Minimalism Update #1

Two months ago, I wrote about a challenge I gave myself:   1. to minimize the number of throw-away cups (and those single-use plastic covers they come with) when I buy coffee and   2. to maximize the use of re-usable cloth shopping bags.

This is what happened during the last two months:

I used throw-away cups on only two occasions, once because I forgot to bring my travel mug along, the other time for sheer convenience.

I went on a long 1,100-mile car trip and was away from home for two weeks. During that time, my travel mug was my constant companion.  By now, it has become a habit for me to carry my travel mug along.  So this is not a challenge anymore.

During the last two months, I forgot to take my re-usable shopping bags a few times, but basically it, too, has become a habit to bring my fabric bags and a cooler bag that keeps perishables cold.

I am ready to move on to a bigger challenge:  to reduce our household’s throw-away garbage by 50 percent over the next 4 months.  At this point, we are filling a large trash can over a period of about two months (I used to fill a similar-size trash can during a single week while living in the suburbs of DC).  I noticed that we are mostly throwing away plastics that cannot be recycled.  Everything else either gets recycled, up-cycled, or burned in the wood stove.  All food wastes either go to the chickens, dogs, and cats, or end up in the compost pile.  When I was away on my trip, it felt very strange to throw food wastes into a plastic bag along with other trash.  It just didn’t belong there, in my mind.

Some of you may know about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a gyre in the Pacific Ocean that is twice the size of the state of Texas, or the country of France.  This gyre accumulates trash from all the countries that border the Pacific ocean, both in the East and the West.  The most troublesome aspect of this phenomenon is the fact that plastics have broken down into smaller and smaller pieces and have turned the ocean into a plastics soup.  Fish and sea birds consume these plastic fragments mistaking them for food.  Many die of the plastic waste in their stomachs.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Researchers have found that the plastic molecules the animals consume end up in their blood stream.  When we consume fish and other seafood, the plastics then end up in our own bodies and cause an endless array of problems that we are only beginning to correlate with plastic consumption.  For example, plastics in our bodies function as hormonal disruptors and speed up the growth of cancer cells.

So, throwing anything into a garbage bin is not a very responsible solution.  Even when the plastics end up in a landfill (and not our waterways and then the big ocean), they can still leach into the soil and groundwater, and ultimately end up in our bodies.  There is no more “away.”  Our throw-away habits are not only poisoning our environment and the animals, but, ultimately, our own bodies.  Everything is interconnected.

The only way to change this ugly travesty is to reduce our plastic consumption in the first place.  Don’t buy it, if you can avoid it.  Ask for less or no packaging, and products in glass bottles instead of plastic bottles.  Bring your own containers.

If you want to see what we have created with our consumption and throw-away patterns, you can watch this short video or a longer documentary.  It is truly mind-boggling.

While there are beginning efforts to clean up the oceans (see Eco Element’s blogpost on an invention by a creative young man), we each have to make an effort to stop poisoning ourselves and the world we live in.

Some people manage to produce virtually no trash.  Check out this young woman in New York City  or the book by Bea Johnson, Zero Waste Home.  Bea has done a tremendous amount of research and has drastically reduced the amount of waste in her 4-person household.

My goal is to be part of the solution by creating awareness within myself and others, and taking action where I do have  choices in my consumption patterns.  Even though we are already creating much less waste than the average American household, I want to cut back to a bare minimum.  It will be an interesting journey, I am sure.

To the next seven generations who surely will want to swim in a clean ocean.

Coincidentally (?), Anarette just published a post sharing her experience of swimming with whales.  She also mentions the gigantic garbage patch the oceans have become threatening the very survival of these magnificent animals (along with all the others who depend on the oceans).

About Beauty Along the Road

A blog about discovering beauty in all its ordinary and extraordinary manifestations.
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52 Responses to Minimalism Update #1

  1. jamborobyn says:

    Interesting. All the shopkeepers in my area now ask if I have my cloth bag, they are so used to me having it. When my last one broke, the guy at the 7-11 brought a new bag from home for me to use. I am not at the point of zero waste, but building these kinds of habits is, I believe, essential so I’m going to use your idea of the travel mug, because my laptop is currently using two boxed travel mugs as a stand. Not having a car, it didn’t occur to me what else they could be used for. LOL!


    • I think wherever we are at with our consumption patterns, that’s where we can start to re-think and fine-tune. After seeing several documentaries on the plastic soup our oceans have become, I have a visceral reaction now every time I see something wrapped in plastic. I ask shopkeepers and deli-owners whether they can’t package their food in cardboard or waxpaper instead of those insidious plastic clam shells. Sadly, I’ve heard over and over that plastic is “cheaper.” Ultimately, plastic is more expensive than we can afford, given the damage it is causing.
      Glad to see your comment showed up, Robyn.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Annette, thank you so much for this great post. Myself I am such a freak of sorting out trash from recycle bins, I even get into my neighbors trash. There is still no concept in most people minds, I am amazed and saddened by that. I wish kids in school would be offered an environmental class, to teach the young generation how to treat our nature with respect.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You’ve shown us a great way to create new habits. Just break it down into tiny and easy parts and practice each part for at least 30 days. Way to go Annette! Plastics are the bane of my life! Although we don’t see much packaging in our grocery stores, trying to find creative uses for used plastic containers is difficult. I am so proud of your persistence!


  4. Aggie says:

    Thank you! I like the zero-waste home website. We have the same difficulty with plastics, and are currently donating them to friends who are building an earthship. I’m afraid we won’t be able to absolve ourselves of them until we are growing more of our own food.
    We were concerned about composting paper till recently, because we’d heard that there were heavy metals in the inks. A friend, professional photographer, and organic no-till gardener, who has worked with the printing industry for many years told me that printing inks are soy based. (The cost of disposal of the dangerous inks is prohibitive.)
    I look forward to your thoughtful posts on important topics as much as your lovely photography.


  5. Anarette says:

    So nice to find out that you were posting this at the same time I am writing about the importance of reducing the use of plastic to improve our oceans! Here is my post:


  6. Pingback: Dancing with Whales | Anarette

  7. What a great post with ideas that are easy to put into use by individuals. We can each do our part. Having been a teacher in the past, I agree with you totally about teaching students about the environment, for our sake and theirs. Thank you so much for the link.


  8. schuttzie says:

    Wonderful post, Annette, thank you for bringing attention to this subject. I agree, with a post above in how you’ve explained how to take just a small thing and make it a habit over time.


  9. Pingback: In Depth ~ Ocean Plastic | Eco Elements

  10. There are so many ways we can help. My sister-in-law posted a video of a turtle trapped inside those plastic rings which hold together a six-pack. It was so upsetting, I won’t describe. So now, among many other things, I never throw out those rings without cutting through them now. My brother-in-law, the avid bird photographer, is going crazy about the fishing line the sportsmen leave behind at a dam where he likes to shoot. He’s so many birds entangled that he now goes down there regularly to clean up the site. I really commend you for taking this on, Annette, you are inspirational. I need to look much harder at what else I can do above and beyond composting and recycling.


    • The problem with recycling plastics is that just a small percentage of those plastics are actually turned into another (plastics) product. The rest languishes in landfills or in the environment, basically forever (plastic takes 500 YEARS to degrade). So we really need to get to the root – not buying stuff in plastic. And that’s where it gets tricky, because practically EVERYTHING in the store is wrapped in this toxic material. Luckily, there are glass alternatives; there are bulk bins in many stores (and we can bring our own fabric baggies and glass containers to re-fill), and farmer’s markets will re-open soon, so we can buy produce au natural and carry them home in a basket or fabric bag.
      I had to take my husband to the ER recently (long story involving a log splitter) and was horrified to see all the single-use objects they are using in hospitals, along with the omni-present wrappings for each and every item. We’ve got a long way to go….sigh….


      • YES!! As you know, I have more than enough experience with hospitals and I was thinking exactly the same two weeks ago when my daughter had a small surgery. Annette, EVERYTHING, absolutely everything is disposable. It boggles the mind to think about just how much landfill area this must consume. Just for Jen’s small surgery, there must have been a trash bag full of stuff thrown away.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I am full of admiration for you. I do my best too, but the shops really don’t make it easy for us. I take inspiration from your post and will try harder. Thank you hun, the world needs people like you! 🙂


  12. Carol says:

    I carry several reusable bags with me in the car, and am getting better (after a few years of this) at remembering to take them into the stores with me. I recycle as much as I can, during the winter season burn that which is not recyclable and that will burn, so it takes me several months to fill the cans that end up going to the dump. I do wish someone would come up with more packaging materials that were environmentally friendly.


    • I think there are environmentally friendly packaging materials but people are either not aware of them, or they may be more expensive or a bit more time consuming. But how difficult is it to add shredded paper to something in a package instead of styrofoam peanuts or plastic “pillows”….some things are actually quite simple. Thanks for your comment, Carol.


  13. We continue to try to reduce our overall footprint…… Thank you for your efforts and your writing!


  14. Great post, Annette. And a number of excellent comments, especially Cornelia’s idea of having some “how-to” environmental courses in the schools. Some do have occasional projects on the subject which is better than nothing, but a more rigorous program would have a significant impact. Your point, echoed by several readers, about developing the habits is a key factor. And once you are satisfied that you have acquired a habit such as the reusable shopping bags, one should, as you are doing, pick another one to develop, and so on. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Another evil twist on the plastic in the ocean is that it absorbs chemicals that arrive in the ocean as well. Pesticides, manufacturing toxins, etc. So those little bits of plastic are highly toxic. Kudos to you on your efforts, both to be part of the change and for so eloquently spreading the message.

    My family has been working on this, as well. Many weeks our garbage bin is mostly empty, while the recycle bin is full. I have been delighted by the receptiveness I’ve found in restaurants when I bring reusable take-home containers, for example. Those plastic straws, though. They often are already in the drink when it arrives at the table!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I am beginning to tell people in advance what I don’t want. Plastic is just so insidious and taken for granted. I am traveling and to be forced to buy plastic bottles of water in the airport, only to throw it away and then get served with more plastic on the plane; multiplied by however million travelers there are in the world on any given day – it’s breathtaking. We do need a systemic change. I almost feel discouraged today by what I realized during yesterday’s travels….
      Thanks for contributing your consciousness as well.


  16. Lucid Gypsy says:

    A couple of years ago I gave up using shower gels and went back to using real soap made with natural ingredients, that doesn’t have any wrapping. My skin is far healthier without all those nasty chemicals and it’s saved a load of plastic as well!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I take baths without any bubbles and it feels just great. I sometimes put epsom salts in when my body feels achy. I no longer use cosmetics, except once or twice a year for special occasions and my skin is better than ever! So, we have discovered the same thing 🙂


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