One of our favorite green philosophies goes something like, "Less stuff = more good." While that seems simple enough, cutting back on the amount of stuff you use every day can be trickier than it sounds. One of the easiest ways to do this is to cut back on the disposable stuff you buy. Here are then things that you never have to buy disposable again.
Indeed, there are a world of reasons to ditch bottled water, but here's the best one: The same stuff comes out of your tap at home. Tap water is one of the most rigorously regulated substances on the planet (even in New York), so, at least here in the States—and most of the rest of the developed world—tap water is the healthy, nutritious, green way to go. Not sold? Here are five reusable alternatives that'll make you forget the wet stuff ever came in disposables.
We can hear the collective groan from parents everywhere on this one. Yeah, we know reusable diapers are easier to just fold up and throw away—and even though there are better, greener disposables hitting the shelves—disposable diapers have far-reaching consequences after they roll out to the curb with your trash. At the top of the list: 200 years of slow, stinky decomposition in the landfill. With a handful of disposables getting trashed per baby per day, we're talking over 1000 diaper-years between breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Thankfully, non-disposable options abound, and there are even some compostable (read: hybrid) diapers that can offer the best of both worlds. Learn more about solving the diaper dilemma and step away from the Huggies.
Stuff like this is easy to miss—air filters aren't staring you in the face like diapers and water every day—but they can be extremely helpful in efficiently maintaining two of your biggest investments: Your house and your car. Though they don't get changed as often as diapers, for example, they can still add up; a couple filters per year over the many years in the life of your home or your car makes a difference, to the pile of trash you contribute to the landfill, sure, but to your wallet as well. When it comes to your car, for example, even though a permanent filter might cost twice as much as a disposable model, it'll have paid for itself the next time you would have had to change it; each time you clean it instead of replacing it is money in your pocket. As an added bonus, the permanent electrostatic jobbies that go in your furnace actually work better than their disposable counterparts.
It might not seem like a big deal, but since we all prepare and eat food several times a day, this one really adds up; even just one roll per week is hundreds of sheets that used to be a tree (yep, even when you buy the recycled variety. By the numbers: it takes 544,000 trees to feed Americans' paper towel habit each year; throw in disposable paper napkins, and that number tops 1 millionaccording to the National Resources Defense Council. Don't become a statistic; opt for tea towels and microfiber instead.
5.Wrapping paper Though the big wrapping season has just passed, this is one worth keeping in mind all year 'round. While Sunday comics and other paper flotsam lying around the house have long been popular, we're bigger fans of the themed material over more traditional wrapping paper. Giving a kitchen gift? Wrap it in a new tea towel (made of organic cotton of course). And, of course, one can never have too many reusable tote bags. Bill Nye has some green wrapping tips to keep your giving at its greenest. 6.Individually-wrapped foods To see a bunch of the million-and-one examples of individually-wrapped foods that have infiltrated our lives, just walk down an aisle at the grocery store. Seriously, does anybody really need individually-wrapped prunes? Didn't think so. From fruits and veggies—sorry Trader Joe's, we're looking at you—to "convenience packs" like Jell-O and "Go-gurt" (whatever that is), there are a multitude of foods that can easily be replaced with goodies in the bulk aisle. And, as a bonus, note that some quality bulk sections will let you bring your own reusable containers from home, so you don't have to use another ubiquitous plastic bag. 7.Takeout food Sometimes there's nothing like a little takeout Chinese (if you aren't up for making your own, but the Styrofoam (or otherwise disposable) dishes leave something to be desired. What to do instead? Refuse it, and bring your own reusable ware from home. More progressive takeout spots are happily accepting and encouraging this practice, but if your favorite neighborhood spot isn't on board yet, be sure to mention it when you order; it'll only take a time or two before they see you coming and are ready for you. This one goes for anything you plan to eat at work, too. 8.Feminine products Ladies, this one's for you. Before you reject the idea of trying to go with the flow, consider these stats: 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons (yep, that's billion, with a "B") get used once and then tossed every year. Add to that the chlorine bleaching—found to add trace amounts of dioxin to tampons—and use of rayon—which has been linked to toxic shock syndrome—and something a little more stable (and reusable) doesn't sound so bad, does it? Get more info on (reusable options and greener disposables, if you absolutely must), and learn a bit about what you can gain, and avoid, from going with the flow. 9.Razors Dudes don't get a free pass in the bathroom, though employing more reusable razors can apply to the girls, too. Straight razors sit atop the heap of reusable options—their minimal moving parts and lack of half a dozen blades or gimmicks like "moisturizing strips" make them green in a cool, minimalist sort of way—and fully disposable razors are on the bottom. Whether you choose the top, the bottom, or somewhere in between, a groovy gadget called the Razor Saver can extend the life of your shaving mechanism of choice. 10.Furniture Though it's not something most of us probably think about as often as shaving, furniture can be amazingly disposable, and have a proportionally larger impact than a single razor blade or paper towel. We like to think of furniture in terms of years per piece, and the higher you aim, the better. Often, that means solid wood furniture—durable pieces that can stand the test of time—and not OSB (that's oriented strand board) or plywood. While cheap (in terms of money, at least) at the beginning, it's "value" decreases when it falls apart in a year and you have to replace it. After a few years of this vicious cycle, you'd have been way better off going with one quality item vs. a bunch of disposables, both in planetary and pocketbook terms. Read up on How to Go Green: Furniture for more. - Honorable mention: Takeout chopsticks We left chopsticks off the official list since you don't technically "buy" takeout chopsticks—they're usually part of the package deal—but you'd be surprised at the impact of all those little sticks. According to the Wall Street Journal, roughly 63 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks are churned out each year in China alone; the vast majority of those have a one-way ticket for the trash can. Though the bring your own chopsticks movement hasn't quite reached the pitch of, say, bringing your own bag, it's gaining traction in Asia, and we wouldn't be surprised if it catches on like the bags have. After all, six or seven years ago, would you have imagined a world where you don't take any disposable bags out of the grocery store? Chopstick eaters of the world, unite!