Day 4 of Zero Waste Week 2021 is Reject. Today is all about the “stuff” in our life that we can reject based on our theme for the week that Nothing in Nature is Wasted.
As we focus on natural habits this week, it’s important to recognize that so much of what we consume in today’s disposable society is made with toxicity and doesn’t fit into a circular economy or a Zero Waste Community model. When faced with today’s overwhelming use of plastic, synthetic materials, and single-use or excess packaging, sometimes the only way to reduce waste means not creating it in the first place.
If you performed a waste audit or recently opened up a cluttered cupboard or junk drawer in your home, you may have clues (maybe just a few!) about items in your current routine that check any of the boxes above. Items that you can reject moving forward. For example, free event merchandise. Fast fashion and synthetic clothing. Styrofoam takeout boxes and plastic utensils. The list goes on.
We have some tips for you to REJECT unnecessary, but prevalent, waste!
#1- LEARN TO REFUSE
This is a key step! Work on utilizing a few key phrases:
- “No, thank you.”
- “I brought my own bag.” or “No bag, please. I can carry them.”
- “Do you mind if I use this cup/bottle/jar/etc?”
- “I won’t need utensils, a bag, or extra condiments.”
#2 – A MINDSET SHIFT
Before grabbing that freebie/buying something new, take a moment to consider:
- Am I just taking it to be polite?
- Do I want to store it or display it?
- Do I already own something similar or can I borrow it?
- Will I use it/wear it more than once?
- How will I dispose of it in the long run?
Fun fact! Taking ownership of something instantly increases its value and makes it harder to let go of. It’s a fun little trick our brains play on us and maybe one reason why the average household now has over 300,000 items! Read more about The Endowment Effect.
#3 – JUST SAY NO TO THESE BIG WASTERS!
1. SINGLE-USE DRINKWARE
Why REJECT? In Gainesville FL alone, our Materials Recovery Facility (where they process our recycling), makes three bales of #1 PETE bottles (water, soda, energy, juice) per day. That’s equivalent to 1.75 tons or 3,500 pounds. Per DAY! Think about what that number may be for Jacksonville or New York City or (cringe) globally. And this only accounts for the bottles that end up in recycling bins (double cringe).
How to avoid plastic water bottles: it’s simple. Find those reusable bottles you have tucked away and fill them up! Try filling up a reusable water bottle every day for a week or two before leaving your house. In no time, it will be as much a part of your routine as grabbing your phone!
2. PLASTIC BAGS
Why REJECT? Despite some of our best efforts to find alternative uses for them, plastic retail bags are used for only 13 minutes on average before they are discarded forever. From there, they will sit in a landfill for decades. Or worse, end up as toxic litter in our environment as they degrade into microplastics. A shocking statistic: the US uses 100 billion shopping bags per year and it takes 12 million barrels of oil to make them. Yikes!
This is probably the #1 convenience item that is pretty easy to avoid. Similar to the reusable water bottles, it probably won’t require spending any money, only applying a little forethought. We recommend cloth reusable bags that are washable and last for decades and here are some tips to help you remember your reusable bags:
- If you forget, try asking for a box from the store room.
- If you forget, try forcing yourself to only buy what you can carry. (Inconveniencing yourself is called a “pain point” and.. it works!)
- Put your empty reusable bags right back into your day bag or car as soon as you put your groceries away.
If you rely on public transportation or shop on foot, you could try finding bags that will clip to your keychain or tuck into themselves. Ask for one in your local Buy Nothing Group!
3. COFFEE CUPS (and all the single-use coffee accessories)
Why REJECT? Coffee cup, heat shield, lid, and stir straw add up to so much waste for one cup of coffee! And because of the composition, none of it is biodegradable or recyclable. As we have pointed out in the previous two examples, the sheer volume of use around the United States and the globe makes this habit a BIG WASTER!
What to do… The pandemic has certainly made our past efforts to convince coffee shops to go “green” and allow filling reusable mugs much more complicated, if not outright impossible in most places. We aren’t sure when they will start making the transition back to pre-pandemic policies on reusable mugs, but we encourage you to read and share this articleon the subject so maybe we can get the tide turning back in the other direction!
Reject Junk Mail before it’s made!
Want to reject Junk Mail before it gets to you? Check out these two sites that will help you cut down on your junk mail. Even though junk mail is recyclable, it’s better for the environment (less energy used and climate polluting emissions) when the junk mail isn’t made in the first place.
REJECT Actions Items
Don’t go it alone! Let lawmakers and local businesses know how you feel.
Action Item 1: Contact Your Lawmakers
Directions: We want our Florida representatives to hear from you! Floridians who want local communities to have the ability to regulate single-use plastic bags and expanded polystyrene can use this action item to let their voices be heard. Here in Florida, we need the state to overturn the current preemption that won’t allow for local communities to ban single-use plastic bags and expanded polystyrene (foam plastic). Help us make this change.
Feel free to use the letter we have created, changing what is highlighted in yellow (date, representative name, and your name) and emailing or snail mailing a copy.
Click here for the letter to send to your representatives. (Please copy and paste this letter into your own document and change what is highlighted in yellow.)
Find your state representatives here.
Action Item 2: Contact Local Businesses
Directions: If you’ve been ordering more takeout because of COVID, this is the activity for you! Lots and lots of restaurants, especially in the wake of the pandemic, pump out huge volumes of single-use styrofoam every year. Styrofoam is bad because….
- Styrofoam is a type of plastic called expanded polystyrene(EPS) #6
- Expanded polystyrene, like other plastics, breaks down into smaller pieces in the environment and eventually becomes microplastics
- Expanded polystyrene contains a chemical called styrene, which is known to migrate from the product to the hot food or beverage
- Expanded polystyrene has an artificially low cost to the consumer
- This low cost doesn’t take into consideration the upstream occupational and environmental hazards and the downstream impacts when it becomes litter
Consider reaching out to your favorite food establishments (via email or direct message) that use styrofoam and see what they say! You never know! Maybe you will be pleasantly surprised that they have already been thinking about making the switch and your message is just the push they needed to break free from styrofoam plastic.
Copy and paste into your notes or a message. Sections highlighted in yellow are a prompt for whatever customization fits your experience and personalizes your message. This letter is geared towards targeting styrofoam, so if you want to target their plastic bag or plastic cutlery usage, you’ll need to rework things down message a little differently.
Be sure to let us know if you get any feedback…There is help available locally if restaurants want to be more sustainable. They can reach out to The Repurpose Projects’s Director of Zero Waste: firstname.lastname@example.org