Tag Archives: reduce reuse recycle

One Small Thing: Plastic Straws

 

In this series I am highlighting one small thing you can do in your life that will make a difference in our collective waste production and move us towards a plastic free world. Don’t forget to read back through why you should consider making the switch to cloth napkins, handkerchiefs, and anything other than plastic bottles.

Today, I am breaking the news: Plastic straw are out.

You may have heard.

There are literal laws against them now in places like Seattle and California, and massive international companies like Starbucks and Disney are on board.

budget epicurean one small thing plastic straws

And thank goodness for that, because Americans use about 500 million straws per day!*

*Though the oft-cited 500 million straws per day number might not be accurate, the point is the number is really high, and no matter what the number is, we can and should work towards lowering it.

According to Time.com:

“Some scientists estimate there are 7.5 million plastic straws polluting U.S. shorelines, and anywhere from 437 million to 8.3 billion plastic straws on shorelines around the world. And plastic straws are just a small percentage of the more than 8 million metric tons of plastic that end up in the ocean each year.”

So whether the number is 5 thousand or 5 million, we need it to become closer to zero.

Some may argue the fact that straws are plastic and recyclable. To which I ask: when is the last time you actually recycled a straw?

We are really bad at recycling straws.

They are small, and so ubiquitous as to be an afterthought.

And even if we tried to recycle them, the machinery we have is built for dealing with cans and bottles and laundry detergent jugs, it cannot sort things in the tiny size range of straws.

Here’s a quick primer to answer: “can I recycle this”.

Recycling Mystery: Plastic Straws

Now, I want to be clear: this is not a political issue for me.

This is not a liberals versus conservatives thing.

I don’t give a good goddamn if you have a closet full of rifles or voted for Obama, twice.

I’m not advocating for #StopSucking or #StrawGate.

All I’m saying is, maybe this is the wake-up call that consumers and beverage providers need. The humble straw can be a “gateway plastic” of sorts. Maybe this will get people thinking about all the other single use plastics in our lives.

Maybe we can start asking why.

And how.

And what can I do to stop it.

budget epicurean one small thing plastic straws

We go through our days on autopilot, just throwing things away.

Where is “away”?

Where do you really think your trash goes?

Because literally every piece of plastic anything, ever made, is still here, on this planet. It may have broken down into microplastics, some may have been melted and turned into some other plastic thing, but it is all still here. And we just keep piling it on.

There is a lot of good to this movement, but also some bad.

Why People With Disabilities Are Sick of Hearing, “You Can/I Just.” And I Am Too.

There are people who, due to muscular, nerve, or other disorders, can only drink a beverage safely through a straw. And I don’t have all the answers.

What I’m hoping is that this inspires more of a cultural shift.

A change in perspective. A gentle jolt out of our complacent first world lives where we don’t know or care what is happening outside the boundaries of our social media feed.

 

Some ideas for alternatives to plastic straws:

Other straw materials

To choose the right alternative straw for you, you need to ask yourself a few questions.

What is your price point? How often do you use a straw? Hot or cold drinks? Thick or thin liquids? (i.e. milkshakes and smoothies vs iced coffee, water, and tea)

The good news is there is a plethora of options, with more becoming available all the time.

Paper:

Paper Straws are made from… paper.

The good news is that means they are compostable at the end of their life span and can be returned to the earth. They do have their own pitfalls as well though.

budget epicurean one small thing plastic straws

PROS
o Can be printed with food safe vegetable inks
o Vintage appearance, vibrant and colourful
o Completely biodegradable & compostable
o Great for use with children
o Trees can be a renewable resource if harvested responsibly

CONS
o Will go soggy after a short period of time
o Not suited for thick smoothies and milkshakes
o Some may still be coated in a thin layer of plastic

Sugar cane or Corn starch:

PLA STRAWS – PLA, short for ‘Polylactic Acid’ is made from a renewable resources, such as corn starch & sugar cane.

PROS
o Has the appearance of plastic
o Completely Biodegradable & compostable
o Made from renewable sources
o Can make it flexible like bendy straws
o Easily transportable

CONS
o Can only be composted at commercial composting facility, not at home
o Looks like plastic, so consumers may mistake it for plastic
o Not yet cost effective to a large restaurant/supplier

Glass:

Glass straws are of course made from glass. Most are decently thick such that you shouldn’t have to treat them too delicately, but they are still, well, made of glass.

PROS
o Very smooth, like sipping right from the glass
o Clear, you can see that it’s clean (hopefully)
o Doesn’t really conduct heat, so you can drink hot or cold drinks

CONS
o Easily breakable if dropped or banged against anything
o Slightly heavier than paper or PLA straws

Steel

Stainless steel straws are the most durable option. Made from stainless steel, they should last forever, and not rust.

PROS
o Lasts a LONG time, very cost effective
o Sleek and smooth like the glass kind

CONS
o May hurt if you hit yourself in the teeth with it
o Conducts heat well, so a hot drink might be a problem
o May occasionally get a metallic taste using it

budget epicurean one small thing plastic straws

Reusable sturdy plastic

When all else fails, a reusable plastic straw can at least be washed and drunk from many many times.

I’ll admit I have a handful of plastic straws that I bought on sale at Target several years ago. While they are plastic, they are also a sunk cost for me. They have already been manufactured, packaged, shipped, and bought.

They are a thicker, heavier plastic, and they are dishwasher safe. I use these straws to get myself to drink more water throughout the day, in my morning smoothies, iced coffees, and in many other ways, at home and out and about.

Since I wash them over and over, I’m certain these 5 or 6 straws have already been used dozens of times, and have several more years of life left in them.

 

Bring your own, duh

To go along with the points above about using your own straw that can be used over and over, it is also a good idea to bring one with you at all times if you are a frequent straw user.

There are legitimate arguments from some corners to keep at least the option of straws at restaurants, mainly for folks who, because of a disability, literally cannot drink without straws for one reason or another.

To that I say, why not have places that sell beverages be stocked with reusable straws that they can also sell? (See above)

Have it be a low enough price point that it is affordable, maybe $1.

Yes, everyone is human and if this is your situation you likely carry a straw regularly. But forget enough times and it will become very ingrained, and/or you will eventually have a straw in every car, bag, purse, and coat pocket.

Just drink from the damn glass

This is the simplest option of all: just don’t.

Like the opposite of Nike.

Just don’t use a straw.

Drink from the glass like humans have done for millennia.

budget epicurean one small thing plastic straws

Whether hot or cold, at home or on the go, you can always just drink from the vessel into which you put your liquid. And then of course either wash and reuse it, or properly recycle the container.

 

Want to figure out which straw you should use?
Take the Going Zero Waste quiz and find out!

 

 

What do you think about these plastic straw bans? About time, or too little too late? How do you avoid plastic straws?

One Small Thing – Water Bottles

 

In this series, I am highlighting one small thing you can change in your daily life and habits that add up to a plastic free world. Don’t forget to read up on cloth handkerchiefs and cloth napkins too. We as a species have a long way to go, but each tiny step in the right direction brings us closer to the goal.

Today, we are beating this dead horse: Water Bottles.

Unless you live under a rock, you know all about this. You’ve heard it a million times, seen it a million times.

Plastic is everywhere.

And none is moreso ubiquitous than plastic water bottles.

By the way, when I say water bottle, I also mean any other single use plastic bottled beverage. Sodas, lemonade, iced tea, sports drinks. They all come in plastic, and they are all part of the problem.

The numbers are pretty dire.

“Annual consumption of plastic bottles is set to top half a trillion by 2021, far outstripping recycling efforts and jeopardising oceans, coastlines and other environments” (Source: the Guardian)

plastic water bottles on a table

Think about everywhere you may have been offered or used a plastic water bottle.

  • Your office or work place
  • At a conference
  • A kids sports event
  • At a play or musical
  • Moving day
  • Lecture halls
  • On vacation
  • On a hike
  • At a lake
  • Camping
  • Potlucks
  • Barbeques
  • Office meetings
  • Retirement party
  • Birthday party
  • Wedding shower
  • Baby shower
  • On a plane
  • In an airport
  • At an amusement park
  • An aquarium
  • At the zoo
  • Skating rink
  • Soccer stadium
  • Baseball stadium
  • Football stadium
  • Hockey rink (you get the point)
  • Family holidays
  • At a friends’ house
  • At your house?!?

With the exception of times when local municipal water is honestly not safe to drink, there is absolutely no excuse to drink bottled water rather than tap water in your own home.

If this is your situation, then by all means drink from bottles. Water is hella important to the staying alive thing, and I’d far prefer that you drink water than not.

As the daughter of a chemist and director of seven water management facilities, I can tell you that 99% of tap water is perfectly safe to drink. I grew up my whole life drinking tap water.

Is it a taste thing?

Do you not like that water has no flavor? Does your tap water have too much chlorine or other flavor you don’t like?

Get a filter. Add cucumber slices or frozen berries. Squirt in some lemon juice. Invest in a SodaStream to make it fizzy. Hell, buy a few Mios and squirt some in.

No excuses.

And when you are out and about, there is a 90% chance that you can find a tap to refill a bottle, IF you have one. That’s a big if. Just like stocking every bag and car with a reusable cloth bag, why not start putting a reusable bottle there too?

If you have your own bottle, guess what?

That refill is free!

Yes, you can save yourself anywhere from $1 to $5 (depending on the location) by not buying a drink.

And, not use another plastic bottle!

AND, water is WAY healthier for you than any other sweetened, flavored beverage you might buy.

Win win win!

Any plastic, glass, or stainless steel bottle will do. Many colleges, businesses, or sports teams give them out for free. Thrift stores are bursting with reusable bottles for mere dimes. Get yo self a bottle and USE IT.

For the health of it. For the planet. For the financial savings.

SO, repeat this out loud please: I will stop using plastic single-use bottles.

Why?

  • It is 1,000 times cheaper to drink tap water! (Infinity times really because dividing by zero. #maththings)
  • Remembering my own bottle is easy, and will become a new habit.
  • I care about the future of our planet, forests, animals, and oceans!

 

Did I miss any water bottle locations or excuses? Just kidding, pretty sure literally anywhere could go on that list. How do you avoid single use plastic bottles?

One Small Thing: Cloth Napkins/Hand Towels

 

In this post series, I am highlighting One Small Thing you can change in your daily life to decrease your consumption and waste production, and move towards a more environmentally friendly, low waste lifestyle.

These changes are focusing on the low-hanging fruit, the small switches that will not break the bank or add hours to your daily or weekly routine.

These are largely changes that used to be considered ‘the way of life’ just a few short decades ago.

Today we are talking about Cloth Napkins & Hand Towels.

budget epicurean cloth hand towels

I know the title looks like two things, since I mention both napkins and hand towels.

But let me explain why they are the same: they are the same.

A cloth, rather than paper, to wipe your hands with. That’s it.

The only real difference being that we call it a hand towel when it is in the bathroom and used to dry your hands after you wash them, and it is called a napkin when it is used at the dinner table or in the kitchen to wipe your face and hands.

cloth napkins

Because we generally don’t use napkins with dinner anyways (I know, we’re animals… no we just aren’t that messy I guess) I haven’t felt the need to invest in a set of cotton dinner napkins.

But I feel that coming on someday soon, as I do love hosting dinner parties and would be more than willing to host family holidays now that we have our own home.

You can re-use cloth over and over for years before they finally break down. And once they become too stained/ripped to use with company, they can become heavy duty cleaning rags for cars, floors, bathrooms, and more.

And the best part is, once they are beyond even that functionality, 100% cotton cloths can even be composted, to totally complete the cycle and close the loop.

Let’s say that your family of 4 uses 2 napkins each per day. I assume lunch outside the house. That equals 56 napkins per week, and a total of 2912 napkins per year.

Now let’s also just pick a random number and say you can get 100 paper napkins for $1 at the dollar store. That still means you are spending a minimum of about $29 per year on paper, which is then thrown away.

That is not taking into account if you buy napkins somewhere more expensive, or in fancy colors or patterns for the holidays, or host family or friends often.

If instead you invested that $29 into a set of nice, restaurant grade cotton cloth napkins, you would most likely never have to buy napkins, ever again! You could probably save yourself over $1000 easily throughout your life, and just imagine how many trees.

budget epicurean cloth hand towels

We used to be die-hard lovers of paper towels.

I mean, what could be easier when you spill some sauce on the counter than grabbing a sheet or two off the roll, wiping it up, and tossing the paper towel in the trash?

There was a roll in the kitchen, on the dining table, on the coffee table, in the bedroom. You never know when you might have to deal with an errant drip of coffee, or a smushed bug, or a dog would cough up something you do not want to touch.

But this convenience comes at a cost, as we would order cases of paper towels every 3-6 months. Not to mention the cost to the environment of all that paper production, transportation, and the greenhouse gasses caused by paper products rotting in landfills.

I figure, we probably spent about $25 on paper towels every 3 months. You can buy 24 cloth hand towels for $16, and they last far longer than 3 months.

That’s a savings of $75, per year!

What I do have oodles of now is cloth hand towels.

If you take a tour of my bathrooms, you will notice towel hooks and a different color towel hanging off each one. Sometimes I even put a second backup towel folded on the counter as well.

budget epicurean cloth hand towels

Many of these are now several years old at this point, as they were purchased on sale throughout college or gifted to me for various birthdays and holidays.

They have cleaned up spills, flour, counter tops, tables, floors, mud, grease, soap, and much more. They have likely been through the wash at least a few dozen times by now.

And all are still perfectly sanitary, and perfectly functional. I have a minimum of one towel hanging off the stove at all times, for cleaning random spills and drying hands or dishes after washing.

budget epicurean hand towel on the stove

When they get dirty, wet, or stained, they just go into the laundry hamper. I wash them with our weekly loads of clothing and bath towels, and have never had a problem.

Though I’m sure there is some small number of pennies spent on laundry soap, water, electricity, and time, these towels have paid for themselves many times over, and will continue to do so for years.

 

To summarize, why should you consider cloth napkins and hand towels?
  • They are infinitely cheaper over time
  • You only need to buy them once every few decades, if that
  • They take far less energy to create than hundreds of paper towels
  • They do not contribute to landfills every week
  • You will love the soft feel of the fabric versus paper
  • They are far more absorbent, for large messes
  • They come in tons of colors and patterns
  • You can use them to clean up after babies and animals
  • They may be able to be composted at the very end of their life

 

What you do think, did I miss any good reasons? Do you use cloth napkins and/or towels, and why or why not?