By: Mia Olea Garza

This past year, I’ve been thinking about sustainability, carbon emission and reducing the amount of waste I create in my daily life. Although we already know that a majority of carbon waste is created by a small number of large companies, small things that you do as a consumer can help shape necessary change for these larger corporations to implement.

I assessed the items, with a large focus on plastic, that I dispose of the most and looked for alternative solutions. Not only does plastic take up to 1,000 years to decompose, but alternate options have other possible benefits such as overall cost efficiency. 

Here are solutions I’ve adopted recently:

1. Reusable Starbucks coffee cup + reusable water bottle

I bring my coffee cup and water bottle with me everywhere which saves using hundreds of plastic bottles and cups. I like the Contigo water bottle with a latch that hooks onto my bag for easy carry and quick release button to open/close. Since I usually order iced coffee, the venti Starbucks cup works best for me, but there are also hot coffee cup options. Plus most coffee shops will give you 15 cents off your coffee when you use your own cup. It’s nice to be rewarded for your efforts!

2. Reusable grocery bags + reusable produce bags

I head to the grocery store with all my reusable bags in tow! H-E-B sells fun, affordable designs that come in handy for other things like a day at the lake or a tote for books. For produce, I use mesh bags in place of plastic bags provided in-store for fresh produce. It’s also a good idea to invest in a reusable grocery bag because Austin grocery stores typically charge you for plastic bags.

3. Reusable tupperware, sandwich bags + utensils

When resealing food and packing my lunch, I do my best to create zero waste. I use durable GMO-free tupperware to save any or all food in place of plastic bags, saran wrap, aluminum wrap and any other disposable method. Reusable tools for re-sealing or saving food come in every shape & size that it’s disposable counterpart does, such as reusable sandwich bags, reusable utensils, and beeswax wrap so the options are almost endless.

4. Fresh produce & less packaged groceries 

This is as easy as buying the fresh broccoli instead of the pre-cut ones that come in a plastic bag (fresh is cheaper anyway). When there’s an item that I need from the grocery store, I always try and choose the version with the least amount of packaging.

5. Bamboo toothbrush, LUSH shampoo and conditioner bars, soap bar, and reusable face cloths

Think about all the plastic items we throw away from the bathroom. Countless shampoo, conditioner, and body wash bottles over our lifetime that will take centuries to breakdown. Not to mention other bathroom products such as face wash, toothbrushes, and lotion bottles. There are simple, affordable replacements with more whole ingredients that are arguably healthier for your body, that can eliminate all of this waste. I’m a big fan of Lush and their initiative to cut down on plastic waste. I use their shampoo and conditioner bars– not only do they cut down on waste, but they make my hair smell amazing for multiple days in a row. While a bamboo toothbrush isn’t as reusable as any other toothbrush, the bamboo takes far less time to decompose than plastic.

6. Go vegan

I am not vegan, because it is not easy to manage! BUT, I am doing my best to make conscious food decisions while maintaininging a healthy diet. I’m a picky eater so there are few ways for me to get my nutrients. It is easy, however, to cut out red meat and cow’s milk, which I have done. Whenever I’m faced with a food choice, I always consider the non-meat non-dairy options first, then, if there is nothing that would provide me with a nutritious meal, I’ll consider chicken. Because of this, I have eaten A LOT less meat and dairy, and discovered plenty of cool vegan options that I do like. If you’re able to commit to being fully vegan, all the better!

7. Buy thrifted clothes and locally-produced items

I love shopping at my local Buffalo Exchange because they have a wide selection of affordable, stylish clothing options. When shopping for home decor, jewelry, or a gift for a friend, or anything else, I do my best to buy locally. Not only is it great to support small local businesses over large companies, but non-local items create more carbon waste because they had to be shipped in.

8. Drive less, bike, walk, carpool and/or take the bus

We live in a fairly walkable and bikeable city. Driving should be your last option. Walking or biking short distances is also beneficial because it cuts down on the amount of gas you buy, saves you the headache of parking, and the exercise benefits your health. 

Plastic can take up to 1,000 years to decompose. With the amount of plastic we are currently using, that is a huge problem. These are the things I’ve implemented in my own life to try and combat this problem, but there are more steps that can be taken depending on one’s lifestyle. My next big project is composting. On top of all of this, it’s important to encourage and educate our peers to evaluate what small changes they can make in their daily lives to create a cleaner, safer world for everyone. If we all make these small steps into daily habits, Mother Earth will certainly smile.