Image courtesy of Project Manhattan / Wikimedia Commons
When Alaska Airlines asked me to partner with them for their #StrawlessSkies campaign, my immediate thought was sharing some of the ways we can all work together to reduce our consumption of plastic. This was inspired by their decision to remove straws from all of their flights — and encourage others to use social media to share what they’re doing to make the earth a cleaner, healthier place.
While a few of these tips may be redundant for some of us (for example, I already have a lot of friends in the reusable coffee cup club), others might not be. Or, better yet, they could lead to discussions that will offer different solutions, whether it’s an invention or a local restaurant swearing off straws too.
1. TAKE $100 AND INVEST IN these REUSABLES RIGHT NOW
Last year I made the decision to stop using straws, plastic bottles and coffee cups, and I challenge each and every one of you to make that commitment as well.
If we all invested roughly $100 into reusable products like these, over the next five years we would EACH save thousands and thousands of plastic items, including straws, cups, bags, utensils, bottles and containers.
I drink coffee every day, and whether it's hot or iced, my 20-ounce Yeti Rambler ($29.99) keeps my beverage whatever temperature I want it to stay -- for hours. The mug can be used with both straw lids ($9.99) or magnetic lids, the latter of which also work for sipping iced drinks. Another fantastic reusable straw option is the soon-to-be-released Final Straw ($20), which is available for pre-order now with an expected ship date of November 2018. Not only does this foldable straw come with a cleaning squeegee, but it clips right onto your keychain, so you'll never forget to bring it. Brilliant. I am patiently waiting for mine to arrive, and I may want to buy a few more as stocking stuffers this holiday season.
If you don't already have a Nalgene ($11) or another type of heavy duty reusable glass/plastic bottle for water, please let this serve as a reminder to get one. They're dishwasher safe, indestructible and most any waiter or barista will be more than happy to fill yours up with water if you bring it in to their establishment.
As far as eliminating the need for Saran Wrap (and seriously cutting back on my use of Ziplock bags), Bee's Wrap is a fantastic, eco-friendly way to keep food fresh. Their compostable food storage wraps are made from organic cotton, beeswax, organic jojoba oil and tree resin, and you can wash them with warm, soapy water. Once they're dry, you fold them up and reuse until you’re ready to toss them in your compost bin. I have their sandwich wrap ($11) and their variety pack ($42). Bonus: You'll probably love the way they smell!
My beloved Hawaii Volcanoes National Park reusable tote is falling apart, so it's time for a new bag -- and I just ordered this colorful Baggu standard tote ($10), which can hold up to 50 pounds of groceries. As far as takeout at the office or eating on the go, you're probably not bringing your own silverware. Have you ever considered how much plastic cutlery you blow through each year? A bamboo travel utensil set ($13), like this one, made by Bambu, can help you cut back on that.
2. CHANGE YOUR SHOPPING + PERSONAL HABITS
Image courtesy of USDA / Lance Cheung / Wikimedia Commons
Changing some of our shopping and personal habits can put a serious dent in how much plastic we use each year. While it might not be possible for us to immediately make the switch and do ALL of these things, I think we can do at least two or three — and that’s huge!
Have you considered switching to bar soap (and bar shampoo and conditioner) to skip plastic bottles in the shower? I use goat milk soap, which also contains far fewer chemicals than the body wash you might buy at the drugstore, and I just ordered two Lush Cosmetics shampoo bars.
Do your baby’s diapers contain plastic, or are they organic and compostable? Or, are you using reusable cotton diapers? I don’t have kids, so this is a bit out of my area of expertise, but it’s definitely worth mentioning in this article.
Have you looked into alternatives to tampons? A number of women have found success with Thinx underwear and menstrual cups (the MeLuna and Diva cups are currently the most popular), and if you can’t manage that, switching to cardboard applicator tampons is a big help.
Have you considered using a compostable bamboo toothbrush? While the bristles of many bamboo toothbrushes on the market are not compostable, the handles are, so it’s yet another way to cut back on the amount of plastic waste you create.
Are you using products with microbeads? Many exfoliating scrubs contain sea salt, sugar and even small pieces of apricot, all of which are natural ingredients that will eventually break down. However, a number of beauty products sold globally still contain plastic microbeads, which, more often than not, end up in the ocean and harm marine wildlife. Many of these products have been banned over the last few years in the United States and the U.K., but you can still buy cosmetics with microbeads in other parts of the world, so always double check your labels.
3. REUSE BEFORE YOU RECYCLE
Image courtesy of Jage713 / Wikimedia Commons
Every ounce counts! If you absolutely must use a plastic item, why not get an extra use (or several) out of it before you toss it in the recycling bin? And in some cases, you can get quite crafty with how you decide to repurpose an item, like the planters above.
On my latest road trip, I was able to get three uses out of cardboard to-go carton before using it as kindling for a campfire, and when I ate backpacking meals on camping overnighters, I made sure to reuse the sealable pouches to store dirty toilet paper, rather than sticking that waste in a new plastic trash bag.
One big thing I am currently trying to cut back on is my use of bulk (1-2 gallon) plastic water bottles. Because much of my time is spent on the road and I’m not always near water sources, these are still a bit of a necessity for me. I’ve started saving the thicker, more durable jugs and refilling them with potable water every chance I get, and not only does it save me a few dollars, but these jugs can be re-used quite a bit before they even need to be washed, as I am not putting my mouth on them. Unfortunately they don’t always fit under the water filters and spigots at coffee shops and cafes that I frequent, and I can’t always trust hoses at RV parks, so I would love to find a larger (and hopefully easy to clean/fill) 3 gallon container.
4. PICK UP TRASH
Just because you didn’t leave it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pack it out. It’s easy to cram water bottles in the outer pouches of your backpack on a hike, and the same goes for food wrappers, both of which represent the majority of what I bring back from trails and days by the lake or the beach. Being someone else’s personal garbage collector isn’t fun, but please remember that in doing this, you are contributing and making the planet a better place!
5. TALK TO LOCAL BUSINESSES
These days, I always speak up at restaurants when I order a beverage and let my server know I want my drink WITHOUT A STRAW. I shouldn’t have to do this, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down at a table and been served a glass of water with a straw that I didn’t even ask for.
Since the straw has already been opened and stuck in a glass, it will not be re-used and placed in a drink for the next customer — it’s going to get chucked in the trash. So please remember to do this every time you dine out, because the more restaurants that hear “No straws, please!” the more they will reconsider using them. On top of that, I have also had a few thoughtful conversations with managers and chefs about making the commitment to remove straws from their eateries — and to have recycling/compost bins available too. It’s not an easy dialogue to start, but if you’e holding a reusable mug or a piece of organic food wrap, it’s a good way in.
I'd also like to point out that Alaska Airlines (along with many other establishments and companies that have made the pledge to ban straws) still have straws available for customers with disabilities. My dad has severe muscular dystrophy and struggles at mealtime, and so he does still depend on straws occasionally. It’s important to remember all of the communities affected by this, but if we continue to work together, we will see success.
6. GET YOUR FRIENDS + FAMILY ON BOARD TOO
I have had countless conversations with friends in the outdoor community about our favorite products, which is how I found out about Bambu’s utensils and Final Straw, and I am always using social media to encourage others to go the reusable route too. I bought my Mom a pack of Bee's Wrap and showed her how to care for it, and she didn’t even know a product like that existed.
Taking action as an individual is great, but if you have the power to make even ten of your Facebook friends swear off straws and water bottles for one year, you will be saving thousands of plastic items from landfills and the ocean. If you have a a sizable audience on social media, that’s even more powerful, so I am pleased to see a company like Alaska Airlines not only taking action, but starting this conversation — and keeping it going.
And speaking of getting your friends on board, if you post a photo on Instagram and talk about what you’re doing to reduce your plastic consumption and use the #StrawlessSkies hashtag, you could win TWO Alaska Airlines flight vouchers to a destination of your choice.