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Looking to reduce your waste? Start with the big four!

Basket of vegetablesSeptember 11, 2019 - Kathryn Kellogg

When looking to go zero waste, dip your toe into waste reduction or be more eco-friendly, my first suggestion is always the Big Four! The Big Four are four simple, easy swaps popularized by Plastic Free July. These four items are easy to avoid and make up a huge portion of waste in landfills and the ocean. All of these swaps are convenience items that are easy to avoid, and I'll show you how.Kathryn at market

1. Plastic bags. The U.S. uses 100 billion plastic shopping bags each year, and it takes 12 million barrels of oil to make them.

Bringing your own bags to the grocery store is pretty much a no-brainer, but the tricky part is actually remembering them. I remember the first time I went to the grocery store after deciding to go zero waste, and I forgot my reusable bags. I had two options: I could either go home and get them, or I could justify using plastic bags. I decided to go home and get them. I created a pain point, and I have to say I've never forgotten my bags since.

If you forget your bags, try and think through your patterns: Are there certain days you tend to go to the grocery store? Do you get groceries on foot? Could you keep bags in your trunk? If you forget, you can always ask for a box from the store room.

2. Reusable water bottle. Plastic water bottles are great for times of crisis. They're not so great if you have access to clean drinking water.

Fifty billion plastic water bottles are consumed and disposed of each year. Eight million tons of plastic is dumped in the ocean annually. We have to move away from this disposable, convenience-based culture we've created. We've all become so busy that we don't have time to fill up a water bottle?

I know a lot of people don't particularly care for the taste of the tap water, and my suggestion is filtering it. If you're always running late and want to grab a bottle and go, buy a set of water bottles and keep them in the fridge.

My favorite reusable bottles are glass and stainless steel because they both have 100% recycle rate without loss of quality. If I have a small handbag, I like to slip in a stainless flask full of water. However, you might get some funny looks.

3. Straws. Say no to single-use plastic straws!

When you're out at a restaurant, ask for no straw in your drink order. If you like straws or drink a lot of smoothies that are difficult to drink from the rim of the glass, go for a reusable straw. There are a lot of different types: bamboo, glass, stainless and silicone. They even have bendable ones!

4. Takeaway coffee. Take away coffee cups might just be the bane of my existence. There are SO many alternatives ... like sitting in the café and asking for it in a mug. It's so simple!

If you're in a rush, you can always ask for your coffee at a more drinkable temperature. If you want to grab your coffee to-go, think about bringing along a thermos. A lot of coffee shops will even give you a discount for BYO.

Since I carry a reusable water bottle with me most days, I like to carry a double insulated bottle. It being double insulated keeps hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold. This way, I can grab a hot coffee or an iced coffee while out. I just pour out my water, typically in a nearby plant, and get my coffee to go!

I think people assume that preventing waste and trash requires you to carry a lot of stuff with you, but that's just not true. All I typically carry with me is a water bottle!


Kathryn headshotBy Kathryn Kellogg, a 2012 Ouachita graduate. Kathryn is founder of Going Zero Waste, author of 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste and the spokesperson for National Geographic on plastic-free living. The post Looking to Reduce Your Waste? Start with the Big Four!” was originally published on April 12, 2018, on Kathryn’s blog site GoingZeroWaste.com.


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