These days, being eco-friendly, clean, green, sustainable (you name it!) ETC… is “trendy” and capitalism has jumped on the greenwashing band wagon at full speed. The last few months I’ve been posting frequently about the ways I choose to be more sustainable. It appears it’s something new I’ve picked up, however, it’s not. I just wasn’t sure how to talk about it or if anyone else would care to listen. I’m thrilled so many of you have shown interest.
So what started all of this? There were a few key revelations I had:
food, clothing/things, waste.
In 2016 I moved to Barcelona, and I realized a lot about the way Europe lives their life versus the US. They eat REAL food with clean ingredients, cook all the time and enjoy wine at every meal with the people they love. Most people walk everywhere and in turn Europeans are statistically more thin. When you go to the grocery store, hardly anything is covered in plastic or filled with preservatives. How many times did you eat Kraft Mac N Cheese as a kid? Did you know that Kraft is banned in the EU? Why….? Because it’s not real cheese. Let that sink in.
In America, it’s common that family households go to the grocery store every week or so and buy $200-$300 worth of groceries and half of them go bad because you can’t eat it in time. In Europe, you go to the store every 1-2 days and buy what you need (usually just enough that you can carry home). In return, you appreciate every piece of food, and you’re less likely to be wasteful.
When I got back to Texas, I changed the way I shopped and consumed food. I had always eaten pretty healthy, but after my experience abroad, I paid close attention to ingredients and labels as well as the amount of packaging I was consuming.
Right around the time I got back, a book was picking up steam- The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I had seen it around for years but didn’t know anything about it. I began hearing more and more people in the media talk about this book and the ideals of minimalism. Am I a minimalist? Absolutely not, and I will not claim to be. However, I learned SO much from this book, and attribute it to the chain reactions I’ve created in my life towards being more sustainable.
In a nutshell: she is a Japanese woman who specializes in organization. In the Buddhist faith, they believe all things have a soul and you must only surround yourself with the few things that bring you joy, and when you’re done with them, you thank them for what they’ve done for you.
To an American, this sounds silly. It did to me at first, but stay with me. If you think about it, what a beautiful mindset to have when looking at material items. If you ONLY surrounded yourself with the best things that made you happy, maybe you wouldn't be so stressed with the clutter in your homes or all the clothes in your closet you never wear. She argues that you have the power to live a much happier life when you separate yourself from things and only keep what you love. I realized she was so right. We are so obsessed with consumerism and are constantly being bombarded with advertisements convincing us we can only be happy if we buy the next best thing. I was shopping all the time, just because I could and subconsciously believed that I had to. That’s ridiculous.
So I did a purge. I cleaned out my entire house and donated bags and bags of things to local charities in hopes they could bring someone else joy. And then I made a vow, that I would change my methods moving forward.
But amidst all of this, while I felt AMAZING after letting go of so much clutter in my life.. I felt a deeper pull, to do more. The more I learned, I went down a rabbit hole of the destruction our wasteful practices have done to the earth.
I watched documentaries, youtube videos, read articles and books about ways to reduce waste and be more sustainable. The saying goes: Reduce, Reuse and THEN RECYCLE, because in recent news we’ve learned most recyclable items don’t even see their next life, which is really disheartening. So we must take a different angle.
But don’t get overwhelmed yet. For me, it all started with one change: water bottles. I realized what is the point? We pay for water, just to use it one time? Okay maybe we can fill it up a few times, but what is it really good for after that? Absolutely nothing. And how crazy is it that we have to PAY for water? But that’s for another time…
What I took away from all of this: surround yourself with GOOD things. Good, real food. Only buy things you absolutely NEED and LOVE. Invest in products built to LAST and take into consideration the impact you have on this world you call your home. You think you’re just one person, but it’s so much bigger than that.
When you shop, ask yourself these three things:
Where did this come from?
How long will this last?
Where will it end up?
Is this the reality you want for your kids?
“An estimated 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced since the 1950s — that’s equivalent to the weight of more than 800,000 Eiffel Towers. And only 9% of it has been recycled (Global Citizen).”
“The average amount of time that a plastic bag is used…. 12 minutes (Global Citizen).”
“32% of plastic (314 million tons as of 2015) reaches the oceans, where it makes up the world’s garbage patches. In reality, most of the trash in the ocean are identifiable objects, such as trash bags, straws, fishing nets, and plastic rubber duckies. Now the ratio of plastics to fish in the oceans stands at 1 plastic bottle for every five fish, with the ratio dropping to 1:3 by 2025. (Save The Water)”
“Through the constant beating of the sun, the plastic breaks down into microplastics. These microplastics look like plankton to fish. So fish eat them. Because microplastics don’t biodegrade, they bioaccumulate in fish. In turn, bigger fish eat these fish. This food chain produces biomagnification, which is the process by which a pollutant increases its concentration in tissues as it travels up the food chain. As a result, microplastics poison the food chain all the way up to human beings. (Save The Water)”
Other resources I highly suggest checking out:
Plastic Pollution Facts- article
The Story of Stuff- video // how the US became so wasteful
The Story of Cosmetics- video // toxic chemicals in our personal care products
Into to Plastic Free Living- Sorelle Amore video // (she has a series of them, but this is a great start)
20 Ways to Reduce Waste- video // (also a great start into minimizing waste)
Here is a list of all the changes I’ve made the last few years:
I detoxed my entire house of the things that don’t serve me: clothes, shoes, gadgets, books, you name it.
Now when I shop for clothes I use the 1 to 1 rule. If I buy 1 new blouse, 1 of them in my closet gets donated. And if I don’t absolutely love it in the store, can’t live without it, I will not buy it.
I decreased the amount of toxic chemicals in my home by purchasing more natural based beauty and cleaning products- I’ve learned you don’t need 10 different household cleaners for the floor, windows, countertops, etc… You just need 1 and it doesn’t need to be full of harsh chemicals to get the job done. So bye bye, Clorox bleach.
Along with the food I fuel my body with, I also started to pay close attention to the products I use daily on my skin and hair. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients or the list exceeds 10, I steer clear of it.
Finally, here are the list of items I’ve swapped in daily use below-
**all images are linked to the product sites
Bamboo Toothbrush- normal toothbrushes cannot break down or be recycled. This bamboo one will over time because its made up of natural materials. I was skeptical, but it gets the job done and my dentist still tells me I have healthy, beautiful teeth.
Tooth tabs- I had switched to natural toothpaste substitutes in the past such as Tom’s and Kopari, but I wasn’t able to recycle the tube, so I found these instead. You pop one in your mouth, chew it a little, and when you put the wet toothbrush in your mouth it foams up just like regular toothpaste. It’s natural, comes in a glass jar AND when you run out you can purchase refills that are packaged in biodegradable packaging, (which I put in my compost bin).
Biodegradable Floss- this also comes in a glass jar that you can purchase refills for.
The thought of how many makeup wipes I have used in my life time literally makes my skin crawl.
So. Much. Waste.
Face Halo- they have an up cycling program where you send back your old ones and they repurpose them.
how to use either of these products to remove makeup: I use an oil to break down my makeup, then one of these to wipe it off. Everything clings to the special material. I wash my face with soap, and ta-da. Clean. I rinse them out and let them dry on my faucet and use them multiple times before throwing them in the wash.
I first switched to more natural hair care products vs. the mainstream chemical-filled brands I had always used, but then realized the plastic containers weren’t doing any good either.
Bar soap- I don’t have a specific brand that I like, but most commonly I buy an unpackaged bar locally made at the grocery store. You’re supporting a local maker and you know exactly where it’s coming from. Clean ingredients, better for the environment and your body. You don’t need soap wrapped in plastic or full of synthetic fragrances/chemicals. Really, you don’t.
Ethique Shampoo + Conditioner (+ container)- I have been a fan of Lush for years and still shop there but found this brand to be just as good and a little cheaper on Amazon. Smells amazing and hair feels great. Shampoo Bar claims to be equal to 3 bottles of shampoo. The packaging it comes in is compostable, including the container you can purchase separately, that is made from sugar cane.
Metal Safety Razor- this is a new switch for me. I used to use Gillette Venus and I thought I was doing “better” because I had the same pink plastic handle for years, and just purchased the refills every few months. But the refills are packaged so ridiculously, it’s impossible to recycle. All you do is replace the blades, which are much easier to dispose of responsibly.
Baiden mitten- okay this isn’t as necessary as soap or something but it’s awesome. No more buying body scrubs and exfoliants. You don’t need them. This is made from bamboo and you rub it back and forth on your body and the dead skin rolls off. Seriously, Google it. It’s disgusting and amazing all at once. My skin has never felt so soft.
Diva Cup- Did you know main stream tampon companies chemically treat the cotton? No thanks, don’t care for bleached cotton in my body. A menstrual cup was daunting at first but WOW has it changed my life. I didn’t realize just how much waste I created and money I spent on feminine products until I started using this a few years ago. It’s ALL that I use now. It’s better for your body, the environment, and your wallet. Win x3. If you want more information + a HILARIOUS explanation about how to use it watch this video.
Rezip- These are a great alternative to ziplock baggies. Made from a durable silicone material which makes them easy to clean and reuse. I’ve noticed sliced produce stays twice as fresh in these bags also.
Beeswax wrap- a natural swap for saran wrap/foil, and you can reuse it over and over again. I also just use Tupperware that I’ve had for years.
Trash Bags- love that these are made from plants plus they’re super strong and don't fall apart. Another alternative- don’t use one! Especially now that I compost, I don’t have much food waste therefore don’t really need to use a bag in all of my trash cans.
Metal Straws- if you don’t already use straws, good for you! You don’t need these. I personally drink a lot of acidic drinks like water with lemon and kombucha daily, so I use a straw to protect my teeth.
Cloth Napkins- paper napkins are unnecessary. I have had this pack for years.
Microfiber Cloths- paper towels are unnecessary. These are what I use to clean my house with. If you don't have any at home and don’t want to purchase these, cut up an old towel or t-shirt and use that as a cleaning rag.
Dryer Balls- a replacement for single-use dryer sheets. I use these and they claim to quicken the drying time, beat out the wrinkles and reduce static.
Cold Brew Jar- Once my Keurig broke, I decided not to repurchase and buy this instead. It’s so easy to use and clean, I love it. If you don't like cold brew, but you have to have coffee, I encourage you to look into more sustainable options for brewing.
Grow a Garden- I grew up on a ranch and my Dad had a huge garden. We were always eating tons of fresh food, so this came natural to me. I have a yard with plenty of room to plant, but if you’re limited on space, you can grow some herbs in one pot! Start small and grow from home. It saves money and plants are positive for the environment.
Reusable Water Bottle- You can literally use ANY bottle you want. I have a Yeti cup that I sit on my desk when I’m working but I love the Hydro Flask with the straw top to take on the go. “Bring your own bottle or stay thirsty,” there’s no excuse for a single-use plastic water bottle (plastic free mermaid).
Cutlery Pack- While I try not to eat out very often, it happens. I have my go-to fave restaurants that I love to have Post Mates deliver to my house when I’m working. If I do order online I add in the notes: no cutlery, straws, napkins, condiments, etc. If I’m eating at home, I most definitely have everything I need already there. If I’m picking something up myself and eating on the go, I keep this pack in my console for me to use. If you don’t want to purchase this, just keep a fork from your kitchen in your console!
Coffee Cup- It’s made from recycled materials. This stays in my car so that I always have it with me. I was nervous at first to present it to a barista but honestly, coffee shops ENCOURAGE it. It saves them a cup and most even give an incentive for bringing your own. For example, you can save 25 cents at Summermoon Coffee for bringing your own cup.
Foldable Straw- For you straw users, this stays in my car/purse so that I have it if I ever need it. Fun Fact: This brand “Final Straw” was featured on Shark Tank.
Dog Waste Bags- This is a situation where I can’t escape single-use plastic bags, so I always have these attached to my dogs’ leashes. They are biodegradable which I love!
Tin Food Container- Another item I keep in my car for food to-go.
Produce Bags- an alternative to the single use plastic bags. If you don’t want to purchase these, I actually take my laundry/lingerie bags to the store with me. Pretty much the same thing. OR don’t use one? I don’t know about you, but I don’t need to put a bunch of bananas in a bag. The cart is just fine, because they have their outer skin to protect them.
Shopping Bags- These days, in efforts to limit single use plastic, many stores bag your purchases in a durable reusable bag. Keep them. Don’t leave home without them. I love this pop up bag because it’s really sturdy but you can use whatever you want. If I forget my bags, that’s my problem- I will refuse a plastic bag, and carry my groceries to my car by hand or just keep them in the cart.
what I’m still working on:
I’m trying to go plastic free when grocery shopping. I’ve been bringing jars to the bulk aisle for dried goods and it’s honestly so easy, I can’t believe I hadn’t been doing this before.
Eliminating food waste that ends up in landfills, so I’ve started composting. When rotting food can’t breathe because its buried under tons and tons of other trash, it releases a toxic gas called Methane. Composting is great for the planet because it’s giving back nutrients to the Earth and your plants love it!
Currently using up cotton rounds. Once I’m done with this pack, I’m switching over to these washable ones.
I used to buy Scott Toilet Paper without the cardboard roll in them but the package is still wrapped in so much plastic which seems counterintuitive. Therefore, when I run out I’m going to INSTEAD purchase Give A Crap. This brand is made from 100% recycled paper, so the trees are safe and they are big supporters of the Plastic Free revolution.
List of shops to find similar products and MORE:
Lush Cosmetics- they have a great recycle rewards program. They encourage you to bring back all of your containers (already made from recycled plastic) and when you turn in 5 you get a free face mask.
Your local health food store! Depending on where you live, but I personally shop at Central Market or Whole Foods.
other ways to help the environment:
when I’m walking my dogs I pick up trash I find along the way
turn off your tap when you brush your teeth or wash your face
don’t take long showers if it’s unnecessary
ride your bike or walk to your destination instead of driving (when convenient)
decorate your home with plants, which clean the air of toxins
if it’s broken, try to fix it first before you automatically replace it (Ex: recently my FAVORITE ankle boots had started to come a part at the sole. I was so bummed and immediately went online to order a new pair, but then I stopped myself. Instead, I sent them to the Austin Shoe Hospital to be repaired, for HALF the price as a new pair, and they’re good as new).
shop local or second hand
say no to “single use” items in general and steer clear of tons of plastic packaging when shopping
When you recycle, please wash out the containers thoroughly as contamination is a big issue and can prevent large amounts of products from being recycled
if you’re looking to recycle items you do have and don’t know how to go about it responsibly, Terra Cycle is great. You send it to them and they deal with it for you.
From all of these swaps I’ve made, I have noticed a dramatic decrease in the amount of waste I put on the curb each week for the trash pick up. Sometimes I only put out the trash can 1x/month. That is one of the most rewarding parts of this, actually seeing the impact you’re making, right in front of you. Imagine if EVERYONE was a little more mindful. On top of this, I also save so much money because I invest in quality items that are built to LAST and not having to throw out and replace things constantly.
If you’re wanting to make a change, please use up what you already have before making the swap otherwise it’s pointless. I am not an expert nor am I perfect at this, but I’m trying. This could’ve easily been 50 pages long, so I encourage you to do your own research.
If you made it this far, thank you. I challenge you to make ONE change today, and see where it takes you.