Almost one year ago, the young Greta Thunberg raised awareness about climate change on a global level, inspiring thousands of students around the world to go on strikes to force their parents and political leaders to stand up for our planet’s future. Even though it is extremely hard to change the way our countries have been ruled for hundreds of years, a lot of individual citizens have started to change their habits and are trying to embrace the “Zero Waste” movement – at least in some aspects. Because the way we live today is way too harmful not only for the environment, but also for wild animals, your beloved pets and even yourself and your own family, we must take actions now. The most obvious thing we have to fight against is our carbon emissions, but we must also work towards reducing the excessive use of plastics or harsh chemicals.
In the US, where plastics is dominating our lives, going green may seem pretty difficult, but every single person can already take some actions on their own and adopt some simple principles to reduce their waste. Here are some ideas you can implement at home (I personally don’t do every single thing that is listed, but I’m doing my best 🙂 ).
Though Pasadena has adopted a “Pay as You Throw” policy, meaning that the more you recycle, the less you would pay for your trash, this only applies to single-family homes or multi-family units of four or less. In other words, as most of us live in buildings of more than four units, there is little chance that the property has a recycling bin. Where I live, there is a tag on the trash bin saying that it goes to a waste sorting center, but obviously most of the recyclable items will be thrown away with “regular” trash. Did you know, for example, that when a cardboard is contaminated with food, you cannot recycle it anymore? So, basically, any cardboard that you would dispose in the trash bin would go to waste.
Even if a lot of recycling centers have closed recently in Pasadena, it is still possible to sort stuff by yourself. There are actually several places around or near Pasadena called “rePlanet” where you can bring your plastic bottles and cans – but that’s it. After a lot of research, the nearest place I found where you can recycle both plastics (only some types though), cardboard, glass, cans, etc. is located in Monrovia and is called “Monrovia Recycling Allan Company,” which is a 20-minute drive from Pasadena. Don’t expect to go to a shopping center when you go there (after all, it’s waste management), but you will receive some cash back for some of the stuff you are recycling.
That being said, you can imagine how important it is to simply reduce our amount of waste by adopting sustainable habits.
At the Grocery Store
- When going to the grocery store, the market or when shopping, bring your own reusable bags. If you forgot them, ask for paper bags instead of plastic ones (if available).
- Buy your cereals, rice, beans, nuts, etc. in stores where they are in bulk and where you can bring reusable containers (e.g. jars or cotton bags).
- Avoid fruits and vegetables that are wrapped in plastic and bring your own, reusable bags – Some stuff such as avocados or bananas don’t even need to be transferred in a bag for hygienic purposes, as you will not eat the peel.
- When selecting packaged food products, prefer food that is packed in a paper box or recyclable container.
- Prefer glass bottles to plastic ones for your drinks. If you bring them to a recycling center, you can even get money back!
- Prefer organic food to standard products. Even if the “organic” label is given more easily in the US compared, for example, to the EU you can still expect those food products to be less harmful to the environment, animals and your own body.
- Buy your food in farmer markets or other places where you can buy directly from the farm.
- If you go shopping once a week, prepare a menu for your week and only buy the things that are needed in the recipe. Making a list can also help you keep track of what you need to avoid buying too much and end up throwing away rotten food.
In the Kitchen
- Avoid processed food. Instead, try to cook as much as you can using raw products.
- Use Tupperwares or other reusable containers for food leftovers.
- Instead of buying bottles of water, use a water filter pitcher and drink water directly from the tap.
- Wrap your leftovers in reusable wraps made with an old piece of cloth and beeswax.
- In the oven, instead of parchment paper, use non-stick baking mats or trays that you can wash and reuse.
- If you have a garden, compost your edible waste – you’ll have an excellent, 100% natural fertilizer for your plants.
- Use “unpaper” towels – I found some really cute at “SustainLA,” a Zero Waste store in Highland Parks that just opened in late June!
- Paper napkins can be easily replaced by cotton or linen ones.
- Adjust the temperature of your fridge: there is no need to set it to the coldest temperature; putting it in the middle of the temp scale is usually enough.
In the Bathroom
- Use a toothbrush made of bamboo or other plant-based material.
- Prefer solid soap and shampoo bars.
- Choose your skincare products wisely: look for products free of parabens, sodiums lauryl sulfates, BHA, PEGs, aluminum, etc. Actually, the less unpronounceable ingredients there are, the more natural you can expect the product to be.
- When protecting your skin against the sun, make sure your sunscreen is eco-friendly and will not release harsh chemicals in the water when you go swimming. Know that the State of Hawaii takes this matter really seriously, as they have banned reef-harming sunscreens from being sold on their islands.
- Try to find glass or reusable containers for your creams.
- Replace disposable make up remover pads by reusable ones. If you can sew, you can even make them yourself.
- Replace disposable pads and tampons by reusable pads and a menstrual cup. Again, you will not only protect the nature, but also avoid harmful chemicals to be in direct contact with your skin.
- Reduce your water consumption by turning off the tap when you wash your teeth, your hands or while you soap yourself in the shower
- If you have a toilet flush that uses a lot of water in the unit you are renting, you can place directly in the flush tank a bottle that you fill with sand. All the volume that it will take will reduce the volume available for water.
Elsewhere in your Home
- Clean your house with washable dust clothes.
- Make your own cleaning products out of natural ingredients. Making them won’t take you more time than going to the grocery store to buy them. You can find some recipes that I tested and approved here.
- As a renter, you can save energy with some pretty simple principles:
- Pasadena Water and Power suggests to set the temperature of your cooling system no lower than 78° F (26° C). Take advantage of the evening/night hours to ventilate your home and naturally reduce the temperature;
- In the winter, they suggest to set your heating system temperature no higher than 68° F (20° C). You can block cold air from entering your house by using draft stoppers at the bottom of your door;
- Replace any incandescent bulb by their LED counterpart;
- Turn off the lights when you leave a room;
- Unplug devices that you are not using.
- Wash your clothes less and at a cold temperature. Let them dry on a line instead of using a dryer.
- Donate the clothes that you don’t wear anymore. If they are too worn out, recycle them.
- Give furniture a second life by buying used ones.
- If you are gardening, avoid the use of pesticides and use natural methods such as permaculture to protect your crops.
- If you have a cat, use pine litter: it’s not only 100% natural and biodegradable –an excellent fertilizer, if you have a garden – but it’s also an excellent odor neutralizer and there is way less dust. Plus, there is no harsh chemicals that would hurt your beloved pet.
On the Go
- Wherever you go, take a reusable, refillable bottle with you.
- When going out for a coffee, try to find places where you can bring your own, reusable mug.
- When going to a party where you know there will be disposable tableware, bring your own, reusable plates, cups and cutlery.
- Avoid restaurants offering single-use plates and cutlery.
- Embrace alternatives to plastic straws. By the way, did you know that, since January 1, 2019, full-service restaurants in California are banned to automatically hand out plastic straws to their customers?
- If you did not finish your plate, ask for a box to take your leftovers home.
- Walk, bike or take public transportation as much as you can.
- If you buy a car, consider hybrid or electric options.
- If you need a car to go to your workplace, try to find colleagues with whom you can carpool.