A few years ago, I had to get dental work done on my front teeth. For two months, I couldn’t drink anything unless it was out of a straw. After the first few days, I realized I was flying through packs of straws. Each time I threw one away, I felt more and more guilty about this extra bit of plastic I was using and then, trashing.
I did a bit of research and found some reusable stainless steel straws. Once I made that swap, I started paying more and more attention to all the products I was buying. When I reached for something on a shelf at the store, I’d find myself thinking: What impact is this having on the environment? Slowly but surely, my journey to become a more sustainable consumer began.
It’s important for all of us to establish mindful shopping habits and choose products based on their impact on the environment. Ninety-one percent of plastic isn’t recycled, and 1.3 billion tons of food gets trashed every year. On average, Americans generated almost 254 million tons of trash in 2013 alone.
Additionally, there are many harmful chemicals and plastics in household products—from beauty and cleaning products to clothing and food storage containers. Chemicals end up in our water and food supply. Toxins are everywhere, and waste is clearly a problem. So, it’s on us to educate ourselves and make conscious choices about what we consume for the health of our bodies and our planet.
Here are five tips to help you on your journey to becoming a more mindful consumer.
Find sustainable alternatives
Sustainability begins at home! Look around your house and make sustainable swaps for products you use. Recycle your plastic containers and store your food in glass containers. Invest in a glass water bottle, like a bkr bottle. If you do use plastic, make sure it’s BPA-free. Try a refillable spray mop. Opt for reusable cleaning cloths instead of paper towels and this reusable food wrap instead of Ziploc bags. By finding eco-friendly alternatives, you’re limiting your exposure to the toxins in plastic, cutting down on waste, and saving money in the long run.
Buy organic fruits and veggies
Buying organic may cost a bit more, but it’s worth it. Non-organic produce is often loaded with chemicals and pesticides, comes from all over the world, and is often out of season. If you can’t afford organic, seasonal produce is always best, and shopping at your local farmers market ensures you’re getting high-quality food grown nearby. Another hot tip: While you’re shopping for groceries, stay to the outside aisles in the grocery store. This will help you avoid all the processed and high-waste products with lots of packaging in the middle.
B.Y.O.B.: Bring your own bags
Several major cities in the United States now charge a bag tax or ban plastic bags completely to help encourage people to bring their own bags to the store. Invest in some reusable shopping bags (you can get them at any grocery store, or reuse those totes that always pile up) and leave some in your car and in your everyday work bag or backpack so you always have them available. You can even use them as gift wrap, which helps cut down on waste.
Make your own DIY beauty products
Personal beauty products often contain hazardous chemicals and are usually stored in plastic. After finding eco-friendly alternatives around your home, a great next step is to start making sustainable swaps in your beauty cabinet. Organic coconut oil can be swapped in for moisturizer, body lotion, and makeup remover. Start experimenting with making your own shampoo and conditioner. Essential oils are a great alternative to chemical-filled perfumes and they can help promote relaxation, better digestion, and a variety of other health benefits. And using a good face wash cloth will eliminate the need for any makeup/face wipes. It’s not about replacing everything at once—but using products with fewer chemicals and plastics is better for your skin and the environment.
Buy already loved clothing and household items
One of the biggest shifts I’ve made in my own consuming habits is toward buying secondhand clothing and household items. Thrift stores, flea markets, and your local Goodwill shop have a wide variety of clothes, dishes, pans, frames, kitchen items, candles, and even furniture. And if you prefer online shopping, take a look at sites like Craigslist, Ebay, Etsy, or even a local Facebook community yard sale group to find items you need before you head to Amazon. By choosing to buy previously loved items, you’re creating less waste and saving money!
There’s no need to overhaul your consumer choices in one day, but as you start making one change, you’ll most likely find yourself making more and more! Most importantly, by making more conscious purchases, you’re saving money and preserving the environment. What could be better? Start by picking the tip that resonated most with you and make one change this week. Our planet will thank you for it.
Originally published on April 23, 2018.