For many years I thought I was doing so much for our environment by recycling. I would diligently sort my trash and put the recyclables in the blue bin for pick up on Wednesdays. Sadly, only 9% of all the plastic ever produced has been recycled. And the equivalent of a truckload of plastic enters the ocean every minute.
One day I decided to walk about a mile to meet my friend for lunch. It was a stunning day in San Francisco, the city by the bay, with blue skies and a nice light wind. As I walked and took in the beauty of my lovely and progressive city, I also notice a piece of plastic trash on the curb and then another and then another. In fact, on one city block, on just one side of the street I saw nine pieces of plastic trash which included a dental floss pick, a plastic sandwich bag, two Starbucks plastic cups, Starbucks plastic straw, a coffee lid + two plastic meal containers. Some of these items were hopefully disposed of in a recycling bin and some where just left as trash on the sidewalk. Sadly, as those bins get collected, trash does blow out either before entering the truck or while in transit. We also have the problem of people scavenging the bins and commonly littering on the sidewalk as they do it. As I walked this block of San Francisco, it weighed heavy on me that this block was just a few short blocks from our Bay which empties into our ocean twice daily. Even if you don’t live close to the water, all our water ways in the world ultimately feed to the ocean and this is how the equivalent of a truckload of plastic enters the water every minute. This was my epiphany and my motivation to start my own blog and share what I am doing, with the hopes of inspiring others to join the mission of using less plastic.
While recycling is part of the solution it is much lower on the list of what you should be trying to do first. By implementing the 5 R’s of Zero Waste, you want to refuse, reduce and reuse before you get to recycling. Recycling should come when there are no alternatives after adopting the first 3 Rs.
The 5 Rs of Zero Waste
Refuse- The goal here is to turn down freebies and where possible refuse to use plastic. A sticker here, a tshirt there, a free bottle of a promotional product all add up over time. Many times these are just things that you may not really need and end up in landfill or donated.
Reduce- If you are like me, you may have lots and lots of stuff. Your draws, cabinets and closets are just filled to the brim and you purge when you buy one more thing to make room for that one more thing. Try to question weather you really need that extra item and try to simplify what you already have.
Reuse + repair- This could be the easiest place to start. It was for me! Refuse to use single use plastic like plastic bags, plastic bottles, utensils + coffee cups + lids. Instead, make a mission to carry a simple set of 3 to 4 items to include a reusable water bottle, bamboo utensils, reusable coffee mug and a reusable bag. You will be amazed at how much less plastic you use. I did a 9 day trip traveling over the entire country and never used one single use bottle, coffee cup/ lid or utensils! Repair items when possible rather than replace them.
Recycle- And then sometimes, you just can’t avoid plastic. Why? Because it is everywhere and so difficult to avoid. For example, if you love to eat yogurt, what do you do? First opt to buy a multi-serve container. I am actually playing with making my own yogurt but more on that in a later blog! Whatever plastic containers that cannot be avoided, make sure you recycle those. If you have an option between a glass jar or plastic, choose glass and see if you can reuse the glass jar. For example, I love pickles. Some come in glass and some come in plastic jars. I will always choose the glass jar over plastic.
Rot (compost)- This one was a big hurdle for me. I was so worried about how it would smell and if my partner would be on board. Well, it has been amazingly easy to convert to composting in our kitchen. We have a really nice compost bin that we probably empty out every other day. It has been a few months and we have yet to experience and bad smells. We are fortunate to live in San Francisco and access to Recology as our waste management system. I would encourage you to look at your local resources to understand what can be placed in each bin as it varies widely from place to place.
My recommendation is to start with one section of the 5 Rs with Reuse being probably one of the easiest. Think about the single use plastic you do use regularly and think about what alternative you can find that is reusable. Find 3 items to start with and see how it goes. There are many reusable alternatives to single use. Once you tackle the first 3, move on to identify and work on the next 3.
Images of my beautiful walk and the sad plastic trash along the way.