Disposable and convenient: The new decade’s dirty words


The new year is upon us, which apparently means it’s time to reflect on the past year and look forward to the future. With the current state of the world, there’s a whole lot that could be discussed, both looking back and looking forward. But there’s one thing in particular that has meant a lot to me over the past year that I’d like to focus on.

My family is just about a year into a quest to be more conscientious consumers, especially when it comes to disposable items. We’ve always been fairly environmentally conscious, but over this past year we’ve really stepped up our game. We recycle pretty much everything we can, but the local Walmart’s decision to quit accepting plastic for recycling forced us to really evaluate our purchasing choices. I’ll admit that sometimes my kids roll their eyes at my insistence on doing everything we can to avoid purchasing cheap plastic crap, as I so lovingly refer to it.

I’ll also admit this mission is really, really hard. I’ve seen memes recently criticizing Greta Thunberg because she was photographed having lunch with items packaged in plastic. I find these memes ridiculous.

First of all, for anyone spreading such nonsense, she’s a teenage girl and people who find it necessary to make fun of teenage kids are bullies, plain and simple. Second of all, try grocery shopping or buying even one meal and not buying something wrapped in plastic. It’s next to impossible. Even for those of us on a mission to avoid it, nearly everything comes in plastic.

But, now that we’re a year into this mission, I thought I’d share some info I’ve learned. First, bar shampoo and conditioner are awesome; I have used them exclusively for the past year and have found a brand I love. Not only do they work, but I don’t spend time trying to get the last bit of product out of plastic bottles. I also use bar lotion, which has taken some getting used to, but I’ve also found a product there I really like.

Other changes we’ve made include switching to eco laundry and dishwasher pods. They come in absolutely zero plastic packaging, can be purchased in bulk so I have a supply to last for about four months at a time and they work. We’ve switched to glass bottles for dish soap and I buy refill concentrate that also comes in bulk and doesn’t come in plastic.

We take reusable shopping bags to the grocery store and also have reusable produce bags. We have reusable silicone storage bags for food items — I haven’t purchased plastic wrap or plastic baggies of any kind in well over a year. Other staples in our home include bamboo toothbrushes, reusable straws, cloth napkins, real dishes, refillable water bottles, reusable swabs (no more Q-tips) — the list goes on and on.

We purchase toilet paper, paper towels and other items in bulk, also not wrapped in plastic and made from recycled paper. We’ve even found a company that donates part of each sale to helping developing nations deal with sewage problems.

Things I pretty much refuse to use include paper plates and plastic utensils. We no longer buy cleaning products of any kind in plastic bottles.

Christmas at our house included a whole lot of reusable gift bags and nice boxes so we didn’t have to use wrapping paper. There were also very few bows or ribbons to be found anywhere under our tree.

For any guys reading this who may be uncomfortable, I apologize (somewhat), but I’m also on a mission to use feminine products that don’t include plastic. For starters, I find it utterly ridiculous that perfectly natural processes that are part of life for every woman on the planet have to be considered embarrassing and kept secret. Beyond that, I find it disgusting that companies use that embarrassment to keep making “discreet” products wrapped in multiple levels of disposable packaging and more plastic. There are alternatives to what we’ve had shoved down our throats and they’re kind of awesome.

Admittedly, the initial costs of starting on this path were somewhat expensive. It also took some trial and error to find products that worked. But now that we’ve found so many products, it’s easy to purchase many items at one time because I’m also very conscious of the environmental impacts of having multiple different shipments to my home. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that the costs now aren’t all that different from the products I used to buy.

I would absolutely love to find a local supplier for these items so I could spend my money closer to home. I don’t see that happening without a local demand from consumers who are fed up, as I am, with generating enormous amounts of waste simply by living in the modern world.

It’s troubling that so much of our culture and our economy are driven by a mindset that everything is disposable and that continual shopping and throwing out the old is a good thing. We’re seemingly driven to buy new clothes, new cars, new furniture, new phones, new computers, etc. on a continual basis. Products are designed to stop working after a set lifespan so people have no choice but to buy more — a phenomenon known as planned obsolescence. In its counterpart, perceived obsolescence, we’re conditioned to believe we have to get all new products because the old ones aren’t in style anymore. We’re also taught to believe that convenient and disposable is the preferred medium for nearly everything. I personally reject all such conditioning.

I’ll admit that sometimes I’m fairly certain I sound like a caricature of a cranky old person. “They don’t make things like they used to!” Unfortunately, I think that statement is true. Some of my favorite pieces of furniture in my home are my bedroom set my parents bought me 40 years ago and a couple of shelves built decades ago by family members in high school shop class. They’re made of real wood and they’re still standing and fully functional. I see no need to replace them.

I could go on and on about personal lifestyle changes we’ve made and ways we try very hard to treat the planet and all life on it with the reverence we believe is deserved, but I think you get the point.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a religious person, but my belief system does tell me that treating our planet like a garbage dump is wrong, immoral and sinful. My beliefs tell me that generating enormous amounts of waste for our mere convenience is similarly wrong, immoral and sinful.

As difficult as it sometimes is, I’m committed to continuing my family on our path of less waste. In fact, I now regularly get excited and geek out over new discoveries to help us on our mission.

So, for anyone out there pondering a resolution to make as we head into 2020, may I suggest more conscientious consumerism? It’s far more satisfying than you might think.

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