Consume Less: Single-Use Disposables

colorful straws

Photo Credit, Horia Varlan

Don’t all those straws look colorful and fun?  Sure they do, but you probably won’t ever think about how fun they are after you use them once and throw them away.  They’ll end up in a landfill somewhere or in the ocean where marine animals and birds may mistake the pieces for food.The problem with single-use disposable products (think straws, paper plates, Styrofoam cups, plastic cutlery, fast food wrappers, leftover take-out containers, etc) is that they are both wasteful and often will be around basically FOREVER.  I know that sounds dramatic, but Styrofoam is rumored to take hundreds of years to decompose.  I say rumored because no one really knows.  Every piece of plastic or Styrofoam ever produced is still on the planet today.  It doesn’t decompose or rot and become part of the Earth again, it sticks around and causes problems.

Even items that can decompose, such as paper plates and cups, still end up filling landfills where there’s no air circulation under crushing tons of other garbage (and air circulation is necessary for things to decompose at all).

So let’s make an effort to stop using disposable single-use products.  Here’s a few ways you can do this in your own life.

10 Ways to Use Fewer Single-Use Disposables

  1. Refuse plastic straws.  Yes, you may get some weird looks from restaurant staff and fast food workers, but once you get in the habit, it’s not so bad.  If you really still want to drink from a straw, consider getting a stainless steel or glass one (it won’t break, promise). I personally have a Glass Dharma straw and love it!
  2. Use real silverware and cloth napkins.  You can purchase portable cutlery made from bamboo or stainless steel that’s designed to easily fit in a purse or pocket, or you can simply wrap a small fork and spoon in a cloth napkin, tie it up with a piece of string, and stick it in your purse or backpack or other bag to always be prepared.
  3. Bring your own containers for leftovers.  Whether you’re at a family gathering or out to eat, be prepared by bringing a few containers for leftovers.  I like small Pyrex glass dishes for liquids (soups and such) or stainless steel containers for dryer foods.  The stainless steel are nice since they are so lightweight!
  4. Carry your own reusable coffee mug.  Ask the barista at your favorite coffee shop to use your own coffee mug instead of a paper cup.  This works best if you get plain coffee.  If you like specialty drinks then be careful, workers often need to use the paper cups to accurately measure the ingredients out, or your mug might be too big to fit under the machine.  They’ll make the drink in a paper cup, pour it into your mug, and then throw the paper cup away.  Kinda defeats the purpose, so be sure to ask about the process.
  5. Carry a reusable water bottle.  Preferably metal or glass (plastic can leach chemicals into your water).  Instead of buying bottled water when you’re out and about, it’s usually easy to find a water fountain to fill your own bottle.  I have a glass bottle I take with me everywhere.  You can read my review of my LifeFactory water bottle to learn more.
  6. Use real plates.  Having a small picnic or family holiday gathering?  Use real plates instead of Styrofoam or paper.  I know doing the dishes afterward can be a bit more work, but most people these days have a dishwasher than can handle most of the load.  Don’t have enough plates for every one?  Ask people to bring their own. Most people aren’t offended, especially if you explain your mission to be less wasteful.
  7. Use washable hand towels instead of paper towels.  You can find plenty of tutorials on how to make your own reusable “paper” towels, or just use dishcloths to wipe up spills and cloth napkins for your messy fingers.  Keep plenty of them handy and simply toss them in the wash when you need to.
  8. Bring reusable tote bags with you to the store.  This extends beyond the grocery store to anywhere you shop.  You can find plenty of reusable cloth bags with unique designs and in different sizes so you don’t need to use (and throw away) flimsy plastic bags.
  9. Use a refillable lighter.  I don’t smoke, but if you do, get a nice fancy lighter that you can refill with butane.  You won’t be harming the environment with plastic disposable lighters, and you’ll have a really cool conversation starter (not that smoking is cool, I’m not condoning it at all).
  10. Stop using zip-top plastic food bags.  If you need to pack a sandwich or a small snack or wrap up food for the freezer, find another way! Use a real container (glass or stainless steel) or try wrapping food in reusable wraps.  You can make your own or try one of the alternatives on the market such as Bee’s Wrap.

All of this change can be a lot at once, so just as before with consuming less water and power and meat, remember to take small steps.  Start by eliminating at least one single-use disposable item from your life. Once you are comfortable with that, move on to another item you can stop using, and continue on until you aren’t using any single-use disposable at all!  Or at least as few as you can reasonably manage.

Just remember, every piece of garbage you throw away doesn’t really go “away.”  It ends up in the environment and in the food chain, and that’s not good for us or the Earth.

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