Today I would like to discuss items we often purchase in the name of sustainability that we don’t actually need, and which could contribute to further waste.
At first blush, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with reusable bags; after all, they help us avoid using single-use bags. The problem is with the sheer number of reusable bags that we accumulate. How many times have we accepted reusable bags at conferences, for example, trade shows, and so forth? Reusable bags require a lot of energy to be manufactured, and most cannot be recycled (ironically, plastic bags usually can). You have to use reusable bags many times to mitigate their environmental footprint. During our latest COVID lockdown, I’ve been purchasing my groceries online from local vendors; in some cases, they have delivered the goods in their store-branded reusable bags, for which I have no use. I’ve now taken to adding a note in my cart to say “please do not put the merchandise in reusable bags, as I have enough of them. Paper bags are fine.” I have one set of BagPodz that is easy to carry and lightweight, and that can be washed very easily. I also refuse any swag or bags at any events. Seriously, how many pens do you need?
Reusable water bottles and travel mugs
This is another area where it’s so easy to accumulate a lot of duplicates; reusable water bottles and travel mugs are often included in swag, as well. I’ve been guilty of buying stainless steel bottles over the years, to the point where I have rather too many. One water bottle and one travel are enough. I’m divesting myself of duplicates as responsibly as I can, but I need to stop myself from buying or accumulating more of them.
I’ve been guilty of buying more than one set of travel cutlery. My first purchase consisted of a bamboo set; I quickly found that I hate the feel of bamboo in my mouth. I can’t stand dry, raspy textures (hello, microfiber cleaning cloths). I’ve purchased two different sets of stainless steel travel cutlery; I use one in the office, so at least it’s not wasted, but honestly, a set of cutlery from my kitchen would have been sufficient. The other “it’s so cute” set turned out to be too small for normal-sized hands. I’ve kept it very simple by buying a travel spork, which works well and hasn’t yet resulted in any accidental loss of blood, which did happen when I tried to carry my kitchen cutlery in my bag. This spork also doesn’t set off any alarms at the airport.
Matching mason jars
It’s very tempting to buy beautiful mason jars or glass vacuum sealed jars (let’s face it, Weck jars are beautiful) in order to have a sense of symmetry and beauty in one’s kitchen cupboards. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love both symmetry and beauty, but it’s so much easier to simply reuse glass or even plastic containers that previously held food. All my glass storage jars were formerly food jars (e.g., salsa, vegan mayonnaise, jams, etc.). They may not look pretty, but they work, and I use them to store dry goods such as legumes, leftovers, cleaning concentrates, as well as to freeze food. I’ve invested in two sets of plastic mason jar lids, since the standard metal ones rust very easily.
Reusable straws and their brushes
Again, there’s nothing wrong with reusable straws; it’s more a question of how many we actually need. You can buy reusable straws in multipacks, and they often come with those tiny brushes for cleaning purposes. Those brushes strike me as so wasteful. It’s so easy to simply run soap and water through the straw to clean it; if you’re very germophobic, you can soak the straw in boiling water. I put my stainless steel straw in the dishwasher as well. I do use a stainless steel straw at the office and at home, mostly to keep lipstick off my glass of water, but I don’t need more than two. Again, it’s the quantity of these items that we accumulate that is wasteful.