don't worry, I'm not about to tell you to get rid of your coffee machine. Although, I will recommend considering switching to a coffee company that offers biodegradable and compostable pods. Another option is to purchase a refillable/reusable coffee pod. You simply fill the pod with ground coffee and place it in your coffee machine, as you would with single-use pods. These are not thrown away after use and can easily be washed.
Use reusable coffee filters and tea bags
If your at-home coffee machine doesn't have a reusable filter, there are cloth filters available made of organic cotton. Same with tea bags! These work just as well and can be used over and over again. Making the switch to a reusable option definitely helps reduce waste but it also saves you money. How nice would it be to never spend money on plastic water bottles? Or parchment paper? Or muffin cups, straws, napkins, paper towels, and plastic sandwich bags? Many companies offer reusable options for everyday kitchen accessories.
Most health food stores carry such items, or you can browse websites like Ola Bamboo, The Unscented Company, Cheeks Ahoy, Zero Waste Mvmt, HealthNut Shop, and more. Sure, single-use options are convenient, but convenience will not help our global waste problem- nor your bank account.
5. Reusable kitchen accessories
Some other great and simple alternatives for a zero-waste kitchen are:
6. Think before you buy
Follow the 7 R's of sustainability:
Rethink how you view natural resources as every choice you make has an impact on the environment and your health.
Refuse to support products and companies that pose a threat to the environment.
Reduce the number of resources in your everyday life, such as energy and water usage, and overall waste.
Reuse and upcycle. How can you make the most of a product you have purchased? Can you create something from it?
Repair items that no longer work or are broken. Instead of disposing of an item, how can it be repurposed?
Recycle consciously. Look into your town or city's recycling program to ensure you are recycling properly.
Rot, or compost. Be attentive to what you are throwing away- can this be composted and turned into nutrient-rich fertilizer?
Keep in mind that there's no need to be perfect at reducing your environmental impact. Every single action counts. If 2 million people stop purchasing their morning coffee in a disposable cup, that's 2 million fewer cups in our landfills per day.
As Anne-Marie Bonneau once said: "We don't need a handful of people doing zero-waste perfectly. we need millions of people doing it imperfectly."
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