Six ideas to be better than plastic straw dumpers
We can see news about climate change everywhere and we still battle with what to do about this matter. Not long ago, I watched a video of people being interviewed in the streets. The reporter asked random people how they care for the environment. The answers were: “I am avoiding the use of plastic straws”.
Look carefully around and you are going to find out we have a very comfortable life. Cars, air conditioners, and disposables plates and cutlery that we can throw away right after eating without worrying about washing or putting them away. And coffee? Every morning we can go to a drive-thru (we don´t need to even walk there!!) and get the right amount of coffee and not care if we have a cup or a mug. We would be handed one. Easy right? And hard to give up. We can agree that everything that challenges this comfort is hard to accept. I get it. But this comfort has a high price. Tons of waste are produced every minute. And, what if I told you that your life depends on this change? What would you say?
The Pandemic came and stranded us at home. We adapted to a different kind of routine. One where we didn’t drive, didn’t go to stores, shows, cafes, didn’t travel. Our lives were at stake, we grieved loved ones who were gone, and we changed. Albeit painful for nearly everybody, we needed to change. And now that the Pandemic is almost under control, some of us want to go back to the old normal, and a few of us get it: there is something different.
We followed the news about how the Earth, during the Pandemic, took a break from the ongoing destruction. Animals were walking in emptied streets, there was cleaner water in the most polluted places, less air pollution with less driving. We found out that the type of life we have been living is responsible for a better or worse environment. And we had time to reflect that this same environment can keep us alive or become so hostile that we can’t live on this Earth anymore.
Facing this reality, there are people who think life on another planet could be feasible. But no, we are not close to that at all, according to some data that NASA and other institutions gathered. Even though some of the wealthiest guys are trying to make it appear so. So, it is better to stop thinking “they” will solve the problem of climate change before everything gets unbearable.
Scientists have been warning the world’s population for a long time about the danger of the Earth’s collapse. With them, are the people who think that what is being done is still not enough to change this scenario.
But even though the catastrophe is imminent, we can see some action:
Movements are pressing for change;
Governments are issuing laws banning single-use plastic bags, for example; Some companies are genuinely being responsible for recycling their own products.
In the end, who needs to clean up this mess?
If you are feeling like we need to do something to join the movements that are trying to solve our climate change problems, you must know that the most effective way to act is to address the companies that make money from these products. Example: the big detergent plastic bottle should have some kind of recycling destination and this process should be responsibility of the detergent manufacturers, right? Yes, everybody agrees with it. But as we all know, there are people with political influence and loads of money who, to defend their own interests, lobby to delay all sorts of necessary public policy decisions.
There is another mechanism, however, that can be very effective. The awareness of the consumption process. Let’s think together: you buy something all the time. If you really pay attention, you purchase or use something every day. Why not think about this chain of consumption as something that can be stopped or changed based on your decision?
I know, I know. You are thinking you would be the only one doing it and this doesn’t change anything… Well, I can assure you that, right now, at least thousands of people are making decisions based on what they can do for the environment. And that represents a thousand fewer people polluting the world. Can you imagine when we gather millions of people? We need to begin from a place where we have the autonomy to start. This place is our own life and the products we use daily. To help you with this change and adaptation, I bring you six simple ideas already tested by…me. And, for full disclosure: none of these suggestions is sponsoring this post. So, hear me: this is my crystal-clear experience.
1 — Laundry detergent
I don’t need to tell you that the big and heavy jug of liquid laundry detergent that some ads say is more water than anything is, first of all, a poison to Earth. Yes, the jug will take forever to decompose. Because of these types of plastic containers, we have a huge island of trash floating in the sea. Yeah, check here. Seriously, when I was thinking about it, three years ago, I went searching for other options and tried to buy laundry sheets from True Earth.
I was very satisfied with the ad: a small paper box with some light sheets that will dissolve in the water. But I had problems with the purchase system (they were super new), and they took some time to answer. The time that I used to buy the other option: Dropps pouches. These are small pouches of laundry detergent wrapped in a plastic film that dissolves in water.
As a result, I purchased a small carbon box every two months with many pouches inside (they have different quantities and also a subscription). I don’t need to carry heavy jugs from the grocery store, nor need to throw them away. On top of that, the detergent has a subtle, amazing smell, cleans very well, is mainly made of natural ingredients, and they don’t test on animals. No jug island for me, please.
2 — Say no to dryer sheets
When I was living in Brazil, I had some clothes racks to dry my clothes inside the apartment. We didn’t have freezing weather and dryers were not common. The rack was in the laundry room, and there was a lot of wind. Perfect, cheap, and ecological, I would use the dryer only in emergency situations. So, until coming to the U.S. I didn’t know what a drying sheet was and why we would need it. Right after I discovered they existed; I was introduced to the wool balls. After researching, I bought six of them, and they now stay inside of my dryer.
They help to dry clothes faster, to save energy, and to diminish shocks with static (which is a big problem for me). And again, there will be less trash in the environment since the balls are there all the time.
3 — No plastic from shampoo, conditioning, and other toiletries
Other sources of hard plastic that end up on the “Great Pacific Garbage patch” are shampoos, conditioners, and all kinds of creams containers. The moisturizer, I replaced with sesame oil since I am trying the Ayurveda way of life. But this is a subject for another post. Shampoo and conditioner plastic containers have been my concern for a long time.
Then, I started to try different solid products five years ago. I don’t remember all the brands' names very well. One conditioner came from Australia, which is counter-productive carbon footprint-wise. The other was from an excellent company in Oregon called Silver Falls, and they have a whole line of toiletry products with no plastic. I bought different scents of shampoo, toothpowder, and deodorant from them. The deodorant dried fast in the cardboard packaging because I usually only wear a little. The shampoo and conditioner were good, but the smell was too light for me. I missed that smell of clean hair that liquid shampoos would leave.
Some of the solid conditioners that I tried (surely the one from Australia which I don’t remember the brand) were too heavy/oily for my hair and didn’t help detangle it. I kept trying other brands that came from places closer to my house, and now I am absolutely sold on Vunella. The various shampoo and conditioner scents that Vunella makes are unique, their warehouse is on “my” side of the country, and they are vegan! My favorite scent is Argan Oil, but I have a passion for Citrus too. The conditioner is excellent, and both of them last a long time.
Now I want you to imagine your next airplane trip. You will pack one shampoo bar, one conditioner bar, and one soap. Have you pictured the size of your bag? Yeah, no problems at the TSA in the airport since you don’t have liquids… And you are not going to be alone in this minimalist movement.
I traveled to Costa Rica for a conference in 2018, and I met a friend from Brazil who had the same set of toiletries. Everything was compact, put in cans, and in the carry-on. On top of that, do you know that when you have less/light luggage on a flight, the plane needs less gas? So, everybody wins in different ways with small decisions like that.
Of all the more environment-friendly toiletries, I didn’t adapt to the toothpowder. Generally, a mix of baking soda and some drops of essential oils (some of them adding activated charcoal also) is a very good replacement for toothpaste in its plastic tube. But it didn’t work well for me. I kept searching for better containers for toothpaste and found Public Goods, a company that sources many products, avoiding plastic packaging, harsh chemicals, and unethical procedures. For toothpaste tubes, they have specific packaging made of sugar cane. Besides that, they offer a fair price for natural, organic, and alternative food. They have tree-free paper too. Every month I make a purchase of food, paper, and toiletries.
4 — Hand soap
We prefer to use liquid soaps for two reasons: one — it doesn’t melt like the solid one making a mess in a soap dish, and, two — it is more hygienic since you don’t touch the soap someone used before.
For some time, it was one more bottle of plastic on the sink and in the trash… if I hadn’t found Blueland soaps. They make super small and concentrated pills of soaps that you dissolve in water, put in a refillable bottle of foam, and voilá: you have foam soap for your hands. We have been using this soap at home for two years now, and I can guarantee one “pill” lasts around two months. Also, they are very practical to purchase, with minimum waste: they come through the mail in a standard small envelope that weighs less than 2 oz (50 gr) with five or six “pills” of soap.
5 — Menstrual Cups
More than ten years ago I was teaching a group of students from a business program. The course was about ad creation and one of the assignments for the end of the semester was to create a whole campaign about a specific product of their choice.
On the day of the presentation, one of the students, wearing a pair of white pants, brought her product, the menstrual cup. That was quite new for me and I couldn’t believe it was feasible… until she finished her explanation saying: “I am using it right now”.
Wow, every woman knows what it means to wear white pants during her period. Of course, she got the maximum grade for that assignment because of her self-testimony but she also motivated me to try it. I have always hated pads. They make us feel damp, we have the feeling that someone always knows what is between our legs. I didn’t like the tampons because of the high risk of infection and the stories about chemicals put into the cotton material. For that reason, the cup, the way she explained, was the choice I really wanted. But, oh boy, it’s so complicated to get along with that thing that you need to put inside you! It took me four periods to get to know the drill, and here I am, ten years later, using the same cup. I don’t remember the brand I bought but now there are a lot of brands and sizes, you can do your research and read more about it here. If I could give you some advice, I would say: try hard. Be persistent because, when you get used to it, and have the feeling of being dry and free in those days, you will thank me.
I know, you keep thinking about how to wash, how to dump the blood, how this or that. Check this link for more instructions.
There are tons of other instructions to read and many girls having the same experience as you. And maybe after ten years, you will feel the pleasure I felt of knowing you spared landfills and the Earth of more than 3000 pads!
6 — Second-hand clothes and furniture
There are thousands of options of cheap new clothes, and I get it that you need to follow the trends and be fashionable. But, dear reader, do you know you can be very fashionable buying from a thrift store? And, on top of it, be sustainable, thoughtful, and ecological? Moreover, it is fun to search and find perfect things that people want to repurpose. In the same way, please, donate (or consign) to those stores what you don’t wear anymore. Someone is going to be happy to find and wear, and you will have your peace of mind for not adding to landfills. This advice applies to furniture too. You can find unique and cheap things in second-hand furniture stores, or, my favorites, antique stores.
I made a very fast and cheap new wardrobe just with second-hand formal shirts and pants when I got a new job. I also got a very good comfortable chair for my home-office for $10 when I needed one. What happens when you buy something second-hand? The raw material that would come from trees or natural resources, like cotton, is not needed anymore. On top of that, second-hand clothes and furniture are not going to become trash. Here you are applying the second R of the three R’s: reduce, reuse, and recycle.
I hope you find your way to helping protect the environment through your consumption habits. Those could be small changes you can make in your consumption routine that go beyond the plastic straw.
Oh, yeah, please, don’t use plastic straws.
If you want to read more:
Plastics are not recyclable: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXRtNwUju5g
Aknowledgements: Iwant to thank Alexandra Barros for reviewing this writing, Kathie Testa to critically evaluate, and Adriana Baggio for letting me use her picture and her story.