Like many of you, every January I take inventory of the previous year and make a list of goals (ahem, resolutions) for the year ahead. Reducing my family’s footprint on our dear Mother Earth had been weighing on my mind.
Like most Mothers, Mamma Earth takes such good care of her dependents, often with little gratitude and care thrown her way. And while recycling is wonderful, the first two R’s, reduce and reuse, arguably make the most impact.
My general goals were as follows:
Use less plastic (the mantra heard around the world these days). Plastic is one of the biggest pollutants to our Earth and oceans, so rather than focus on recycling it, I’d rather limit its use all together.
Significantly reduce the landfill-bound trash we throw away each week.
For me, in order to tackle new goals, they need to be specific, rather than overarching. So, I came up with three areas of focus; clean up the kid’s lunchbox routine, eliminate plastic storage receptacles at the grocery store, and significantly reduce food waste. Here are the details:
Clean Up the Lunchbox. At the end of the day, packed lunches, often full of uneaten food and plastic storage bags, find themselves staring down the garbage shoot. That is why one of my goals for the year was to clean up my kid’s school lunches.
First, I invested in stainless steel storage containers. Similar to glass, stainless is far more environmentally-friendly than plastic, yet has the benefit of being lightweight. There are several bento-box type storage systems on the market that are great for both lunches and road trips. When faced with the same situation, Elizabeth—founder of No Qualms Mom, opted for the self-contained bento system shown below. There are plenty of other options out there so look around for one that works best for you.
Next, I looked into replacing the go-to light weight sealable plastic bags with something more sustainable. I ended up finding Lunchskins at my local supermarket, which are sealable, recyclable, compostable, and cute!
Finally, I implemented a rule that my kids have to finish whatever is left in their lunch when they get home from school (shocker, this is often veggie sticks and fruit), before they can have a snack. Remaining food scraps go into the yard waste bin, or more often than not, the dog bowl.
Greener Grocery Shopping. I won’t lie to you and say I typically walk out of the grocery store with zero plastic in my bag, but I will say I am trying awful hard to limit it. My main strategy has been to ditch plastic grocery/produce bags. My local grocery store actually doesn’t even stock plastic grocery bags, and gives consumers bag refunds for bringing in your own stock, so that one is a bit of a no-brainer for me.
Produce bags are a bit more of a challenge. If you’re lucky, your local store will have the now compostable bags in stock. These do actually compost so a word to the wise is to remove your produce from them before they go into the fridge.
Reusable cloth or muslin grocery bags are everywhere now and small enough to stash in your purse. Remember to wash both them (and your produce) each time used, as a lot of bacteria makes its way onto the store conveyor belts.
In a pinch, I can usually find small brown paper bags for produce such as mushrooms that don’t store well in plastic. And while mushrooms are most definitely introverts at heart, they, I’m sure, are happy to share their paper sacks with other fruits and veggies.
Lastly, I ask myself, “does this actually need a bag?” In the case of onions, garlic and the like, the answer is often no.
Limit Food Waste.When I started the endeavor of creating less waste, I began by paying close attention to what actually ended up in our trash can. What surprised me was the amount of food waste, both from school lunches and family meals, that consumed our garbage.
First off, I immediately began scaling back the portion size of the meals I was cooking, unless the meal easily converted to a freezer dinner. I had been of the mindset that if I was going to the trouble to cook, I might as well make extra. But if those extras get thrown away at the end of the week, it’s not serving anyone; not the environment, and certainly not my bank account.
Second, I came up with a weekly meal plan that included one leftover night a week. Often this meal ends up using leftover odds and ends from the week in fun salads or inventive egg dishes (see my recent article Reinventing Leftovers for ideas). Buying less food and using up what we have has given our trash can a noticeable break.
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