Breaking-up with Plastic Cutlery is Easy with this Simple Advice

It’s week seven of 52 Weeks for Earth, the 52-week challenge to gradually reduce your impact on the planet. And this week’s challenge is an easy one! Let’s quit using plastic cutlery, by bringing reusable cutlery with you.

Already we’ve quit the habits of single-use plastics like straws and coffee cups, so extending that too plastic cutlery should be too far a stretch. Like with quitting those disposables, all it takes is a little forethought and pre-planning. Simply replace all those single-use cutlery items you might use in a week, (each with a life span of hundreds of years on the earth) with their reusable metal counterparts.

You can pick up cheap single pieces of cutlery from the thrift store. Choose something small, so it can fit into whatever bag you’re taking, or even a pocket. What utensils you’ll need depends of what you eat. I, for example, carry a small flat-screen fork with me, and a straw. The flatness means it can occasionally be used with softer foods, in place of a spoon, and anything too liquidy I would either use my straw, or just drink out of the container. I also don’t eat meat, so I don’t find need for a knife on-the-go, but add one to your pack if you think you do.

Multi-tools like a camping utensil might be useful to you, but I warn that these items can sometimes prove less convenient and functional than the individual items. I also encourage you to choose products purchased second-hand and plastic free.

Plastic cutlery is not recyclable and is one of the top disposable plastics contributing to polluting our oceans and filling landfill. Luckily, it’s an easy item to go without when you come prepared with a reusable cutlery alternative. Remember to refuse disposable cutlery when you make your food order or are picking up your food. Doing so might feel a little awkward at first, but just remember you request to go plastic-free doesn’t just go unheard, hopefully one day the businesses we frequent will make the eco-choice to stop using plastic cutlery and disposables altogether!

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All that Plastic Packaging Might not be as Recyclable as you Thought

It’s week six of 52 Weeks for Earth, the 52-week challenge to gradually reduce your impact on the planet. Over the past four weeks we’ve talked about plastic and some of the many terrible impacts it’s thoughtless consumption has on our planet. So, it should come as no surprise that we’ll continue to reduce our consumption of plastics. This week, we’ll start choosing products that are, or come packaged in, recyclable materials; like glass, metal and paper, over plastics.*

So many of the products available to us come wrapped in plastic packaging, we don’t often stop to consider how wasteful and excessive this packaging can be, or consider the long-term impacts that buying so much plastic can have, on the planet, and our health. There’s a lot of misunderstandings and assumptions about the plastic recycling process out there, and its over-consumption has normalised the problem for the majority of people.

Plastic is not truly recyclable, it’s quality grade is decreased in the process. For example, under average recycling processes, clear plastics, like water bottles and food containers, once sent to recycling won’t have every label and food scrap removed, meaning that when it’s all combined, it’s not so clear anymore. In today’s consumerist culture, this non-clear plastic makes it harder to sell the product inside, so it’s not reused for its original purpose; AKA not truly recyclable.

Lightweight plastics, like your average chip wrapper of pasta packet is a lot harder to recycle. Some grocery stores collect certain thinner plastics, like plastic grocery bags, but again the plastic grade is decreased in this process. There’s far less demand for recycled plastics, so these usually become products such as door mats, park benches and textiles, which all eventually end up in landfill.

Virgin plastic must continue to be produced en mass to keep up with the current demands, using huge quantities of petroleum and other resources to do so.

To reduce the amount of plastic waste you produce you can make a conscious effort to choose products that come in glass, metal and paper over its plastic alternative. You may be sacrificing the best deal possible, but if you can afford it, it feels a lot better than sacrificing the planet to save a buck.

Glass and mental are the best options for products and packaging, as they can both be fully recycled to what they once were. Paper is also a better choice than plastic, as it’s compostable, but it’s also not truly recyclable. Again, greater resources have to go in to the production of paper, and there’s less demand for recycled paper products. But, choosing products made of actual recyclable paper (not just paper that’s been printed with a brown texture for greenwashing) is a good way to show manufactures there is a demand for it.

If you can’t find an alternative to a product which doesn’t come wrapped in plastic consider whether you need to buy that product in the first place. Is there a way you can make it yourself, buy from the bulk sector, or from a local producer (like a bakery, for example) that you can buy from without the plastic?

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Are Plastic Bags Really the Legacy You Want to Leave on Earth?

It’s week five of 52 Weeks for Earth, the 52-week challenge to gradually reduce your impact on the planet. This week we’re tackling the last of the ‘big four’ plastic polluting items; plastic bags. It’s time to start bringing reusable bag to put an end to wasteful plastic bags.

Perhaps the ultimate symbol of our throwaway culture, plastic bags, like those you get from the grocery store, are used around the world in such alarming rates; about 2 million plastic bags are used worldwide EVERY MINUTE. And each bag is used for an average of just 12 minutes; the time it takes for you to carry that bag from the store to your car and then to your house. But that 12-minutes-of-convivence bag will actually exist on Earth for up to 1000 years. Far longer than all of us. Is 300 1000-year-old bags per year of your life really the legacy you want to leave behind?

Each of these bags are made of petroleum, and 8% of  our total oil supply goes to making plastic. It’s estimated only 3% of plastic bags are being recycled, the rest going to landfill, or their lightweight nature makes them easily taken by the wind or water outside of that intended destination. Instead littering our streets and countryside, eventually making their way into waterways and finally the ocean. Once there, plastic bags are easily mistaken for food by marine life, such as sea turtles; up to 86% have already been affected by plastic. More than 44% of all seabirds have ingested or become entangled in plastic. And tragically, this figure is predicted to rise to 99% by 2050.

Luckily there’s movements around the world to reduce the consumption of bags, either by charging a fee per bag, or banning them altogether. If this isn’t the case in your town, luckily you don’t have to wait for government policy to reduce your use; Bring your own bag, carry what you can, and refuse because you don’t need one. Each reusable bag can eliminate hundreds (if not thousands) of plastic bags, so invest in a hardy natural-fabric bag today, give them as gifts (or as gift wrapping), or just to the stranger behind you in line who’s forgotten theirs.

It’s simple to say ‘no’ to plastic bags, especially when you come prepared with a reusable bag. And when you consider just 20 years of ‘normal’ plastic bag use could equate to up to 6 million total years of life for those bags, the sooner you quit the better for the planet you’ll leave behind.

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P.s. if there’s no action against plastic bags in your community, you can start a movement petitioning your local council or government to ban or start with a tax on plastic bags. Check out this post by 1 Million Women on the subject.

Why you Need to Switch your Bottled Water for Tap Water Today

It’s week four of 52 Weeks for Earth, the 52-week challenge to gradually reduce your impact on the planet. Last week we tackled disposable coffee cups, and this week it’s time to put an end to the rest of your single-use plastic beverage use. Let’s stop buying plastic water bottles!

With the markup of bottled water being up to 3000x the cost of tap water, it seems crazy in the first place that companies have convinced you to pay for the INconvenience of a single-use bottle of water.

This billion dollar industry has terrible impact on our planet. Consider the emissions caused by the production of plastic for bottles, the water bottling process, transportation of water to the factory, and then bottled water to you. Only 20% of water bottles are recycled, the rest go to landfill and have become the 3rd highest item responsible for ocean litter. The industry is also responsible for causing water shortages in the communities they’re bottled in.

So what possible reason could make someone pay this high cost, both financially and impact on the planet, just for bottled water?

A. It’s convenient.

Hardly! The effort taken to purchase a single-use bottle, break the seal, consume before finding a way to dispose of the bottle (hopefully to recycling, where transportation and treatment processes are undertaken for it to be turned into a lower-grade plastic (not used to make more water bottles)), and then having to purchase another bottle next time you’re thirsty surely outweighs the simplicity of just turning a tap to fill your reusable bottle for free whenever and wherever you please.

It takes three times more water to produce a plastic water bottle than it does to fill one.

A. It’s better for you, or it just tastes better.

Bottled water is held to food standards, meaning its factories are checked and regulated far less frequently than modern water treatment plants. Plus, the cheap plastics used for disposal bottles are leaking toxins into the water you’re consuming. If you don’t like the taste of your tap water, try a filtered water pitcher.

22 percent of bottled brands tested contained chemicals at levels above state health limits in at least one sample.

The solution to plastic bottle use is just like your new reusable coffee mug; you just need to get a quality reusable bottle to take your water with you. I encourage you to choose a bottle made of glass or metal, over plastic. This is because they’re truly recyclable materials, and are easier to clean and maintain. But if it’s a plastic BPA-free bottle you already have, use that!

The bottled water industry has some of the worst impacts on the planet. Luckily, quitting this wasteful habit is easy, and even comes free from the tap!

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It’s Time to Start Getting your Coffee Fix To-Go and Guilt Free

It’s week two of 52 Weeks for Earth, the 52-week challenge to gradually reduce your impact on the planet. Following last week’s challenge to quit single-use plastic straws, this week’s challenge is about cutting more single-use waste from your life! It’s time to get a reusable coffee mug, and use it. 

Take away coffee and other to-go beverages are served with plastic single-use lids, which, like straws aren’t recyclable, have a life span hundreds of years longer than yours and are a leading cause of plastic waste littering our oceans.

Not only are the lids sent straight to landfill, but the seemingly paper cups that come with them are actually coated in plastic or wax making them virtually unrecyclable, meaning they too go straight towards our ever-growing landfill problem.

Luckily there’s a simple solution to contributing to this wasteful practice, and that’s to bring your own reusable coffee mug or container when you get you coffee or beverage fix. There’s so many fantastic options on the market in every shape, size and colour, so there’s sure to be a reusable to-go mug out there to suit you. I would encourage you to choose something not make of plastic, as they’re more likely to stain or break and more difficult to repair and maintain. Whatever you choose in the end doesn’t have to be fancy, even a simple glass jar will do the job!

Now that you have your mug, you just need to keep it handy for everyday use. Make it a part of your routine to bring it with you when you start your day, when you head to the coffee shop, and then to be cleaned and put back wherever you will remember to bring it with you next time.

Now, nobody’s perfect and we all forget things at times, or find ourselves in need of an unplanned caffeine fix, if you’re craving a coffee and don’t have your mug on hand I dare you to think creatively for an alternative, like a simple glass jar, or take the time to enjoy your coffee to stay instead. Failing these, if you need to rely on their to-go cups, opt out of a lid, to save this unnecessary single-use plastic.

However you take your coffee to-go, make sure it’s not without thought to the lasting impact the single-use container will have on the planet.

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Let’s admit it, straws suck; it’s time to quit this dirty, ocean-polluting habit

It’s week two of 52 Weeks for Earth, the 52-week challenge to gradually reduce your impact on the planet. As we ease into the challenge here’s another simple change to make; quit using plastic straws.

Generally, so little thought goes into a single straw you probably don’t realize that, based on the consumption of straws in the US, you may have used over 45 straws just in the last month. That 20 minutes of convenience before throwing it to landfill is a small fraction of the hundreds of years they’ll take to break down on earth. During that time, a straw might likely find it’s way into waterways, eventually breaking up into microplastics polluting our oceans and poisoning marine life. Straws are one of the top ten items littering beaches internationally.

So that’s hundreds of years on earth for something you never asked for, and for the most part, never even needed in the first place. The challenge to quit using plastic straws is easy (especially when you replace them when needed with your own personal reusable metal or glass straw), all you need to do is politely ask for ‘no straw’ with your drink order.

The only difficult part of this week’s challenge is remembering; up until now your straw use is probably something you’ve given very little thought to, so to achieve no straws coming your way you’ll have to be diligent. Every single time you order a drink, order it with ‘no straw, please’, loud enough for your server to hear, and register. Even if you’ve asked for just a water and every other table around you doesn’t have a straw in their water glass; if you don’t ask for no straw you’re still quite likely to be given a straw. Trust me, I know this from experience…

Once you commit to no longer using plastic straws you’ll start to notice just how out of control this problem is. The amount of pointless waste is so huge you’ll start wondering how it’s even possible, or legal, in the first place. Luckily there’s groups all over the world working to change that. So if you want to go further than just stopping your own use, you can support one of those, or start a movement in your own community to encourage businesses to stop enabling this bad habit. Or at the least start a conversation with your friends or servers about why you’re opting of no more straws.

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The Easiest Thing you can do to Reduce Your Waste

It’s week one of 52 Weeks for Earth, the 52-week challenge to gradually reduce your impact on the planet. And for the first week we’re starting easy! With the simple challenge to reduce your waste by learning to refuse free things you don’t need. Sounds simple, right? Let’s dive in.

It’s been said that nothing comes free in this life, and I think that’s true of corporate freebies, like promotional pens, and other little knick-knacks companies give out.

To the company producing these items the price the consumer pays is having that brand name planted into their consciousness. But more importantly when you accept this item you never even needed, you become responsible for what happens to it. And when you think of the full lifecycle of an item, that responsibility doesn’t make that item feel so free anymore..

These free items are produced as cheaply as possible, usually made out of plastic with a very short functioning lifespan. Once broken or the gimmickry wears off, the item is usually discarded; banished to a junk drawer to serve no purpose, or thrown in the garbage to end up in landfill, or often, the ocean. These plastic items, taken as flippantly as they are discarded, can actually take about 100 years to decompose.

Each time you’re offered a freebie, think about the fact that it’ll outlive you on this earth, politely refuse the item and if you like, tell them why.

It may seem futile while these items continue to be created en mass, but your choice can make a difference; if a company finds themselves unable to give it away for free, hopefully they’ll take that as hint to stop producing them.

While I’ve used promotional freebies as an example here, there are many other items which we should apply this idea to. Hotel toiletries are another example; you’re not likely to use the whole quantity of a small shampoo bottle, the remainder and plastic container will go straight to landfill. If you think you will need shampoo during your travels, invest in some small glass travel containers and fill with your preferred shampoo, leaving the hotel’s disposable freebies untouched.

Let’s stop using things merely because they come ‘free’; no thing is free from impacting the planet.

What else will you choose to refuse?

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Bonus advice: if you’re responsible for the production of promotional products for your business or company and are sure the company cannot go without, I’d encourage you to think creatively about what people need, the materials it’s made out of, and the full lifecycle of that item.

Items like metal drinking bottles, and well-constructed non-synthetic fabric bags will not only be of continual use to the consumer (longer exposure to your brand name!), but can also reduce their consumption of the disposable alternatives it replaces!

Or, a creative idea could be a printed promotional card with seeds in the paper so the consumer can then plant the item and watch it grow. Include a tearable tab with the plant care information and your logo to place in the soil, to continue your brand exposure. You can also rest easy knowing a compostable item like this won’t outlive you, whether it’s planted or discarded.

52 Things You Can do to Become a Better Environmentalist

This week my company asked me how I will be “celebrating and contributing to Earth Day”, and it got me thinking.. I hadn’t had any special plans for the day, I intended to spend it like any Saturday; skiing in the Rockies, and making each decision with forethought to how it will affect the planet long-term. Just another day, really.

Though, perhaps with the latter, I am an anomaly, but I really hope not. Yes, it’s 2018, so anyone with a good conscious would call themselves an environmentalist. We all care about the planet and want to protect it.

But what do you do for the planet?

I’m happy to hear that you are an avid recycler, always turn off lights when you leave a room, reduce your independant vehicle use, have installed energy efficient bulbs, and of course, turn the tap off while you brush your teeth (seriously though, I don’t get this cliche … did anybody ever really leave the tap running that whole time?! I certainly didn’t, growing up in drought-stricken Australia from ages 4 – 18!).

Let’s be real though, climate change is happening, it was happening when I was 4, and it’s happening today, faster than this planet has ever seen. And while our governments continue to do little about the issue, it’s time to take change into our own hands. Because truly, there’s a lot you can do, and not do, to change your impact on the planet. And when we all make these strives, well, that collectively can really make a change for the better.

So below I wrote a list of things I think anyone can try this year, to reduce their impact. I challenge you to take on a new one each week, for the next year. And we’ll all come back next Earth Day, with less garbage sent to landfill, less plastic in the ocean, and less guilt on our conscious.

  1. Learn to refuse free things you don’t need. Like free pens- they usually stop working within a week anyway.
  2. Quit using plastic straws. Straws live longer than you do! Ask for no straw when you make your drink order, every time! I even carry a metal straw with me, but it’s easy to go without if you’re physically capable of drinking out of a cup.
  3. Get a reusable coffee mug, and use it.   
  4. Stop buying plastic water bottles. Carry a reusable bottle. You’ll save money, I promise.
  5. Bring reusable bags for your grocery shop. Every time. Let it become part of your shopping routine, including returning the bags to your car or by the front door once your groceries are unpacked.
  6. Choose products that come in recyclable materials, like glass and paper, over plastics. Plastic is not truly recyclable, it’s quality grade is decreased in the process. Glass and mental are the best options.
  7. Bring reusable cutlery with you.
  8. Stop using any single-use plastics.
  9. Reduce food waste by creating a meal plan or using a food rescue. Find out if your community has a food rescue program, if it doesn’t you could start your own, or give dumpster diving a try; you’ll be amazed at what our grocery stores throw into landfill!
  10. Eat less meat. Watch Cowspiracy if you need convincing.
  11. Buy local products, and local produceGet along to your local farmer’s market, you’ll be surprised what you can buy locally.
  12. Eat in-season produce or choose organic. It freshest, and tastes best!
  13. Consider growing your own foodHerbs are a great place to start.
  14. Stop putting food waste into landfill. Food waste is a natural part of the food cycle. When food waste is put into landfill without the oxygen to compost naturally, it rots and produces methane, a greenhouse gas much more harmful than carbon dioxide. Find out if you community has a food collection program, like Banff does. If it doesn’t, you could campaign to start one.
  15. Start your own compost. We have a vermicompost (worms) in our laundry room. It’s great because it produces great fertilizer for growing plants and food! Research the different types of compost and find the one right for you.
  16. Buy pantry items from the bulk aisle with your own container. Find a store, or multiple with the bulk items you use. Bring a mason jar, for example, and have the service desk weight it first for the tare (container weight cashier will remove from final weight). Food without the packaging will save you time and money, not to mention the reduction of waste.
  17. Cook a plant based meal. I LOVE Minimalist Baker for easy and delicious recipes for everything!
  18. Read Zero Waste Home by Beu Johnson.  And reread it, and memorise it. TLDR; sticking to the 5 R’s is key to zero waste; Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot.
  19. Become a minimalist. Living with less really can really be more fulfilling.
  20. Get rid of things you don’t need. Don’t throw them out! Rehome them, or donate.
  21. Only buy what you need.
  22. Borrow what you can. Borrow specific tools or appliances from neighbours or find a local tool library!
  23. Buy second hand. Get in that thrift/op shop, or on your local Facebook Buy and Sell group. They’re entertaining at the least.
  24. Use a bike to get around. If you don’t own one you don’t have to, find somewhere to borrow one.
  25. Limit your shower time. Use a timer; less than 5 minutes, or work your way down to 3 minutes.
  26. Get outdoors and enjoy nature (responsibly)! Plan a camping trip, take a hike, or have a picnic. Take a moment to appreciate the environments we’re working to protect.
  27. Stop buying and accepting all plastics. Including styrofoam. It’s time to stop contributing to landfill! Everything else should be recycled or composted.
  28. Bring a container with you to restaurants to take home your leftovers. Save food waste AND single use containers.
  29. Green your social streams. Follow pages like Global Citizen, 1 Million Women and Life Without Plastic, to put some of that time you spend endlessly scrolling to good use, with educational and inspirational content to your newsfeeds.
  30. Maintain your things, and repair things when they break. Owning quality products, made of metal and wood, rather than plastic makes, makes it easier to fix things when they break.
  31. Use public transport. Use the time you’re not in the driver’s seat to read, or just clear your mind and do nothing for once!
  32. Simplify your beauty routine. Despite what beauty companies will tell you, you’re already beautiful, do you really need four creams to maintain that?
  33. Find alternatives to bathroom products without the packaging, or make it yourself! Google knows all the answers.
  34. Buy recycled paper toilet paper, without the plastic packaging. Do you really need bleached paper if it’s going to be going straight down the toilet?
  35. Start using a compostable toothbrush. There’s plenty of great products online, but look to buy locally first!
  36. Stop eating seafood. With current rates of fishing, it’s predicted there will be no fish in the ocean by 2048.
  37. Share your progress with your friends. You should be proud of how far you’ve come.
  38. Plant bee-friendly plants and flowers. Or build a ‘bee hotel’ or bath.
  39. Don’t use pesticides. Find natural alternatives.
  40. Stop using store bought products to clean your home. Vinegar and bi carb soda will clean most things, everything else google will know how to.
  41. Quit buying clothing made of synthetic fabrics. And favour buying all your clothes second hand.
  42. Educate yourself. On climate change, on issues facing your community and country, on your government’s policies and positions, and on the ways climate change is already affecting and displacing people around the world. On whatever matters to you.
  43. Talk to your friends about how easy it is to live with less impact, show them how they can do the same. Challenge them to try 52 Weeks for Earth!
  44. Reduce your heating and cooling by a couple degrees. Put a sweater on before you put the heat on. A few degrees can really reduce your impact
  45. Avoid use and purchase of paper and cardboards. Save the trees, buy packaging-free.
  46. Get involved in issues facing your community or volunteer your time. Whether it’s protecting an ecosystem from development, or just doing a community litter pick- if you can’t find one, organise one!
  47. Commit to a vegetarian or plant based diet. If you didn’t do it earlier and still need a reason for this one, watch Cowspiracy.
  48. Become accepting to refugees. Climate change refugees are going to become one of the biggest issues to face our society in the future as hundreds of thousands of people’s livelihoods is at risk due to climate change.
  49. Carbon offset. Use a carbon calculator to discover your footprint you need to offset. On the brightside, by this point your offset price will be less!
  50. Write your local politician or senator. Whether it’s about a particular policy or issue, or just to tell them that the environment is an issue you and your community care about, and they should too.
  51. Install a solar panel, or other renewable energy source. It’s cheaper than ever, and will save you money!
  52. Celebrate Earth Day by coming up with some more ideas to add to this list! Change doesn’t have to stop this week, should we make it 104 Weeks for Earth?

My hope with this list is that you can adopt a new sustainable lifestyle practice each week. Remember, this isn’t a strict list, you may already be doing some of these, or they don’t apply to you, or you’d like to change the order. If one week doesn’t suit you, I encourage to find your own challenge for that week. You don’t have to do everything, but you do have to do something!

If you’re taking on the challenge I want to hear about it! Comment below, use the hashtag #52WeeksforEarth to share your progress, and follow 52 Weeks for Earth on Facebook. My hope is to extend on each challenge each week, and find a community to share in progress, solutions and ideas!

I know it can be easier to imagine the end of the world, rather than the accretion of incremental, imperceptible changes that form a new one. But I truly believe we have that power in our hands, based on how you choose to live your life.

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