I’ve been thinking a lot about plastic lately. Since my last trip to New York City last October for SmashingConf, I’ve been haunted by the picture of a trash bin in my hotel room full of plastic bottles and packaging that were probably going to be polluting the environment forever. This has put me on a steady journey to a waste-free lifestyle.
It was yet another great SmashingConf in NYC in November 2018. I gave a talk and ran a workshop, and stayed for a little less than a week in the city before I headed back home.
The speaker’s hotel we stayed at in NYC hadn’t changed from previous years. It’s a cool hotel with some nice modern features. But my favorite new thing about the hotel from my last trip was seeing how it introduced trash separation (or waste sorting) into the rooms. There was a trash bin for every major type of waste: plastic, paper, etc. much like what you see in other public spaces and facilities. I liked that. So, being the good gal that I am, I was more than happy to separate my waste like that.
I usually don’t allow housekeeping into my room unless I need it. I don’t like the idea of a stranger coming into my room and moving things around. I keep the room as clean as possible during my stay anyway. Plus, I try to minimize water and energy consumption by not sending my towels to cleaning every day when they don’t need it. (I love hotels that have a special door sign that you can hang letting housekeeping know that you don’t want to clean your room because you’re a friend of the environment.)
I also avoid going out at night during my travels and would, therefore, need to have something to eat for dinner in the room. This means that I always buy and bring food back with me into the hotel room which, in turn, means that I have extra waste at the end of the day due to the food packaging.
So, naturally, by the end of my one-week stay in NYC, the trash bins in my hotel room were full. I was cleaning and tidying the room up while I was packing for my flight home when I looked at the trash and was shocked by the waste footprint I was leaving behind. I couldn’t believe that, in only one week, I had left behind so much trash, much of which was plastic (mostly bottles from the fresh juice I buy) that was likely going to stick around in the environment forever. And then my perspective widened and I thought “if every person has the same footprint as me in a week, then the planet is doomed within a few years to come”. My thought may not be entirely accurate as I have no data to support it, but it was enough for me to be aware of the impact each of us has on our planet—the only home we’ve got, on a daily basis.
Time for Change
The picture of the trash full of plastic haunted me for weeks after I returned home. I felt terrible. I started getting more conscious of my daily habits and noticing every piece of waste I put in the trash bin every day. Whenever I threw a piece of plastic I would think “Couldn’t I have avoided this?” I knew I had to do something about this. I knew I had to, somehow, limit the of waste I produced. And for that to happen, I knew that I had to make some changes to my lifestyle. So, I started Googling.
I came across quite a few articles and accounts on social media of people that are already living a waste-free lifestyle. Many people have articles and tips on little things and changes you can do to switch to a waste-free lifestyle. So I started reading and reading, feeling more inspired and empowered after each article.
I learned about many plastic-free alternatives to daily products that I didn’t even know existed. I read about other people’s lifestyles and started picking all the little habits that I knew I could apply to my own. A few weeks in, I was already making a lot of progress and producing less waste.
Small Steps with Big Impact
Use reusable stainless steel straws instead of plastic straws. I picked up a few straws during my trip to Melbourne last summer. I’ve been using them for my homemade smoothies since. I haven’t used a single plastic straw since. (Yay!)
Carry a reusable cotton bag when going shopping. Shops generally use either plastic bags or paper bags. The majority of shops and stores in Lebanon use plastic bags. I started carrying my own cotton bag and skipping the store bags completely, thus reducing the amount of single-use plastic I brought back home. I have a couple of bags that I bought during a trip to Europe, and, with this new habit, I’ve finally put all the conference goodie bags to good use, too!
Use reusable water bottles. I purchased a few glass bottles to replace plastic water bottles in my car. I already ditched plastic for everything I use at home (for smoothies and the likes).
As I mentioned above, most shops in Lebanon use plastic extensively. And there are too few plastic-free options in general. The majority of food packaging is plastic. So even though I try to go plastic-free as much as possible, I am still forced to buy many plastic-packaged products. Since I have no eco-friendly alternatives to most of them, I started reducing the amount of products that I could do without. For example, if I can make a good and delicious homemade yogurt drink, I do that instead of buying (the plastic) bottles of it from the supermarket. I also started following this approach with other types of food and drinks. This has not only reduced the amount of plastic waste, but has also gotten me into an even healthier lifestyle. And, making my own homemade alternatives has also saved me some money, which is always a good side effect.
If a product comes in both plastic and non-plastic packaging options, I choose the latter. For example, instead of buying spaghetti that comes in in a plastic package, I buy the ones that come in a carton one.
I’m reusing many of the glass jars that come with certain products. Even though I can’t take them to a store and fill them with package-free foods, I’m taking benefit of them for all the homemade stuff I am now making.
I’m still producing noticeable waste from my daily usage of facial products like cotton pads. My plan is to buy reusable ones on my next trip, as well as a few other waste-free products that I use on a daily basis.
Since going minimal in the last year, I’ve already reduced the overall amount of products I buy, which is generally better for the environment (and for my bank account 😄).
I wish stores in Lebanon had more waste-free options and alternatives. But, unfortunately, it will probably be a very long way and time to go before this happens. Until then, I’ll keep trying to do the best I can to minimze my footprint on the planet. I’ll keep educating myself on ways I can do to help the environment, and eco-friendly products I could bring back home with me to help.
This planet is the only home we’ve got, so I hope everyone can do their own part—no matter how small—to help keep it clean for us and for the generations to come.
Thank you for reading.