Updated: Jul 9, 2021
Often when I talk about sustainability to people, I hear a variety of reasons that it is difficult to be sustainable. I agree! BUT, I'm also an optimist and I've had the privilege to experience many small changes that really do affect my personal contributions to sustainability. Sure, there are times when I don't always make the sustainable choice (similar our our life in many ways; we are not perfect, and I have yet to meet someone who is "always" any one thing). In these cases, a sustainable choice may not be available, nor a better substitute for what you need. However, there are a million choices in any given day, so if you can make the better choice (even if only 1 time), don't you want to?
I want the rest of my life (which I hope is long and healthy) to be participating in a better future for my kids, and their kids, and the kids thereafter. The current trajectory of our way of living means that we are at a tipping point; each year can be either a little worse, or a little better. If enough of us, young and old, make the responsible choices for sustainable products, goods, and services, the world really will change.
Corporations supply what consumers are willing to purchase, and at price points which those consumers are willing to select their specific products, goods and services from the marketplace. If we, as consumers, continue to make the incremental changes towards selecting those sustainable products and options, the market itself will start to phase out the waste in packaging, or transition away from plastic. It's already happening and you can be a part of the movement too!
Remember, these changes are small, and don't take a lot of effort; each choice can add up to continuing on the path we are on as humans and degrading the Earth just a little bit more each day,
OR we can make a difference each day to make better, healthier choices preserving what we can (and maybe in some ways reversing some of the damage) for our collective future.
For me, most of my consumer choices are centered on food and cooking supplies on a weekly basis. Much of what ends up in our landfills can be attributed to food waste and associated packaging (including plastics used to consume convenience foods and drinks). In 2018, the EPA estimated that 24% (almost 1/4!) of all waste sent to the municipal sanitary landfills was from food waste (https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/national-overview-facts-and-figures-materials). This is an area where we certainly CAN and should do better. Many of these changes can be done simply by modifying how we cook and consume our food at home and can lead us all to a more sustainable kitchen.
3 Simple Changes Towards A More Sustainable Kitchen:
Note: All materials herein can be obtained on Amazon.com or usually at local grocery or supermarket stores. These are not specialty products. Yes, the initial investment is higher than the disposable counterpart. However, with the reuse value, the initial cost can save you money (and time!) at the store in future years / uses.
Reusable Kitchen Supplies In Lieu of One Use Materials:
Silicone is my best friend in the kitchen - it's naturally non-stick, heat-resistant and freezer safe. Oh, and highly reusable!
Using silicone cupcake "wrappers" in lieu of paper provides a simple and effective way to eliminate paper wastes. Also, some of these wrappers may coated in an emerging chemical of concern for many states and on a federal level called PFAS (per - or polyfluroalkyl substances) which have been shown to affect humans negatively (for more information visit www.epa.gov/pfas or read my blog on the subject Informed Choices: PFAS). PFAS are heat, oil and water resistant so many food wrappers may be coated in these chemicals to avoid "bleed through" on your use of non-stick cooking spray or other oils. I'm more than happy to eliminate any chemicals from my life! I found great neon rainbow silicone cupcake molds as an Amazon Basic product.
Using silicone mats (silpats) in lieu of aluminum foil or parchment paper also eliminates wood / paper product waste and to eliminate our most easily recycled material (aluminum; over 65% yield on the recycling reuse) from the landfill. I try to avoid aluminum foil uses because even though it is highly recyclable, we just don't do it (truth). Did you know that it is estimated that 700 million dollars worth of aluminum ends up in the landfill each year according to Aluminum.org? A silpat can be used over and over again just like aluminum foil and is non-stick so less oil / butter for your waistline too (win-win!)
2. Reach For the Cloth (not Paper) Towel:
I honestly don't know a single person who doesn't use paper towels in their home or on the go; let's be honest with ourselves here! There is a reason they are popular (especially with kids and pets!) If some of these stats don't have you pausing as you reach for the paper and redirect to cloth instead, I'm not sure what will!
To make 1 metric ton of paper towels, 17 trees and 20,000 gallons of water are used; to process the paper pulp into the towel itself, significant water is utilized and mixed with highly-toxic chemicals. Upon use, the waters are treated and discharged under permit to waterways; often still containing some residuals of those chemicals. And, globally, 254 million tons of trash each year are generated from discarded paper towels.
It is estimated that if every household in the United States used just 1 less roll of paper towels, 544,000 trees each year would be saved and 640 million gallons of water would be diverted for alternative use / enjoyment (facts according to the Norwex Movement).
Let's save some trees and water, reduce our carbon footprint, contribute less to the total waste that ends up in a landfill and invest in some cute farmhouse prints to liven up our kitchens by going reusable! Shop small (hopefully local) and get some great ideas on Etsy.com.
3. PLEASE Keep Calm and Don't "Plastic On!"
Plastic. It's a problem, you know...but just in case, you don't, here are some interesting notes for you (all stats are according to IUCN.org:
Approximately 300 million tons of of plastic are produced each year (not just for single-use items; total applications); at least 8 tons of that plastic end up in the oceans (that's 3% of all produced plastic each year - not just plastic "waste" that ends up in the ocean)
Plastics make up 80% of all marine debris from surface water (what floats on top) down to the deep-sea sediments (what has sunk to the ocean floor).
Marine animals ingest plastics (thinking they are food) which threatens food safety and quality along with human health (for those that consume these marine animals). Toxic contaminants accumulate on the surface of plastic materials as a result of prolonged exposure to seawater (which may have contaminants such as discharged chemicals or even radiation). Animals that consume these plastics accumulate the toxins in the food web and transfer them (potentially) to humans.
Impacts on climate change
Climate Change? How? It's the "trash" part that makes it a problem, right? Not entirely! Plastic is made from petroleum, is cheap, lightweight but strong and malleable. As a petroleum product, plastics contribute to global warming in the fabrication process (high heat / pressure often formed in a combustion process at least in part fueled by fossil fuels as well as the consumption of the petroleum in the creation of the material itself). Also, if "recycled" via incineration, it releases CO2 into the atmosphere.
So, some easy plastic "switches:"
Silicone resealable food "bags" (yep, silicone again!) - replace your lock top food bags with reusable silicone versions (sandwich size and larger). You won't look back!
Beeswax wraps (yes, I know, this is a vegan blog, but I told you - we aren't perfect and sometimes the better choice is a step in the right direction without getting you all the way there!) - replace your plastic wrap with beeswax wraps. Reusable and infinitely more easy to use than plastic wrap. No more, where is the start of this thing! Crap, it folded on itself - argghhh it won't "stick!"
Reusable plates and cutlery - When we pack food to eat at the zoo, on a picnic or a hike for the day, we still bring reusable materials and supplies. We make sure that nothing stays in the wild / outside that shouldn't and hey, it's a lot easier to eat off of / with sturdy materials when you are in nature anyways (oh, and that wind? not a problem for my meal).
Reusable water bottles are required in my family. Sometimes, we don't get to choose though and bottled water is the only option (especially in the global pandemic where most water fountains are closed and refilling stations are not in use as a result). In those cases, we save our used plastic bottles until we can get to a recycling station. Those stats you hear about the amount of recycled plastic bottles? It's not necessarily so low (~12% estimated a year) because they physically cannot be recycled, it's that folks don't take the time to pick the right basket and try to recycle. Please, do better - pick the right basket and try.
BONUS (no list would be complete without a note about how a vegan diet can support sustainability): Eating vegan as a household at least time time per week for a year can save enough carbon production as expended if you were to drive ~2,000 miles. Based upon the average car emission tailpipe rate, 2,000 miles would equal 1,781 lbs of CO2. Okay, but is that important, really? YES! A mature tree (according to the Arbor Day Foundation) can only absorb 481 lbs (on average) of CO2 per year. So, eating vegan 1 day a week can equal almost 4 trees for carbon sequestering. With deforestation (15 billion trees per year estimated), every amount of reduction in carbon emissions we can commit, makes a real difference. Climate change has been happening incrementally, and we can make changes now, today, that can lead to a more sustainable future by eating incrementally better.
If you have made some of these changes, let me know; I'd love to hear if you were inspired & how!
With love & hope for a better future for all of us - Jamie