The existence of these items is having such devastating consequences, we need to ban them from our lives immediately.
The Shopping Bag
The very first item of discussion here is of course the shopping bag. We can be grateful at least that plastic bags are increasingly frowned upon, and subject to a deterring surcharge or even banned in quite a few places. It’s easier than ever to commit to banning these entirely from our lives. You can keep one or two large market tote bags at home, for those big groceries runs, and always have a very light fabric bag or shopping net on you in case you unexpectedly have to pick something up. Loqi (in shops worldwide) makes totes that fold and zip up into a wallet-sized pouch, yet can carry up to 20kg: these are particularly easy to keep on one’s person, or in the car, and even men will have no trouble keeping one in a pocket. (Personally my handbag is large and can accommodate a few impromptu items, loose lemons being a frequent type of passenger). If you have a big list of things to buy and are not driving, take a backpack instead: it will take much more weight with much less effort on your part, and your back will thank you.
When you don’t really need one, avoid even paper bags: yes they decompose, but paper still costs trees and we should not be complacent about it. When I do end up with paper bags, I keep them carefully and reuse them as long as they’re reusable. The larger ones make very good replacements for bin liners, as discussed in Zero-Waste Household.
The utter insanity of bottled water (and other drinks in plastic bottles) needs to stop. FIFTY BILLION (50,000,000,000) single-use water bottles were sold globally in 2015. Over 75% of them are not recycled but go straight to landfill, and anything from 35 to 45 billion plastic bottles are now floating around the planet. If we had to carry these as punishment, every single person on the planet, everyone that you ever meet would have 5-6 plastic bottles grafted to their bodies — and counting. The most maddening thing about bottled water is that the worst offenders are countries where tap water is drinkable in the first place. FREE PACKAGE-FREE WATER but no, let’s spend a lot of money we claim not to have on trashing the planet instead. There are places on earth where tap water will make you ill, and even there many people will typically filter and drink it because they can’t afford the inflated price of what is nothing but a marketing coup. When you buy bottled water, you’re not only contributing to the plastic disaster, you’re also financing the privatization of water: a world where water is not a human right, to quote Nestle’s CEO, but belongs to corporations who can withhold it if you can’t pay their asking price. This is already happening, so wake up. Boycott bottled water and buy a refillable bottle you can use for the rest of your life.
There’s no shortage of options out there, from stainless steel to glass nested in protective silicone. I like Memobottle myself. Yes, its plastic, but it’s BPA-free and certified cradle-to-cradle; the makers have done the research and decided that manufacturing it from another material would have a much heavier footprint. What makes it stand out the most is its design: it is not round, but flat, book-shaped, so it’s really convenient to carry in your purse or laptop bag. It also ships in a well-designed recycled packaging that can be reused.
Caught out without your bottle and you’re thirsty? Look for a water fountain, or opt for a drink in tin/glass/paper carton, or ask for tap water with your meal…
Tap water not drinkable at home? Invest in a filter, it will save you a lot in the long run.
Don’t like the taste of tap water? Use a jug with a piece of activated charcoal, or a slice of lemon/cucumber/whatever you fancy.
Need a cooler at the office, the type that requires those (non-recyclable) water gallons delivered (and mountains of single-use cups)? Put a couple of jugs with a sprig of mint and proper glasses instead.
There are always options when one looks for them.
You think take-away coffee cups are paper therefore they’re ok? Wrong, they are a mixed material made of paper and plastic which is neither recyclable nor compostable. They are all the more abominable because they are misleadingly labelled as recyclable and big coffee chains take no responsibility for them, but add a plastic lid on top to make matters worse. Your five minutes of coffee indulgence. Again, buy a portable cup for life that you can leave at the office (or in the car, or both), wash and reuse. I picked up one made of bamboo fiber, a highly sustainable material, with a silicon lid, that lives in my studio. I take it into coffee shops and hand it over while ordering my drinks, unless I’m having it in. There’s a novel idea: sit down and have your drink in a mug!